If you happened past the Williams Room in Spangler Monday evening, you would have seen something incredibly rare at HBS: a room full of 200-some women. Just women. Not a man in site. Why? The Williams was host to the Women Student Association’s Buddy Night, during which each RC woman had a chance to meet the EC woman who will serve as her guide to life at HBS and sounding board for the year.
The evening gave me the occasion to think about what thoughts I might share with my buddy and the RC women at large about being a woman at HBS.
So here goes:
1.The ratio is out of whack. And it is noticeable!
HBS is a strange place (if you have not figured that out on your own already), not like places most of us have lived before. The men outnumber the women 2 to 1. Take that ratio in. This sounds daunting, I know. But it could be worse. Think of early colonial America or Congress or a Las Vegas Sports Book. Or imagine yourself at just about any other business school where the ratios are even scarier. So there is some good news: not only are there more students at HBS than at its peers, but there are more women.
So what does this 2 to 1 ration mean? It ensures that in every class and every lecture you attend, women have a 99% chance of having a man sitting on either side of you. For those of you women coming from the world of investment banking or the military, this may be something to which you’re very accustomed. But for someone like me who came from apparel retailing, I haven’t been surrounded by this many males since I tried out for Pop Warner football. And it’s not just fellow students. The faculty is predominantly male. Most of the case protagonists are male. You start to think that maybe even all the squirrels running around campus are male.
2.Even though the ratio is out of whack, you will meet lots of other women.
So at this point you’re thinking: how am I ever going to get to know other women?!? Do not fear. It is actually incredibly easy to meet women. HBS is home to a fantastic organization, the Women’s Student Association. The WSA’s mission is to improve the student experience for women and to build bonds between women that will last throughout their professional careers. The WSA makes good on this mission with the buddy program; a speaker series that covers issues such as balancing work and family life; parties; and the Dynamic Women in Business conference which brings together students, alumnae, professors and professionals to discuss issues important to women in business and in their personal lives. Best of all, each section has a WSA representative who will organize smaller social events for the 30-some women in your section.
3. The women here are rad.
More likely than not, you will love these women. HBS is blessed with some truly fantastic females. Lying in my bed in San Francisco in the months before school, I would have nightmares that all my fellow female classmates were going to be carbon copies of Sigourney Weaver’s character in Working Girl: the back-stabbing, credit claiming, aggressive she-man who seems to wear nothing but power suits with huge 80s shoulder pads and stilettos so as to stomp on everyone in her wake. My fears were allayed the first day I stepped on campus. I looked out upon a sea of normal, jean- and sweater- wearing women who were, like me, eager to make friends. These women are smart, accomplished, ambitious and interesting. They also like to read US Weekly, go out to dinner, and just hang out.
Reflecting back on my first year, I can think of countless reasons why I am incredibly glad I came to HBS. Chief among these is my Thursday Ladies’ Night. Every week, my good girlfriends and I get together to watch The OC, drink some wine, eat some cheese, and just talk. Sure, we talk a little bit about cases and professors, clubs and the job search. But mostly we just talk about our families, our friends, our LIVES.
These new female friends, who I already know will be lifelong friends, have played a huge role in the transformative experience that is HBS. I know that you will find the same in the coming months.