Business schools shift to accommodate the biological clock

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Harvard just announced that it will change the timeline of business school enrollment as a way to attract “a wider range of applicants” Read: Women. Right now women start businesses at two times the rate of men and women do better in school than men do, but women make up less than one-third of the enrollment at top business schools.

There has been wide acknowledgement — in a hush-hush way — that the lag in business school is because the value of an MBA is different for each gender. Some of this difference has to do with personality, but a lot of it has to do with the biological clock.

Millennials have watched Generation X be the most fertility-stressed bunch of women ever. (I, for one, found myself scheduling my pregnancy around TV auditions. Absurd.) We now know that waiting until age 35 to begin having kids is not a good bet to make. If women want to have kids, they should put having a family ahead of having a career – because there is no negotiating with the biological clock.

Millennials know this. They make getting married and having babies by age thirty a priority, and one of the first things to go is business school.

Typically, business schools required a few years of work, then an application process, then two years out of the work force for school. At that point, women are in their mid to late twenties and they need to be focusing on finding a husband. Today’s generation is not stupid. They know that if they want to have kids, it makes no sense to play roulette with ovaries in order to get a few more years of work under their belt before trying to have kids. So business schools are not seeing enough female applicants.

People have been talking in hushed voices of creating faster ways to get through school in order to attract women. And people have been talking off the record about how top schools accept women at an earlier age than they accept men. But Harvard has made it official. In order to attract women into business school they are allowing women in after just two years of work. And they’re encouraging liberal arts students, as well. Sure, Harvard is saying anyone can take the school up on this offer. But surely Harvard does not have trouble getting highly qualified male applicants – these changes are not for those people.

This is a big moment because it’s the convergence of two big ideas in the workplace:

1. Women no longer put their career ahead of their biological clock. We tried it for a generation and it was a massive failure.

2. Business schools acknowledge that they have to change to accommodate women -women are sick of changing themselves to accommodate the old corporate life that is geared toward men.

This second point gives me a lot of hope. There is a movement going on right now to demand that work accommodate life. In general, work does not respond to this movement. Social responsibility does not push through institutional change. After all, you could argue that in business, the people at the top are the worst parents and least likely to accommodate parenting for other people. But finally, there is change: The impending and massive talent shortage that is going to push through a lot of accommodations, and I think Harvard’s shift in admissions is a harbinger of big things to come.

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  1. Monica
    Monica says:

    So weird that you write this. I don’t find myself commenting on the blogs I read often,but certainly not twice on the same blog in a week.

    What you are describing in this post is so true – in fact, this is the reason I am getting my MBA at 23 years old with one year of professional experience. My school has a program specifically for students with less than 3 years of work experience. It is open to both women and men, but it’s very clear that the program is aimed specifically at women with the reasoning described above. Stats: in the fellows program I’m in there are about 60% women – in the rest of the program about 25-30% women. It’s an incredible difference. The great thing is the admissions committee has found that the fellows program students perform just as well as students with more work experience. (Granted, this may be because the fellows program is more selective.)

    MBA schools could use the technique of recruiting women earlier in their careers to make gains on the stagnate female applicant rate in business schools across America. I can’t wait to see other schools adapt similar programs geared towards attracting young women to MBA programs.

  2. TracyB
    TracyB says:

    As a GenX MBA mommy, I heartily hope you’re right that this is indeed a “harbinger of big things to come”, not only for business school but also for post-business school opportunities.

    I had my daughter at 31, 2 years after I graduated from b-school. Getting into and through school was not a problem, but finding a rewarding and reasonably lucrative job that allows me to actually spend time with my little one has been a definite challenge.

    I and too many of my 30ish female friends find ourselves struggling to use our expensive degrees in a way that doesn’t mean we never see our tiny children. As you noted, the ROI just isn’t the same for women.

