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Harvard Business School Seeks to Further Expand Offerings for Women and Minorities

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Dean of Harvard Business School Nitin Nohria

Dean of Harvard Business School Nitin Nohria said the school has continued to focus on improving gender diversity in recent years following a 2015 push to address deep-rooted disparities at the school.

Nohria said in recent years the school has created a number of admissions and outreach strategies aimed at attracting and retaining a more diverse student population during an interview Tuesday.

“There's a much more intentional effort to create an educational, as well as a social, experience at Harvard Business School that reflects the diversity of our students,” Nohria said.

He said the school has built its efforts around the goal of ensuring that students from all backgrounds can thrive at the school. One way the school has attempted to do this is by reaching out to newly admitted students and talking to them about the ways the school supports students who might not traditionally see themselves as part of the demographic the school serves.

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“Whenever we admit someone, [we] approach that person to make sure that they understand that Harvard Business School would be welcoming of them,” Nohria said.

In recent years, the school has broadened programs like Peek Weekend, which allows students to visit campus and experience the MBA program before applying to the business school. The program, launched in 2015 alongside a series of other gender diversity-focused initiatives, at first only targeted students from traditionally women’s colleges, but has since expanded to include students from other backgrounds and schools as well.

“That's a way to make sure that the funnel of people coming into Harvard Business School is more diverse,” said Nohria.

Once new students arrive on campus, the school has also created a variety of structures and groups to fuel a more inclusive environment. Nohria said that creating specific roles in the business school’s sections — groups of students in each class year that take courses together — has helped teach the value of diversity in the classroom.

“Every section at Harvard Business School now has the students have elected a [Diversity and Inclusion] officer, they have created a [Diversity and Inclusion] council,” said Nohria.

“We meet with that group so that we're trying to work these issues not one group by one group, but even to look across things that are common across all of the underrepresented minority groups at Harvard Business School,” he added.

The school has also put in place programs aimed to increase gender diversity in the business world at large. The Gender Initiative, also launched in 2015, is a three pronged program supporting women business leaders and gender equity through greater faculty engagement with the topic of gender, according to Colleen C. Ammerman, the initiative’s director.

“The school saw a need and an opportunity to create more of a community for that work,” Ammerman said.

One of the Gender Initiative’s aspects is educational opportunities, which include the Women on Boards executive education program. The mid-career program started in 2015 and has seen an increase in enrollment from 60 women in its first year to more than 140 women last year.

Program co-chair and Business School Professor Boris Groysberg said it is meant to put women in a position to move up the corporate ladder and secure seats on corporate boards.

“We take unbelievably great women from around the world and we hope to teach them — during the period of the program — how boards work, what are the stakeholders, what are the functions and responsibilities of the board,” Groysberg said.

Nohria said the school has also worked to ensure that gender diversity efforts don’t end when students graduate. The Business School hosts periodic conferences to bring together female alumni around the world in an effort to bolster their networks.

“We had the Boston Women's Leadership Accelerator — these are women alumnae who have organized a conference where they get together,” Nohria said. “Now we have had one after that in San Francisco, we've now had one in New York, we are thinking of one in London.”

The school plans to use these conferences as a model for creating events supporting underrepresented minority groups as well, according to Nohria.

“People from some of these underrepresented groups at Harvard Business School, even after they graduate from the school, [can] be a resource to each other,” Nohria said. “How can we as a school help them be a resource for each other?”

—Staff writer Sam E. Sharfstein can be reached at sam.sharfstein@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @SamSharfstein.

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