Wharton Journal - Recap of Learnings From 22s Dinner Discussions On Gender Equality

By Jordan Mock and Simran Singh

As part of the broader goal to facilitate debate and discussion around gender equality, the 22s organized a series of dinners the past week focusing on gender equality in business school. The dinners provide a great opportunity to share and learn different perspectives on the issue from a personal and professional viewpoint (over great food and wine). The dinners are part of a continuing series with a different topic discussed every week.

Dinner 1 Participants: Isabel Ramberg, Deepa Shah, Mohammad Al-Ali, Mitch Krautkramer, Steffi Li, Liz Hernandez

The main thrust of our discussion around gender discrimination in business schools was around whether it exists, causes for discrimination, and potential solutions.

We started with the question on whether or not gender discrimination in business school exists.  The overwhelming consensus is that it does.  We discussed the need to collect more evidence and data points to make the case and spur reflection – particularly around expectations and behavior in classrooms and in teams.  For example, in classrooms where professors do not cold call, do they tend to give men more air time?  On teams, are women expected to act more accommodating and encouraging than men?

We quickly moved on to what might be the cause of gender discrimination in business schools.  We recognize that school is actually a fairly protected and unique environment, and that the data shows that gender discrimination in pay, for example, typically becomes much more pronounced several years out of school.  This led us to identify that gender discrimination, to the extent that it happens in business school, is mostly subconscious.  We spoke about the need to work with our fellow classmates to reflect and bring discriminatory behaviors and biases more into the conscious so they can be addressed.

We discussed a few broad-based solutions, such as working norms and hours and longer maternity leave policies, and how to enlist men in the support of broader solutions.  The opportunity cost of losing one working parent in families is very high in our demographic, and we agreed that more gender-neutral working norms would not only benefit women but also men.

Finally, we talked about some strategies to create awareness among our classmates on this topic. We agreed that small group dinners are a safe environment that encourages discussion and leads to meaningful reflections that will prompt us to take action. We also discussed other strategies such as posting posters on campus. While not all participants agreed on the effectiveness of this particular measure, we agreed that no measure is going to appeal to every single person, and, in fact several measures are necessary to reach students in such a diverse class.

The discussion was extremely engaging, open, and productive.  We encourage all of you to continue the conversation.

Dinner 2 Participants:  Alex Rosen, Kasia Janczura, Dan Katz, Rob Veling, Greta Carlson, Ashley Wells, Shani Scharfstein, Wangenhei, Jordan Mock, Laszlo Syrop

Our dinner discussion spanned many aspects of gender discrimination in business school but focused around two main concepts:  the importance of language in shaping and reflecting culture around women and how to bring conversations about gender discrimination to the larger, mostly uninvolved Wharton population. We also discussed what feminism means both to us as individuals and in society today. Many of us felt as though there was a level of intimidation that comes with using terms and concepts specific to feminism and gender discrimination. In order to involve the larger school community in this discussion, there needs to be a united effort to introduce these concepts to the less familiar and help them to internalize their meaning and importance.

Another topic that was covered is the underhanded way that some people qualify women in business school. Something that women (and likely, minorities) frequently heard when applying to schools was: “You have a great shot of getting into a top business school; you’re a woman.” This is often coupled with the statement that it is extremely hard to get into business school as a “white male.” When individuals qualify women as having been admitted on the basis of gender rather than merit, intellect, and professional potential, it discredits women’s equal footing in the classroom, recruiting, and beyond. This led us to a broader recognition that business schools have a long way to go in communicating the data-driven value of diversity in admissions and the classroom.