  3. Queercents
    Queercents says:

    My advice to Gen Y women: learn about your reproductive system now and respect the limitations that will come with age. There's way more to understand about our ability to procreate than what you learned in health class.

    Don't be lulled into thinking you have all the time in the world just because Hollywood is having babies after forty – most 40+ celebs are doing IVF or using donor eggs and these procedures run $10K – $25K per try. It quickly can exceed the cost of a college education and there are no student loans to create a baby.

    So either make a baby before your 35 or make a lot of money by the time your 40 – you'll need it to get a baby after that.

    * * * * * *
    I thought I'd chime in here to say that Nina has been blogging about the cost of making a baby with her partner. I love this series. She's linked to one post (click Queercents) but I am listing some of the other posts, becuase I'm a huge fan. And also because I think Nina does a lot to dispel the myth that having kids when you are over 35 is a cakewalk.


  4. Daniel Sitter
    Daniel Sitter says:

    I can identify more with your second point Penelope, especially since I received my degree thirty years ago. As a life-long learner though, I continue to devour relevant information, techniques and new technology. I have found that many Web2.0 blogs form what is now my new extended university education, my masters work!

    We Americans work harder and longer that anyone else. We are workaholics that are slowly killing ourselves and sacrificing our families for the almighty and uncaring corporatons. Work has been dominating our lives and forcing us to exclude eveything else. It’s too high a price to pay.

    I also believe that there is a subtle movement underway to change this. The workplace will become far more virtual and flexible. We have to change, or there won’t be enough anxiety and depression medicine to go around!

    Happy, fulfilled people make the best and most productive employees and entrepreneurs. This way, we are likely to live longer as well, having a retirement to enjoy!

  5. Melanie
    Melanie says:

    Penelope, you are right on. I am a Gen-Y gal who is trying to decide whether I really need an MBA for my job, and if so, when to do it. I’ve realized that having a family now while I’m in my fertile years is more important. I already have found a Gen-Y friendly place to work that values families and flex time, I will still have youthful energy to run around with the kids, and I won’t be 60 years old by the time my youngest graduates from high school!

    @Tracy B – Thanks for your advice. While I do want to be in a management position someday I don’t want to be in an executive position that requires more than 40 hours a week, so at this point I’m thinking an MBA is probably a waste of time and money if my goal is to get to mid-level management.

  6. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    This is an important conversation to have. I’m happy to hear that Harvard is adjusting their recruitment practices. I’m hopeful that other universities will follow in their footsteps to offer graduate programs that work with women. I especially would like to see Ph.D. programs that are online or part-time to accommodate bright, young moms who don't want to leave their little ones for 40+ hours a week.

  7. TracyB
    TracyB says:

    I’d also like to add that, for post-MBA professionals, just 40 hours a week almost counts as part-time.

    My daughter IS now in full-time daycare, yet compared to the rest of my office I’m a poster child for family values (aka a slacker) because I don’t come in until 8:30 and I leave at 5:30.

    However, I don’t regret my MBA at all–ironically, I’ve been developing a very nice little side business as a GMAT prep tutor that will someday (I hope) replace my full-time income.

    • slumpster
      slumpster says:

      If you worked only 40 hours/week – and a steady predictable schedule of hours in any given week that would permit commuting and outside commitments – at many post MBA job I know about you would be tracked on the “out” side of up or out within two years. Putting it another way, those of us (moslty males) who did this to cover for those who didn’t (often female) got the work done, and justified our continued places for at least one more year.

      If you can’t or won’t do the time, don’t get started.

  8. emergingleadership
    emergingleadership says:

    I would have to agree with the assessment that changes are needed in the workplace to accomodate family needs. I am skeptical that the workplace culture is ready for such sweeping changes. Case in point – the reduced work week, or the option to work from home one day a week. This talk currently exists only around the water cooler, and anybody that brings it up at a board meeting for serious discussion is jeopardizing their credibility.

