Debora Spar Opens HBS 50-Year Celebration of First Admitted Female Students

Nayab Ahmad

Harvard Business School celebrates its 50th year of accepting women to its full time MBA program with a keynote address by Debora Spar.

Barnard College president Debora L. Spar addressed the challenges women still face in higher levels of business organizations in the Spangler Auditorium Tuesday, giving the keynote address on the 50th anniversary of the admission of women into the Business School’s two-year M.B.A. program.

Spar, who was formerly a professor at the Business School, praised the feminist movement for opening up new opportunities for women in education and in the workplace. Yet she acknowledged that women’s entrance into positions of power has been much slower, leaving “a subtler set of problems that could not be solved with regulational law.”

The year-long celebration marks 50 years since December 1962, when Business School faculty voted to admit eight women into the two-year M.B.A. program for 1963. Since then, the percentage of women in the program has risen to 40 percent.

“The truth is we’ve come a long way, but we’re not by any measure where we need to be,” said Youngme E. Moon, a professor at the Business School and chair of the MBA program, who made opening remarks and introduced Spar.

The event, organized by the Business School’s Women’s Student Association, is part of a year-long celebration that will feature guest speakers, a research focus on gender issues, as well as special alumni and classroom events. It will be continued with an address by Princeton professor Anne-Marie Slaughter on Thursday.

“I think people are taking this anniversary really seriously, and we’re seeing it in terms of the attendance you get at an event like this and a general appetite to talk about these issues,” said Deborah J. Singer, a second-year M.B.A. student who is co-president of the Women’s Student Association.

In her address, Spar pointed out that women are matching and passing men in various standards of performance in high school, college, and their early careers. Yet at a certain point, she said, the lives of men and women unfold differently.

“We need to understand those patterns of difference, or we will be condemning women to try to replicate lives that are not going to be easy to sustain,” Spar said.

E. Parker Woltz, the other co-president of the Women’s Student Association, said that while working in consulting before enrolling at the Business School, she never thought of herself as a female professional. Yet, she said she expects this to come later.

“I think it’s critical to be thinking about what’s coming ahead and be prepared for it, and to have a support group of female and male peers who want to talk with you about the issues and will provide support going forward,” Woltz said.

—Staff writer Brian C. Zhang can be reached at brianzhang@college.harvard.edu.

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