Closing the HKS Gender Imbalance

The Harvard Kennedy School has a plethora of programs focused on women and gender issues.

The Kennedy School Women and Public Policy Program organizes weekly seminars on gender, works on bringing women to speak at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum, and  provides training services to young female scholars.

This year, students can even take a class entitled “Closing the Global Gender Gap,” which focuses on how to design efficient policies to increase gender equity across the world.

Yet in spite of these efforts to raise awareness on the issue of gender imbalance, the percentage of female faculty at the Kennedy School—although improving from year to year—has remained very low over the past decade.

Approximately 27 percent of the junior faculty and 22 percent of the senior faculty at the Kennedy School were women in the last academic year, according to the annual report of the Office of the Senior Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Diversity.


These numbers are similar to the percentage of female faculty at Harvard professional schools in general—34 percent of junior faculty and 20 percent of senior faculty were female.

But they are low compared to other schools of government in the U.S.

Three out of the four peer institutions used as benchmarks in the report have a higher percentage of female junior faculty members, while the fourth had an equal number, and two of the peer schools also had higher percentages of female senior faculty.

“It is a huge problem,” Kennedy School Dean David T. Ellwood ’75 says of the gender imbalance. “We’ve got to stop missing women.”


According to Ellwood and other Kennedy School faculty members, one of the main reasons for the gender imbalance might be the school’s focus on quantitative fields such as economics, areas in which men have historically been more active than women.

Consequently, when the Kennedy School opens a position in these fields, there are often more male than female applicants.

“When you hire, you hire from the pool that’s available,” says former Kennedy School Dean Joseph S. Nye, Jr.

Kennedy School Academic Dean Mary Jo Bane declined to provide data about the number of women hired by the Kennedy School in each department annually, saying that these numbers are “not very meaningful year by year” since the Kennedy School hires only a small number of faculty members each year.

The Kennedy School’s Office of Communications and Public Affairs was unable to confirm that economics classes are mostly taught by male faculty while social sciences classes are mostly taught by women.