From Classroom to Workplace: Theory to Practice

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Women graduates of the business education programs at Harvard University from the late 1930s to the early 1970s found work in wide-ranging fields: retail, publishing, banking, investment management, industry, government, insurance, manufacturing, education, and the nonprofit sector. As students transitioned from the classroom to the workplace, they came face to face with the realities of pursuing careers in male-dominated arenas and of achieving a delicate balance between their professional and personal lives.

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Women students, for example, experienced the sting of discrimination beginning with company recruiters, who offered multiple job opportunities to their male classmates, but not to them. "You knew it was futile just from the questions they asked you. Like, 'How do we know we won't train you and then you'll get married and have kids?'" Lynne Sherwood (MBA 1965), recalls.34 In a 1975 paper on women and management, Natalie Goodman noted that women alumnae reported work-related problems included insufficient salary, lack of appropriate work, employer discrimination, and lack of flexible hours.35

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Value of Business Education

Directors, Faculty, and administrators at Radcliffe College and HBS shaped and fostered graduate business education for women. They continually adapted to changing times and attitudes toward working women. As W. K. Jordan, historian and fourth president of Radcliffe College, observed, "Mr. Whitehead and his colleagues have most wisely kept their thinking and their methods fluid. . . . They have not only moved with the problems of our times, but have managed to think and plan wisely and astutely just ahead of our times."36

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As a result of her business education, "I started framing myself as a business woman," remarked A. Sims Cooledge (HRPBA 1957). "I also expected [myself] to make an impact. . . . This is to me almost more powerful than any particular technology or technical information I might have picked up."37 Barbara Hackman Franklin (MBA 1964) reflected that “the whole business school experience . . . taught me to think in a way I hadn’t before . . . to solve problems, be willing to be analytic . . . and then take action. So it was a question of really learning how to think in a new way that has stuck with me, and has been very important to my career."38

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Women who enrolled in business education programs at Harvard University during this formative period were true pioneers. They sought out the opportunities of an innovative business program, met its challenges, and at times faced discrimination as they entered the workplace. Through resourcefulness, resolve, and solidarity, these students paved the way for future generations of women to make meaningful contributions and assume positions of leadership in the business world.