I have often written about the importance of portraying strong women in fiction in order to help influence the perception of women in the real world.
I admit,though, that I was shocked to just have read the Fortune Magazine article of January 29, 2014, by John A. Bryne entitled “Harvard B-school dean offers unusual apology” with the article subhead: “Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria publicly apologized for the school’s treatment of female students and professors, and vowed to make changes at the institution.”
As both someone with an M.BA. from Wharton and as a fiction writer of strong female characters, this is the part of the article that most shocked me:
Among other things, Nohria pledged to more than double the percentage of women who are protagonists in Harvard case studies over the next five years, to 20%. Currently, about 9% of Harvard case studies — which account for 80% of the cases studied at business schools around the world — have women as protagonists
This nonfiction “in print” depiction of women is just as damaging as fiction “in print” depiction of women can be.
As I learned at Wharton, perception is very important to the way people are treated in the real world. And reading case study after case study with only male leaders has to reinforce the fallacy that women are not business leaders.
Here in Los Angeles I face this skewed perception almost on a weekly basis:
I have been attending several tech meetups, and meetup after meetup only has male panelists. (Full disclosure: I did attend a meetup last week that had four male speakers followed by one female speaker.)
What does this makeup of panelists say to women who are considering or are already in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) careers?
And how magnanimous of the Harvard business school dean to state that the future case studies would have 20% of women “protagonists” (interesting that this word from fiction was used). Why not 50%?
At the time I attended Wharton I did not expect there to be 50% female students. But today this should be so in all the top business schools in the U.S.
Perhaps the dean of Harvard’s business school should rethink his pledge of 20%. Otherwise Harvard is continuing the less-than-equal perception of female leaders in the business world today.
P.S. If you want to read my story of a less-than-equal experience while at Wharton, click here now.
© 2014 Miller Mosaic LLC
Phyllis Zimbler Miller is the author of fiction and nonfiction books/ebooks, including TOP TIPS FOR HOW TO PUBLISH AND MARKET YOUR BOOK IN THE AGE OF AMAZON and the romantic suspense spy thriller CIA FALL GUY.