  9. Tamara Paton
    Tamara Paton says:

    I am 32-year old female Wharton MBA. Perhaps you would be surprised at how heartily I disagree with Penelope’s post.

    Work experience enhances one’s MBA experience. Well-rounded and mature perspectives provide richer context for learning and enhance classroom discussions.

    Some people gain that mature perspective in 2 years of full-time employment, but I see those cases as exceptions. If MBA programmes lower the admissions bar, they are not catering to exceptions; they are redefining the rules. In the end, its the students themselves that will feel shortchanged.

    Penelope applauds these lower standards because they encourage more women to return to school and join the executive ranks. I just don’t see how this move really helps.

    A woman who previously began MBA studies at the age of 26 now will hit campus at 24. She will return to the workforce at 26, rather than 28 previously. I’m not advocating that anyone target advanced maternal age status, but it would seem like women can plan for children under either scenario. Is the enhanced flexibility worth eroding MBA admission standards and the resulting quality of the graduating class?

    I wonder if women’s lack of interest in the MBA is really a reflection of family planning concerns. Instead, could it be that women are simply less interested than men in the C-suite? And who is to say that a 50/50 split between women and men is the right ratio for b-school or the boardroom?

    I will pound the table in support of women gaining unfettered access to their field of choice. I’ll demand equal access, but I don’t mind if fewer women than men take advantage of the opportunity. It’s our choice. Lowering our standards is not going to change that outcome for the better.

  10. Peter V.
    Peter V. says:

    I would never have guessed in a million years . . . Penelope, you’ve succeeded in making me feel old today :) .

  11. Caitlin Weaver
    Caitlin Weaver says:

    Business schools have been trying for years to increase the percentage of female students to no avail, so I’m glad to see Harvard finally taking a new approach. I hope it yields results. I also hope, however, that these same women who are applying to business school will think long and hard about whether they really need an MBA to achieve their career goals. The times are a-changing, and while an MBA is still highly regarded, there may be other, less expensive routes to the same destination.

  12. Phaedrus
    Phaedrus says:

    While I appreciate the sentiment, I fear that those going into an MBA without enough work experience are short changing themselves and devaluing the meaning of an MBA..

    All in all, it is still likely better than nothing, but yet another example of the need to decide between children and a corporate career., You really can’t be successful at the highest level at both (although you can be a great parent and a competent employee/manager, which is more than enough for most people.

    At the end of the day, face time matters, whether it be to you family or job. Just as you can’t be a good parent without spending time with your kifds, you can’t be a good employee (and especially managmenr, without spending time with your work.

    So while a reduced work week is becoming increasingly an option in many workplaces, it will (and should) remain a ‘slow track option’ and those that chose it in order to balance other parts of there lives(whether it be family, hobbies or second careers) shouldn’t expect the same opportunities as somebody who whats a full week and then some.

  13. Pirate Jo
    Pirate Jo says:

    ” … yet another example of the need to decide between children and a corporate career”

    Hee hee hee, that’s what YOU think. I said no to both and spend my time playing.

  14. Andrew
    Andrew says:

    I agree with Tamara’s response and will even take things a step further.

    Allowing less professionally mature individuals into MBA programs does not only dilute the experience for them, but also for the peers they share a class with. The majority of learning in these environments is the sharing of experiences of how things are done in the professional world in different contexts. It is rare that someone with two years experience has the background to discuss organizational behavior dynamics or business strategy from first-hand perspective.

    the choice isn’t about if or when, it’s about why you should go to business school. Penelope almost defeats her own point in saying that women should go early for their MBA, then make time for kids after. Why, when she then says that high-powered folks are the worst parents (and I’ve seen evidence both ways on this first-hand)? I think the real problem is we have a generation (of which I am a part), that wants it all: big house, nice car, great family, awesome job, two degrees. It is that philosophy that led Gen X to their state of despair, but Gen Y is only doing one thing differently – they’re doing it younger.

