Guest Column by Jordan Dannenberg | Wharton’s “women problem"
The Wharton’s School’s speaker gender imbalance
October 15, 2013, 6:04 pm · Updated October 15, 2013, 11:43 pm·
The Wharton School is one of the most well-respected business schools in the world. For over a century, it has educated many of the most successful business leaders. Certainly, Wharton and its graduates are commendable in many ways. Wharton is, nonetheless, insufficiently fulfilling an important responsibility as a leading educational institution by inadequately promoting female success in its popular speaker series. With this, Wharton is not only doing a disservice to its female students but also failing to meet its commitment to social impact.
With females comprising over 40 percent of the student body, Wharton’s female intake is among the highest of leading business schools. But along with this statistic comes the reality that the number of female speakers addressing Wharton’s students each year is strikingly limited. Only two of 15 of Wharton’s advertised former Leadership Lectures guests are women. More importantly, though, since the academic year beginning in 2011, only 7 percent of scheduled speakers have been women. Two years ago, no women spoke during the lecture series and, thus far, there are no women scheduled for this year. Also, Wharton San Francisco boasts only one woman among its 12 prominent Executive Speaker Series guests.
Surely, Wharton has brought some prominent female speakers to campus in the last few years. This includes Eva Longoria and United Nations Under-Secretary General Valerie Amos. Additionally, professor Adam Grant, a founder of Authors@Wharton, notes his specific gender-balanced program. Wharton gender-balanced lectures, however, are the exception rather than the rule.
Generally, Penn students and faculty acknowledge this gender imbalance and believe it should be corrected. Professor Mike Useem, a founder of the Leaders@Wharton program, admits, “We are certainly pressing to bring more women into speaking roles.” The majority of interviewed students on the 2013-2014 Leadership Lectures Series Committee echoed this sentiment. Wharton junior Alberto Smeke believes claims of a Wharton gender bias are “unwarranted because we have had a significant amount of women speaking, which is our focus for this year and the coming years.” Although Smeke’s definition of “significant” is questionable, he and others demonstrate a forward-looking attitude. Wharton senior Ankit Aggarwal notes, “We are trying our level best to get more female speakers.” Wharton senior Lisa Xu highlights the important causational factor of the high demand for high-profile female speakers “due to lack of availability and a huge audience interested in listening to them.”
Wharton’s “women problem” is emblematic of a problem throughout the corporate world. According to the nonprofit organization Catalyst, as of September, women held 4.5 percent of CEO positions at Fortune 1000 companies. This undoubtedly limits the potential number of female speakers that visit Wharton each year, but it is an insufficient excuse for accepting the status quo. The New York Times recently reported Harvard Business School’s extensive efforts to give itself a “gender makeover [by] changing its curriculum, rules and social rituals to foster female success.” Now, it’s Penn’s turn. Wharton has a responsibility not only to impress its students with influential speakers but also provide an empowering atmosphere for women and change today’s leadership landscape.
The limited supply of female executives is precisely why Wharton lectures need more women. Having an overwhelming majority of male speakers reinforces the corporate leadership gender imbalance. To change the composition of leadership, Wharton should invite women at the edge of corporate leadership. Showcasing women at the brink of top leadership can energize the development of women striving to open doors at every level. While these women may not attract the same crowds that high-powered male executives, the message that Wharton sends by inviting them will demonstrate a commitment to change. Part of Wharton’s mission is to “harness the knowledge and creativity of the Wharton community to investigate, create, and implement solutions to enduring social problems.” Gender inequality is one of those enduring social problems, and it is time for Wharton to address it from the inside and out.
Jordan Dannenberg is a College sophomore from New York. Her email address is email@example.com.