Gender Equ(al)ity at Harvard

A note on the title of this post: recently, there has been less talk about equality and more about equity.  Now, as someone who thinks of “equity” as a finance topic, not a sociological one, I was curious as to what the difference was.  Basically, “equality” isn’t good enough for modern ‘feminists’, so they are now demanding ‘equity’.

So a newspaper article that is entitled “Harvard Business School Case Study – Gender Equity” is bound to deviate from basic anti-sexist philosophy.  Consider:

Nearly two years earlier, in the fall of 2011, Neda Navab sat in a class participation workshop, incredulous. The daughter of Iranian immigrants, Ms. Navab had been the president of her class at Columbia, advised chief executives as a McKinsey & Company consultant and trained women as entrepreneurs in Rwanda. Yet now that she had arrived at the business school at age 25, she was being taught how to raise her hand. [….]

Women at Harvard did fine on tests. But they lagged badly in class participation, a highly subjective measure that made up 50 percent of each final mark. Every year the same hierarchy emerged early on: investment bank and hedge fund veterans, often men, sliced through equations while others — including many women — sat frozen or spoke tentatively.

Ms. Navab is entirely correct: this is Harvard Business School, not high school algebra class.  These women are all incredibly successful college graduates who were able to impress the admissions committee with their accomplishments.  If they can’t raise their hands in class, then feminism was a massive waste of everyone’s time.

I understand being shy in class: when I was called on the first day of law school (darn easy to pronounce surname!), I shook like a leaf.  But fear wasn’t going to rule my life and I was paying a hundred grand a year for the education (tuition plus lost opportunity costs), so I got used to speaking up.   In her commencement speech, Brooke Boyarsky, Class of 2013, spoke about changing oneself and reducing personal roadblocks.  I’m not sure how this is compatible with a lecture about how to properly raise one’s hand, especially if one wants to be taken seriously in the boardroom.

HBS’ intervention went beyond the hand-raising lecture: it installed stenographers in every classroom, recorded who said what, and required professors to keep track of how often students raised their hands and spoke in class.  Women’s class participation grades skyrocketed as a result.

This could be akin to the ‘blind music auditions’, wherein more female performers were hired when musicians auditioned behind a screen that blocked view of the musician but not the music.  Alternatively, professors could have assigned grades on the basis of sex, knowing that the result of unequal grading would be a full investigation by Frances Frei.  The self-appointed czars of equity would have read a semester’s worth of transcripts, likely nitpicked the professor’s reasoning, and then issued different grades anyway. Any logical professor would say, “Mike made outstanding contributions to class; his class participation grade is an A. Now I have to find a woman for the same A. Nancy will get the A, I guess.”

Ultimately, this does nothing to actually empower women: it irritates their male peers, who wanted to attend professional school and not kindergarten; it treats college-educated grown women like hothouse flowers; and it creates a situation in which employers may be suspect of women’s academic success at HBS, which could have been more the result of Frances Frei’s heavy-handed intervention than the student’s own toughness and merit.

Take your ‘equity’, modern feminists; I prefer equality.


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