  15. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    I didn’t see anything about changed admissions policies in the NY Times article you linked to. It just says that when you’re already making zillions of dollars, the opportunity cost of a MBA is probably too high.

  16. Cooper
    Cooper says:

    I’ve been reading this blog for a few months now, and I have a serious question for you, Penelope. Why don’t you just tell women not to have children at all? You advise your female readers to forgo job stability, lose weight at all costs, radically change their dress and personality to “self-promote”, blog four times a week, and accept sexual harassment at work. You claim that making these huge personal sacrifices is mandatory to succeed in the workplace today. Yet you refuse to take the final step, and admit to women that the personal sacrifice that will have the single greatest positive effect on their careers is forgoing motherhood. I understand that you are promoting a work-life balance, but it seems to me that work-life balance is most difficult to achieve when there are children in the picture. Why don’t you just be truthful with women, and admit that they still must choose between being mothers and being good businesswomen? I am a young woman who has decided not to have children in favor of her career, and I’m tired of having friends and family constantly cite articles like this one in an effort to convince me to consider motherhood.

    * * * * * *
    I think it’s pretty clear that the worst thing a woman can do for her career is have kids. (I could cite a million studies here, but Congress did a great study in 2001 or around there which supports this conclusion.) Also, it’s pretty clear that kids do not make people happy. (Good citation here is Dan Gilbert’s research in his book Stumbling on Happiness.) Having kids is biological. There is no rational reason to have kids. We do it beause we are biologically driven to have kids. Some people are not biologically driven. Those people will probably be happy about all the research…


  17. Erin
    Erin says:

    I’m conflicted about this. I started my MBA at a top 30 school’s evening program when I was 31, while working full-time. I was definitely one the older people in the program – most of my classmates were in their mid- to late-20s. One of the reasons I went to grad school was that I was laid off twice in 2 years after the dotcom crash, and a lot of the database marketing jobs I applied for after that said “MBA required” or “MBA preferred” – it was almost like the MBA was what a bachelor’s used to be. It took me 4 years to finish, and I had my first baby at age 33 while halfway done with my degree. (Yeah, I had no idea what I was getting into.) I did wish I had gone back to school earlier – it would have been less stressful.Before the baby I took classes 2 nights a week including summer semesters. After the baby I either took a class 1 night a week or took 3-week long intensive Saturday classes to minimize time away from my daughter, and I didn’t take summer classes. Of course the top 10 MBA schools like Harvard, MIT, Wharton don’t offer options like this as far as I know. I graduated in May and I’m now 36 and pregnant with my 2nd child (oh, and both times I got pregnant on the very first try so all my fertility worries based on the horror stories I heard about waiting too long – which were the reason I didn’t wait till I was done with school to start having kids – were for nothing). So what did the MBA get me? I do make about 40% more than I did when I started the program, although that wasn’t my main motivation and maybe that would have happened anyway as I gained more experience. And I did learn a lot I didn’t know about business, things that have helped me with my work and career. I made networking connections with other people in the program. It did give me more confidence that I can start my own business one day, which was not something I ever dreamed of before I had kids and I knew absolutely nothing about finance and entrepreneurship before grad school. But it is going to take me a long time to pay off the loans (the Fortune 500 company I worked for only paid $1,500 a year of the tuition), which is actually something of a deterrent to starting that business any time soon. If I hadn’t had kids I very well might have a job right now where I could pay off those loans a lot more quickly, but I’m not willing to work crazy hours. All in all, I don’t regret doing it but I do wish I had done it earlier. I do think that it’s silly to do it with less than 3 years of work experience. I know I wouldn’t have gotten nearly as much out of it if I couldn’t relate the coursework to job experience.

  18. Ann
    Ann says:

    I’m curious about the perception that in looking to attract “a wider range of applicants” Harvard is focused on reacing out women, specifically. I don’t contest your supporting information, Penelope – clearly, women are more interested in a variety of other life pursuits than solely in attaining MBAs. I wonder instead whether Harvard isn’t looking to dip into the youthforce before they start making the big money… and decide the MBA isn’t worth their time?

