September 11, 2013

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Unlike Dean Frei, who is gay-married to a former HBS student named Anne Morriss, Dr. Faust is a practicing heterosexual. In fact, there’s an instructive tale in how as a history grad student at Penn she divorced her medical student husband and married her department chairman. This not-terribly feminist adventure doesn”€™t seem to have hindered her academic career, to say the least. But I”€™ve never noticed much interest in this story.

The current wave of feminist excitement, much like the last major outbreak (the 1992 Year of the Woman), was launched by Democrats for short-term political advantage. In contrast to Bill Clinton, who really liked women, the latest beneficiary, Barack Obama, can barely muster the energy to pretend he cares about feminist concerns. Obama’s first memoir makes clear that he preferred his deadbeat dad to his Ph.D. mother (who dumped him on his grandparents) and his deadbeat grandfather to his grandmother, a pioneering female bank executive.

Ironically, Obama revived Larry Summers’s career, and after some heavy male bonding now hopes to appoint him chairman of the Federal Reserve rather than the worthy female contender, despite Larry’s track record of being more trouble than he’s worth.

So what’s the real story about women at Harvard Business School?

As women have come to outnumber men in most fields of higher education, top MBA schools such as Harvard, where there are three men for every two women, are among the last academic outposts of eligible bachelors. The Harvard MBA might be the ultimate MRS degree. Thus, according to Kantor, “€œMany of them dressed as if Marc Jacobs were staging a photo shoot in a Technology and Operations Management class.”€ (That represents a sizable change from my day, when MBA students dressed nondescriptly.)

This is rational behavior on the part of HBS women. According to a chart of U. of Chicago MBA salaries that Kantor asserts is comparable to the Harvard numbers, starting salaries for men are only about $10,000 higher, but by nine years out, men outearn women $400,000 to $260,000. Hence, the gender gap in GPA that so agitates the Faust-Frei axis cannot explain why the income gaps get larger, not smaller, the more sexist Harvard men’s malign effect wears off.

And that $140,000 difference is just for those still employed. It’s not uncommon for corporate executive couples to jointly decide they have enough money for the wife to stay home with the children. My son earned a scholarship to a Pasadena-area private high school where the volunteer moms tended to be MBAs or lawyers who had retired because their husbands were making so much money. (As you might expect, school activities were superbly organized.)

Conversely, more than a few HBS men aspire to act like the Big Swinging Dicks notorious from Tom Wolfe and Michael Lewis books about Wall Street. Contrary to feminist theory, the alpha male’s acts don”€™t alienate many young women. As Matthew Weiner explained about why women love his Mad Men televisionshow: “€œWhat’s sexist in the office is fuel in the bedroom.”€

Not surprisingly, all this rampant heterosexuality at HBS drives lesbian Dean Frei into a frenzy of micromanaging future captains and captainesses of industry:

As Halloween approached, some students planned to wear costumes to class, but at the last minute Ms. Frei, who wanted to set a serious tone and head off the potential for sexy pirate costumes, sent a note out prohibiting it….

This strong differentiation of gender affects in the 21st century is a striking change from the early 1980s”€™ more feminist and restrained yuppie culture. Slutty Halloween, for instance, was not a major occasion back then. My recollection of the essential 1982 yuppie experience was going to a restaurant for lunch with coworker MBAs, male and female, and talking about other restaurants. Discussing food was a polite compromise between the male desire to talk about sports and the female desire to talk about fashion.

Why were sex differences more muted among MBAs three decades ago?

First, until August 1982, the Dow Jones average was under 1,000, so Wall Street’s style of crass behavior wasn”€™t as nationally influential as it became when the markets rose and rose. The corporate cultural role models in that distant era tended to be buttoned-down institutions such as Procter & Gamble.

Second, we early yuppies were simply poorer. Thirty years ago, young MBAs didn”€™t have the money for today’s strip clubs for men and spa days for women. As people get richer, their behavior normally doesn”€™t become more gender neutral. Instead, they can afford to act out their identities.



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