Barbara Hackman Franklin HBS '64, Former Secretary of Commerce


Barbara Hackman Franklin

Until the Dean of Women at Penn State University nominated her to go to Harvard Business School her senior year of college, Barbara Hackman Franklin, a member of the Business School class of 1964, had not seriously considered going into business.

“I did not really know what HBS was but at least I had heard of Harvard and that seemed to be a good place to be,” Franklin said.

But after first entering the business world, Franklin never left. She went on to pursue a career in both the private and public sector, becoming a leader in both.

Franklin broke several glass ceilings for women while she served on the board of multiple corporations, worked with President Nixon to increase job opportunities for women, and held the position of Secretary of Commerce under President George H. W. Bush.

12 of 680

When HBS faculty voted to allow women into the school’s two-year MBA program in December of 1962, Franklin was one of the first women to take classes on the Business School’s campus, and one of only 12 women among 680 men in her graduating class.

Her male classmates, Franklin said, had mixed reactions about the new coeducational classes. She noted that while some felt that she was taking away a space from a man, others—such as men with working mothers—had a positive reaction to her presence.

Barbara Hackman Franklin

Ed A. Hajim, Franklin’s classmate in the Business School Class of 1964, recalled that Franklin handled studying in a male-dominated environment well. “Among the women [at HBS], she was at least one of the strongest of the group,” he said.

Franklin faced a similar gender imbalance when she entered the workplace, coming up against the attitude that women should not pursue careers.

She recounted one instance of overt gender discrimination. “I knew I was being paid less than another guy who was an MBA, who was sitting right beside me,” Franklin said. “I raised that with my boss, and said that I didn’t understand why I was paid less. I actually was there longer than he had [been]. And I was told ‘you’re doing fine for a girl, and you have a husband who works.’”

However, Franklin also pointed out the amount of change for women she has seen during her career, a change that she helped bring about through her work advocating for more economic opportunity and equality for women.

“Long Story Short, We Did It”