    The one new HBS program announcement I could find mentioned reaching out to “to high-achieving college juniors studying in the fields of science, engineering, healthcare, government, and public service, among other disciplines”. Not necessarily gendered areas. But perhaps you are discussing another program?

    From the Harvard Business School website:

    * * * * * *
    I think you have to read between the lines. Anyone who is going to do a startup right after college isn’t going to get an MBA right after college. So Harvard isnt’ getting those applicants. And Harvard doesn’t need any more qualified men — Harvard has plenty. The only thing they need more of is quaified women.


  19. Cyndi
    Cyndi says:

    Well, in the interest of fairness, tell men that fatherhood isn’t good for their career either. Certainly don’t marry a woman with a career or ambition.

    Maybe women shouldn’t marry men with careers either. Let’s just drop all this marriage and family garbage and turn the kids over to some socialist government entity who will raise them up to be the good corporate automatons we can be without them.

    * * * * * * *

    Men who have kids do better at work than men who don’t have kids. Most people think this is because men who have wives at home do better at work. Here is the post I wrote about this:


  20. MBA Mom
    MBA Mom says:

    As a 32 year old MBA mother of two (who actually met her husband in MBA school), I have to say that I do understand where you’re going with this, but not sure that I necessary agree.

    On an academic level, I agree with Tamara that work experience is KEY to the MBA – there is no denying that the students in my class who had real work experience got more out of the additional schooling.

    On the more superficial “biological clock” discussion, I have to say that MBA school is a great place to meet potential mates. Since the class is a little older and more experienced, folks really know what they are looking for. I know lots of people who met their future spouses at MBA school while in their twenties and thirties, leaving plenty of time for kids and all of that stuff.

  21. Jenflex
    Jenflex says:

    Interesting to me is that nowhere in this thread is there any commentary on how to attribute value to an MBA degree, or whether the value of that degree is being eroded.

    If you hypothesize that the MBA is about classroom education, then it really doesn’t matter when you undertake it, as long as you have the academic chops.

    However, commenters like Andrew and Tamara make the case (and feel strongly!) that it’s not the academic theory so much as the practical experience and networking opportunities that create the value of the MBA experience. This article argues along similar lines, hypothesizing that the value of the MBA is as a “branded network”:

    OK, so if the value of the degree is in networking, then what’s the competitive landscape for networking?

    Oh, wait, it’s a changing landscape with low barriers to entry. So, MBA programs better be prepared to demonstrate appreciably better ROI on the tuition investment, in addition to the opportunity cost. Fail to maintain the brand promise, or experience a market shift such that the brand promise no longer holds true, and risk declining market share.

    * * * * * *
    You pose a great question, Jen. Here is an article that starts to ask the question, Do people need to go to business school anymore?


  22. want a Masters
    want a Masters says:

    Interesting post. I wonder if Harvard will also try to attract women like myself, who had their kids earlier (to the detriment of their careers), and are looking to get an MBA now. I still haven’t decided if an MBA is a good investment for me (particularly the expensive version from a top school), so I’m exploring various options right now. I also don’t want to work crazy hours. I am happy that business schools, and business world in general are waking up to this issue, and that women are realizing that having kids later may not work as well as they thought. I can see some of this almost first-hand: hubby is a high-risk obstetrician, and it is amazing how many of his patients show up having gotten pregnant with the help of technology, with major problems in pregnancy, hoping for more kids. It is a fact that getting pregnant AND carrying that pregnancy to term is easier when you’re in your 20s and early 30s. It is a good thing that women are starting to understand how biology works.

  23. Fellow Madisonian
    Fellow Madisonian says:

    At that point, women are in their mid to late twenties and they need to be focusing on finding a husband.

