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Credit: Luke Chen

According to Wharton’s new dean, the biggest challenge facing women in the business world is ensuring that they “can have a balance between their families and their professional lives, with their husbands and partners.”

In an Oct. 17 article in the Wall Street Journal, Geoffrey Garrett said that helping women create that balance is a challenge with economic implications. “If we lose a lot of productivity at times of highest talent and potentially highest contribution, that’s a cost that society can’t bear,” he said.

Clarifying his comment in an email from abroad last week, Garrett added that “there is simply no justification for paying women any less than men to do the same jobs. Equal pay for equal work should be a core principle for all societies.”

But with full-time female employees making 78 cents to every dollar earned by males in the same jobs, and females still comprising only 40 percent of each the newest undergraduate and MBA classes, the new Wharton leadership team may not be focused on the right issues.

Wharton sophomore Graciela Arana thinks Garrett’s Wall Street Journal comment represents a “typical” mentality. “The world is changing, and couples are becoming different. There is more shared responsibility in the household,” she said. “But I wouldn’t say it’s the biggest challenge women face in business today.”

That, she said, is “the narrow mindset” men still seem to have about what women can and cannot do. “A lot of men, even though they seem to be really open-minded, still have in the back of their minds that women are not meant to be in high positions — that they’re too emotional or that they’re meant to be home with their families,” she said.

Arana grew up in Puerto Rico and attended an all-girls high school. After a clubbing night she attended during her freshman year, Arana joined the undergraduate student group Wharton Women, designed to bring women in business and pre-business tracks together to overcome common challenges women face today. “Wharton Women has definitely given me a lot of opportunities,” she said.

In general, Arana described her experience in Wharton as positive. “To be honest, I haven’t really felt like I’ve had to overcome a lot of challenges in Wharton that men don’t,” she said. “I haven’t met a single woman in Wharton who thinks of herself as less capable or as less of a competitor than men.”

Wharton senior Anna Reighart, a vice president of Wharton Women, generally agreed with Garrett, though, that work-life balance is one of the biggest issues for women in the workforce. “Coming out of Wharton, there’s a lot of pressure to have a really big career, and the focus on family life is not as important,” she said. “I can’t speak for all women, but I think in general, that’s probably the thing that I wonder about the most.”

As the job market only gets more competitive, Arana acknowledged that gender discrimination is something that has crossed her mind when she thinks about her future career.

“I am worried about it,” she said. “I went to a Goldman Sachs program this summer, and we spoke to a lot of men and women. But when you really look at these companies, their top management is almost entirely men, and women tend to work in marketing or communications. That’s something that’s yet to be overcome.” Research suggests that women are at a disadvantage in the hiring process because they only apply to jobs they feel completely qualified to fill, while men will apply to a job even if they meet only 60 percent of its qualifications.

For its part, Wharton does acknowledge the role it plays in its female students’ futures. “Creating the supply of capable young people who will become future business leaders — that’s important to [Wharton’s] role, and we continually ensure that we are training as many qualified women as we can,” Vice Dean of the Wharton Undergraduate Division Lori Rosenkopf said in an interview earlier this semester.

“I think Wharton does a really great job. I don’t get the impression at all that women are disadvantaged or in any way less valued than men,” Reighart said.

“Especially in the MBA class, it’s a great place to be a woman. We consistently have the highest percentage of women out of any MBA class anywhere,” said 2015 MBA candidate and co-President of Wharton Women in Business Valerie Liu.

Liu acknowledged that Wharton Women in Business had seen and discussed Garrett’s comment to the Wall Street Journal but refused to comment on its possible implications for women at Wharton.

And while Garrett’s comment might call into question how much a priority gender equity is for the administration, not all students feel it should be one. “The administration can’t realistically get involved with every minority problem on campus because then there would be too many problems for them to possibly address,” Arana said.

Liu agreed. “Administrators don’t need to be at the forefront of this initiative. Students are a lot more open to change coming from within their class as opposed to from the top levels.” she said.

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