What It’s Really Like To Be A Woman At The Country’s Most Prestigious Business School

If you do an image search for “business school student," you get this guy: a handsome if bland white man in a suit, with a briefcase over one shoulder that's probably stuffed with applications for a job on Wall Street. He looks nice, kinda boring, like he could be named Steve.
If he’s what you imagine when you think of business school, you’re imagining wrong.
This spring, we spent a few days at one of the most elite MBA programs in the country, Harvard Business School, talking to the class of 2015. The women we found there were a diverse, driven, and expectation-defying bunch. We met a professional drummer, and a practicing Muslim who cut her teeth working on remote oil fields in Texas. We met women dreaming of the corner office, and women dreaming of anything but.
For all their differences, these scholars shared a belief in themselves, an almost infectious confidence about the world and their place in it.
Business school — Harvard's especially — has always had a reputation as a boys’ club. And it sounds like it’s earned: Edith Dorsen, who graduated HBS in 1985, summed up her experience as a woman there like this: “There were still urinals in the women’s bathroom, and a Marilyn Monroe poster hung in the classroom, if that helps you visualize it.”
It’s come along way in recent decades — women make up 41% of the current class, up from 25% a generation ago — and the school has been actively working to improve the culture for and success of its female students.
But, no matter how they fare in B-school, the women of the class of 2015 will be heading out onto an unequal playing field. Women like them, at the highest education levels, face the most pay discrimination and biggest wage gap of any group. "At top jobs, pay can go into the stratosphere, and women are still less likely to have those very top jobs," Ariane Hegewisch, a study director at IWPR, tells us. It's not something these women don't know about; each, in her own way, has a unique plan to tackle the gap, whether via statistic-defying hard work or forging a new path.
Ahead are highlights from those conversations with four women from HBS’ class of 2015. In their own words, they tell us about their two years at Harvard, what they learned (including lots of amazing getting-ahead advice), and how they’re planning to conquer their futures. Read on for some serious wisdom.

More from Work & Money

R29 Original Series