    I’m not sure whether you’re saying this, or whether you’re ventriloquizing on behalf of women who want families. But either way, I wholeheartedly disagree with the implication that “finding a husband” (what an antiquated-sounding phrase) is or should be a woman’s primary focus, at any point in her life, to the extent that it makes school and work impossible. Do most women you know stop going to school or looking for jobs so they can devote themselves full-time to bars and internet dating? Sure, most of us are interested in getting married and having kids, but somehow that all seems to fall into place just fine even when we devote ourselves to our careers. At some point all couples will have to decide who’s going to work less in order to raise their children. We ought to be arguing for a society that allows women and men both to take parental leave, and for equal pay grades that permit couples to decide who’s going to stay home based on what they want, not on salary.

  24. Fellow Madisonian
    Fellow Madisonian says:

    Women no longer put their career ahead of their biological clock. We tried it for a generation and it was a massive failure.

    I also meant to comment (and I will do so briefly) on what seems to me here to be a brazen generalization. What failure are you referring to? The one you back up here with purely anecdotal evidence? I’d be interested to know on what grounds you say that women as a whole have turned away (and with what good reason, precisely?) from childbearing in our thirties–which, as far as I know, is perfectly medically sound.

    * * * * * *
    The link to click in the sentence is on TRIED IT. Usually, you an clicke the links if you’re looking for rationale for what I’m saying.


  25. Wedgedgravy
    Wedgedgravy says:

    This is amazing. I cannot believe what the world is coming to. Thirty years ago, you worked 9 to 5 and went home. Now, you are lucky to get out of the office more than you are there. As for this affirmative action non-sense, it is for the birds. When you start playing favorites, like this article describes, you limit the ability of those that are truly deserving of maximizing their potential. Maybe if I had a vagina the world would look different to me. I think I am going to start a blog with a decidedly neo-con view so I don’t have to listen to this liberal whiny drivel.

  26. Kathryn
    Kathryn says:

    I’m not certain that I would agree that people need 2 years of experience to properly “appreciate” business school if they’re being pulled from a high-quality applicant pool. I add that last piece of emphasis because not all business schools or students are created equal. A top tier school attracting top tier students should also be attracting individuals bright enough to understand the theories even without extensive experience. The fact that these schools exist should indicate that there are elements of corporate life that are better learned in the classroom than in the boardroom. With the right quality of student, the limit of what can be taught academically should be higher than typical. The problem then resolves itself into how to identify students of this quality. Some experience should definitely be pre-requisite, but I’m not certain that an arbitrary value of two years is any better than an arbitrary value of one year or five years.

    In any case, applicants admitted despite being under-qualified should wash out, so creating a system that encourages admission of underrepresented groups should not pose a problem in a rigorous (but fair) curriculum. If gender parity is accomplished in admissions and continued through graduation, then it indicates that suitably qualified applicants were selected. Unless, of course, portions of the grading policy were altered in order to maintain this parity artificially.

    (The above opinion is further reinforced by the fact that there is no shortage of prestigious schools refusing to address gender parity in traditionally masculine subjects. So if a young man really is that smart, then he’ll still be able to find something to do with himself.)

  27. Don Becker
    Don Becker says:

    The last sentence of your September 26th blog was brillant. The talent shortage that is beginning and will continue must be filled by amoung other things a better use of the available women business has failed to attract. To attract women we have to be able to listen and learn what accomondations they as a group may need in general such as accomodating child bearing and rearing in their career and education path. If we continue to only attract men we will continue to be short of personnel.

    • slumpster
      slumpster says:

      What talent shortage? Have you seen the unemployment and underemployment rates for college educated people in their early to mid 20s?

      Lost generation is more like it. Many of them won’t begin to see a professional track for years, if ever

  28. Andrew
    Andrew says:

    “we have to be able to listen and learn what accomondations they as a group may need”

    Since when did it stop being sexism if you were catering to the other sex instead of inhibiting them? It used to be about gender equality, and now it seems to be about something else altogether.

