Subconscious Discrimination of Women
I caught this interview on TV and it was very enlightening. I tried to find it to share with you. I could only find the video. I personally, avoid clicking on videos because I don't have the patience for them (or sometimes the audio capacity). I know many others out there similarly prefer transcripts; and this interview was so good that I personally transcribed it for you. It's that good.
Starting at 22 minutes.
Charlie Rose of PBS is interviewing the Dean of Harvard Business School, Nitin Nohria
Charlie Rose: So on the question of women. Did you think Harvard was doing a good job, both in terms of women as professors, women as graduates and women participating in the academic life in the business school?
Nitin Nohria: We started admitting women at Harvard Business School in 1963 and we took great comfort in the fact that each year, from the eight women who we admitted in the first class, we were admitting more women each year. And many of these women went on to have great careers. So we were satisfied. We looked at an increasing number of women. But when we looked harder at the numbers we realized that even though we were increasing the participation of women, not all of them were thriving at Harvard Business School. For example, every year we award graduating students Baker scholars. These are people who are honors first year and second year. This is the highest academic honor at Harvard Business School. We also gave people first year Honors and second year Honors. And we found that women were about half as represented, in these honors, as they should be by the percentage that we admitted. So for example when we had thirty percent of the women who were a part of the class only fifteen percent were getting honors. So that made us, at least pause and ask ourselves the question why. Why would it be the case that we believe we are admitting equally qualified women, we were not putting the thumb on the scale to admit women who were as qualified as men. So why would they not do as well at Harvard Business School? It's hard to believe that women don't aspire to get honors at the same rate as men do. What we learned was that there was nothing deliberate that was going on in our classrooms. We found, for example, that some people suspected that maybe male professors were more hostile to women. And since we have class participation as fifty percent of the grade they were just undervaluing the comments that were made. But we learned that, no, women were as likely to under-perform in classes taught by women professors as by...
Charlie Rose: So why were they underperforming in class participation?
Nitin Nohria: We learned that there were very subtle things. Women were a little more tentative sometimes, to get into classroom discussion. As a result they might not get called upon at the same rate as men. We learned that women's comments were not as likely to be remembered as men who spoke up. So I was far more likely, If Charlie spoke, to say Charlie had a great comment. On the other hand if a woman spoke I might just ignore that comment and not give it as much attention.
Charlie Rose: But why?
Nitin Nohria: We've learned through lots and lots of research that's been done on gender that we are all socialized, all of us, both men and women. And it turns out that women are as likely to under-represent, undervalue, overlook, not pay as much attention to the comments of a woman who speaks as a man. But once you become conscious of that and this is all you have to do - we actually made people be mindful of that. Once you become conscious of that you can correct yourself quite quickly. But you have to actually recognize that this is a bias we all have. And these forms of subtle bias. We think is actually getting in the way of women succeeding. Not just at Harvard Business School but at all organizations.
Charlie Rose: As you know, there's been a series of articles written. There was an article written about Harvard Business School as you well know. Did you think about this issue because people wrote articles about it? Or did you come to it on your own?
Nitin Nohria: We came to it on our own because we just had to confront this data, which was data that I think that anybody who is committed to being a meritocracy - and suddenly, as I mentioned to you my own life story makes me deeply believe that I'm only sitting here because Harvard Business School was a meritocracy for me. So the fact that it could not be a meritocracy in the truest sense of the word for others was deeply disturbing to me and to many of my colleagues. We just started with that. We started with an inconvenient truth. And we said, "let's get to the bottom of it." And I have learned on this matter. The simplest lesson I learned was from a great legal theorist, Louis Brandeis, actually who once said, "Sunshine is the best disinfectant." And that's the policy that we adopted on this matter at Harvard Business School. We said, "We're going to bring everything that we know, full sunlight onto this issue. We'll let people discover and discuss any hypothesis that they have. We'll try to bring the best data and the best analysis to this topic." And that's what helped us. What helped us was to make this issue discussable, to try whatever experiment we could, to address the issues we saw. And, you know, in three years we were able to close the gap. So that was a pretty remarkable thing.
Charlie Rose: Silicon Valley has that problem, as you know.
Nitin Nohria: Yes, every organization has this problem. This is a problem in Wall Street. I would hazard to guess that it exists in your industry.
Charlie Rose: I'm sure it does in my industry.
Nitin Nohria: This is not a problem that I think is just restricted to business schools. The advice I would have is just to do what we did. First look at data carefully and ask your own organization to say, "What is it about the microculture of the organization?" Because it's not the big macroculture. I think we're past the days when anybody is deliberately and overtly trying to discriminate against women. This is a much more subtle thing.
Charlie Rose: See I do too. I'm fascinated by this. The notion. Because it's a much more subtle thing... We constantly ask ourselves, "Why are there more men than women as guests on this television program?" An important question. You really do have to say, "Are you doing everything in a pro-active way? Have you examined that in a proactive way?" Ask yourself how can you change.
Nitin Nohria: It's interesting. Correctly, Primarily, in America, we have an aversion to do things by legal fiat - a requirement of. In Europe for example, in Norway and in Finland and in some other parts of Europe, there has now been a mandate for a certain percentage of women to serve on corporate boards. When this mandate was first announced a lot of people said, "Where would we find the women? There just aren't enough women to serve on these boards." But very rapidly the mandate forced them to look and lo and behold, there were actually plenty of qualified women who were being ignored or not looked at seriously. People could find to serve on these boards. And when they served on these boards, people found that they were plenty competent and plenty capable. I do think that we have to collectively realize that there have been many, many years in which the talents and achievements of women, not for but for subtle reasons, tend to be underestimated. Just a little bit. And in a competitive world all it takes is to be underestimated by a little bit for discrimination to take hold. And that's what we found at Harvard Business School and we found ways to fix them. Like a simple thing: we now make sure there is an independent person who is a scribe in our classrooms who takes note of who said what. It just makes the faculty member, after the class, have an easier ability to recognize and make sure that women who made great comments aren't in any way being neglected or ignored. That one simple intervention.
Charlie Rose: ...I firmly believe that if you take an institution that is competing against another institution and one institution does not fully use all the skills and talents of women and the other does; the other is going to be better. And win. Win.
Nitin Nohria: Absolutely. Because we are, in the end, a place whose success depends on attracting the very best people. So if you think about Harvard Business School is. Our very success depends on saying, "We are a place that should attract the very best people, men or women, whatever nationality. Whatever religion. And if they come to Harvard Business School, they must think that they can thrive at Harvard Business School. They must feel that they can be given an equal chance to succeed. If we can be an institution that can make that promise, then it will be easier for us to continue to attract the best people whether they are men or women. And in the long run that can make us competitive. We're doing this because we deeply believe that as an academic institution that is committed to excellence. This is a way for us to be better and to out-compete other organizations. I think this should be true of any organization.