Harvard B-School Women “Lean Out” of the Workforce?

First HBS Women

First HBS Women

Women were first admitted to Harvard Business School in 1963, and 50 years later, women are not 50% of the students at HBS.
They trail at 42% for the currently-admitted class, up from the 40% at the time of this survey.

Robin Ely

Robin Ely

Robin Ely of Harvard conducted a survey of of 3,786 women and 2,655 men HBS graduates and found that more than 70% of alumnae are in the paid workforce, and 56% work full time.

Of the 10% of alumnae ages 31 to 47 who “lean out” to care for children full time, only 3% said they planned not to return to return.

HBS 50Ely argues that rather than leaning out, women are actually pushed out or pulled out of the workforce:

“…a whole set of experiences … look less like women opting out, and more like women being pushed out, by organizations that demand a 24/7 work schedule…Women are being pulled out by a culture that promulgates a compelling—some might say guilt-inducing—image of mothering that is hard to live up to while you are trying to hold a job.”

Among women working part-time, three-fourths are engaged in pro bono and volunteer efforts, suggesting that these women continue to have demanding schedules.
More than 63% of the women report regular or significant volunteer commitments, with 67% of those caring for children full-time reporting substantial volunteer activity.

HBS WomenYounger women with two or more children are less likely to be in the workforce than those with no children: 37% for parents vs 9% for the non-parents.

And among the younger cohort of Gen X’ers, 13% of women are working part-time, contrasted with 2% of Gen X men.

At the other end of the age-experience spectrum, another type of “age-approriate opting out” was reported by 43% of female graduates ages 48-66 no longer working full-time.
In contrast, only 28% of men in the same age range were not longer employed, reinforcing previous findings that men work both more hours per year and more years over their careers, leading to higher overall career earnings.

More than 84% of female respondents acknowledged “taking leaves or reducing work hours” hold back women from career advancement.

HBS RestroomThe second most-cited impediment to career advancement for women was “prioritizing family over work,” according to 82% of the female respondents.

Most alumnae reported organizational factors limit women’s advancement:

  • Lack of senior female role models
  • Inhospitable corporate cultures
  • Lack of supportive environments

Fewer than half of the women under the age of 67 report being satisfied with their professional accomplishments or opportunities for career growth.
In contrast, the majority of men agree that their work is meaningful and satisfying.

Drew Gilpin Faust

Drew Gilpin Faust

Harvard’s President Drew Gilpin Faust noted that, women are not equally represented in top leadership roles, echoing statistics showcased by HBS grad Sheryl Sandberg.
She share that women:

  • Comprise 4 percent of Fortune 500 Company CEOs
  • Lead fewer than 10 percent of America’s venture capital firms
  • Hold 26 percent of US full professorships
  • Serve in 20 percent of top US government jobs
Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg

Ely believes that organizations, women, and families will benefit from recruiting and hiring women who have opted out of full-time work but now want to resume their careers, because today’s graduates can expect to live nearly a century.

This change in hiring practices can increase use of top talent while reducing the substantial regret and dissatisfaction many HBS women experienced in their career trajectories.

As one highly-educated, highly-skilled women reflected on her sense of under-utilization and under-employment in a large global organization: “I don’t want to have to go home and vacuum to feel like I’ve accomplished something.”

Organizational policy can increase firms’ profitability, competitiveness, and innovation by deploying top talent across generations and genders, and this HBS study points to one source of potential talent.

-*What actions should individual women and organizations implement to increase the utilization of skilled women’s talents in the workplace?

Related Post

Women’s Post-Business School Work-Life Issues

Twitter:  @kathrynwelds
Blog: Kathryn Welds |Curated Research and Commentary
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©Kathryn Welds


6 thoughts on “Harvard B-School Women “Lean Out” of the Workforce?

  1. Pingback: Second Verse, Same as the First | Karen Sands

  2. France Menk

    As long as our society denigrates true equality for women, we will not overcome this mindset. We need to provide career sabbaticals without reduction of status, and universal preschool care for families with children under 5. The cost of this is negligible compared to the societal cost of living with an under-productive population.

  3. France Menk

    As long as our society denigrates true equality by not allowing career sabbaticals without diminishing status, and without providing universal pre-school care for children, women who want a family will not reach their potential. The cost of this is negligible compared to the cost of our under-productive population.

  4. kathrynwelds Post author

    Thanks for pointing out national social policy’s role in enabling full career involvement for women. As mentioned elsewhere, U.S. social policy and programs has not kept pace with advances in Scandanavian countries, France, and others. Cost to taxpayers is always a consideration and the balance of voters in the U.S. may not be ready to invest to advance women’s full participation and productivity in the workplace.

  5. Pingback: Equal Pay Act’s Fiftieth Anniversary: Progress but no Parity | Kathryn Welds | Curated Research and Commentary

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