    The assumption that frustrates me is that only women should get an accomodation for child-rearing. Only one company I have worked for had the sense to recognizee that after the birth, the man *wants* to be home with the newborn just as much as the woman in many cases. But we separate the medical need for recovery from the emotional needs of starting a family when we allow for maternity leave but not paternity. But in the discussion of the time after this initial period, it seems to always be about the accomodations women need.

    If you’re going to talk about making accomodations, it’s a slippery slope. The choices you make of what to do in your personal time should not be the responsibility of your employer to accomodate. I don’t get extra time away from work despite being a night-time grad student and in an active band – commitments which regularly get me home at 11pm to get up for work again at 6am. Yet these responsibilities are not given the weight of rearing a family because they are not “traditional” lifestyle choices that warrant accomodation (though one could argue that the increasing prevalence of tuition reimbursement might be an accomodation of sorts). I will never have children, so why is it I don’t get any extra time to do the things are are important to me?

    Workplace flexibility should not ever be based on the needs of any group (except the disabled) because inherent in that is discrimination. It may not appear to be as such because the effects are viewed as positive for the recipient of the accomodation, but discrimination it is. What companies need to do is take a look at examples like Best Buy, where flexibility is the norm, not the exception, and everyone still gets their job done. The absence of the need to accomodate at all is what we need to move towards.

  29. Erik
    Erik says:

    While I understand people’s argument that allowing less experienced applicants into Harvard decreases the experience of your average business school graduate, I think it’s clear that Harvard is making the decision that this is less detrimental to the MBA experience than the fact that MBA students are predominantly male. Every decision involves trade offs, and Harvard here has clearly decided the benefits of more women outweigh the cost of less experienced students.

  30. Steve
    Steve says:

    The concept that women need special treatment to succeed is out of date. Women earn 60% of BA degrees and an even larger percentage of advanced degrees. The issue is even more acute in minority races. The schools are taking notice and are simply catering to their best customers. An MBA is nice, but if mom drops out of the workforce for several key years and then still has to assume the primary caretaker role it is still going to be very hard to get to the top. Women in the USA today have more choices, more status, and more success than any women anywhere in the world or in history. Baby Boomers tried the Supermom role and figured out that it can’t work. I guess you still can’t have everything.

  31. Don Becker
    Don Becker says:

    Andrew sorry to hear you have not worked for a firm with flexible schedules for a variety of endeavors. We are more interested in work accomplished per month without worry about the specificity of the hours worked. We would accomodate your needs for school and band as we would accomodate for a variety of other issues. My comment was specific to women because despite our flexibility we often can not keep women as engineers after they have their children. We miss their contributions and would be willing to consider anything including part time. Employers who can not accomodate their employees needs will lose the best to companies that will. It may surprise you but I understand the perspective you articulated in your comment and agree. Did not mean to sound as if I was only interested in accomodating specifically women.

  32. Michael
    Michael says:

    Do you have any corroboration that the change in admission policy is designed to woo women? Not that I don’t agree with you – I do. I think they must be thinking that. But I was just curious if this is something you’ve surmised or if Harvard issued some press release to this effect. You often write in a clever way that makes it look like you have more support for your ideas and conclusions than you do and this post is no different. Again, I don’t disagree with your conclusion as to their motivation but the entire time I read this post I was waiting to see a link to some article or document in which Harvard made their motivation clear because I was just curious to read their thought process. Maybe this is something they wouldn’t say publicly, I don’t know. Just couldn’t tell from your post.

    * * * * * *
    There are links to the Wall St. Journal article and to the Harvard press release. You can read the evidence for yourself. That’s the great thing about the Internet :)


  33. Fellow Madisonian
    Fellow Madisonian says:

    Women no longer put their career ahead of their biological clock. We tried it for a generation and it was a massive failure.

    I also meant to comment (and I will do so briefly) on what seems to me here to be a brazen generalization. What failure are you referring to? The one you back up here with purely anecdotal evidence? I'd be interested to know on what grounds you say that women as a whole have turned away (and with what good reason, precisely?) from childbearing in our thirties – €“which, as far as I know, is perfectly medically sound.

    * * * * * *
    The link to click in the sentence is on TRIED IT. Usually, you an clicke the links if you're looking for rationale for what I'm saying.

    – €“Penelope


    Yes, actually, I clicked there. That’s what I was referring to when I mentioned “anecdotal evidence.” Now, upon returning one more time to that link, I see that it’s even worse: it’s an anecdote from a for-profit fertility clinic. This is your evidence for a “massive” generational “failure” of late childbirth?

    That’s what I call a generalization.

  34. Rich
    Rich says:

    From Penelope:

    “And Harvard doesn't need any more qualified men – Harvard has plenty. The only thing they need more of is quaified women.”

    I have been reading Penelope since Brazen Careerist was just and email subscription from So I see this theme come up every once in a while. Our education system is geared towards females from elementary school through college based on thoughts like the sentence above (see admission rates and graduation rates as well as the change in teaching style and test scores for the past 20 years). I thought Gen Y was above all of this gender centric stuff. When women find value in the MBA, they will apply and be accepted.

    Will a ‘gender based’ MBA be as useful as a MBA from 1985?

  35. sparklingallison
    sparklingallison says:

    I think it is a great step for business schools to be more accommodating to women. There is so much more to be done, not just with business schools, but with employers providing more flexibility for working mothers.

    I plan to apply to MBA programs next Fall and definitely took the baby factor into consideration. There is a lot of pressure for me to squeeze it in right now so I can have a couple of years work experience post-MBA before having children. (Which I will probably just get to at your drop dead 35-years-old mark.)

    I’m looking forward to getting my MBA as a motivation to go back to work after having children. I also hope that it will provide me with more flexibility and options as I have a family.

  36. Scott Sanders
    Scott Sanders says:

    Penelope – Harvard Business School has never had a work experience requirement! … at least not in my recent memory.

    Take a look at this page:

    “Please note that there is no minimum work experience requirement for the MBA Program. Successful candidates are able to demonstrate strength in the criteria outlined above, regardless of their number of years of work experience. They include college seniors with significant leadership experience, as well as individuals with as little as one to two years of full-time work experience.”

  37. How Attract Women
    How Attract Women says:

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  38. Margo
    Margo says:

    I am 26 and recently in the thick of MBA applications and interview trips. I almost applied last year, but I stopped myself, realizing I was doing it more for this mistaken view that I must obtain the degree early enough to be under 30 when I went looking for someone to marry. What a ridiculous reason that was! Waiting ONE more year has made all the difference – I know what my unique value proposition is, I know exactly how I will finance my education, and I am doing it for myself…not for some imagined view of how potential mates would perceive it.

    Harvard, as I understand it, vacillates every few years between targeting 24/25’s and 28/29 age cohorts. They’ll decide they want the 24/25’s because they’re easier to mold earlier in their careers…then realize they have no experience and recruit the 28/29’s…then realize they are harder to mold in the HBS model, and the cycle starts over.

    I visited 6 of the top 20 schools, and met other applicants that rounded out most of the rest. At the schools on the lower end of the age/experience curve, I felt the maturity was relatively lacking. At 24/25, you haven’t seen your friends choose kids over work, or the other way around. The 30 year old applicants I talked to said they felt really old and out of place at HBS.

    I actually find the 24/25 age target makes me respect the HBS program less. Harvard can do it because, well, it’s Harvard, but nobody else can really gamble like that. The employers would stop showing up. I wonder how the very young MBA’s are really perceived in the job market. Particularly in this economy, employers want to see a couple grey hairs and some experience.

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