This is the final post in a three-part series on gender balance at Haas. In the first two parts, first-year MBA student Ryann Kopacka described what it’s been like for her so far in a class with 43% women. Today, second-year student Jesse Silberberg, MBA 15, writes about the dynamics in a cohort with far fewer women—and what he's learned
By Jesse Silberberg, MBA 15
My first six managers were women. First as an intern in politics and investment banking, then in full time roles in higher education and consulting, I took my daily cues from smart, effective and accomplished women.
Because I had worked with, and for, as many women as men, I did not actively think about issues of gender in the workplace. I did not see the need.
My perspective has changed since I got to business school.
When you combine the current graduating classes of the top 10 business schools, just 37 percent of students are women. In my class at Berkeley, the percentage of women dipped to 29 percent (from 32 percent the prior year). Haas placed me in a study group for my core classes where four out of five of us were men, and in two other groups for project based classes that were all male.
I noticed subtle differences about working in male-dominated groups. We were quicker to form norms based on known (or assumed) similarities in past experiences. We were less structured in how we approached our work and more susceptible to groupthink. Our final work products were very high quality, but largely due to individual team members stepping up at particular points in a project.
These perceptions are anecdotal, but they are supported by research findings from McKinsey about leadership behaviors that improve organizational performance: women are more likely to clearly define expectations and responsibilities, reward achievement of targets and spend time listening to individual needs and concerns; men more often monitor gaps between objectives and performance, take corrective actions when needed, make decisions individually and engage others in executing them. With this simplified lens, our experiences appear to be better when groups have a balance between women and men. I can say definitively that mine have been.
Attending a Lean In event at Facebook’s headquarters, where I was one of about 20 men in an audience of 300, further shifted my outlook. Sheryl Sandberg spoke, and then we moved to Q&A. Although I had things I wanted to ask, I thought to myself “I’m not sure this is the time for me, as a man, to ask questions,” and stayed in my seat.
This was the first time that I had changed my behavior based on something—my gender—that I could not control. It made me realize that being outside of the dominant group—which, frankly, was rare for me—can affect how I approach a meeting, an organization, or a career. Being part of an identifiable minority is a powerful learning experience, the type of which I now seek out more often. The Lean In event also showed me the value of initiatives that allow women to voice their perspectives in a space where they do not feel like a minority—something I struggled to understand during my pre-MBA career.
I entered my second year of business school with refined thinking: "Gender balance improves the performance of groups and organizations. It is important to be aware of the limitations of our personal experiences with regard to gender balance, and find ways to reflect beyond our day to day. Women can benefit from opportunities to discuss gender issues in settings where they do not feel like a minority?"
At Haas, clubs like Women in Leadership (WIL) and classes like Kellie McElhaney's The Business Case for Investing in Women provide platforms for us, as men, to think about our experiences with different levels of gender balance, and create opportunities to experience different gender dynamics, even if only for a short time. We must find and seize opportunities—both formally through classes and clubs, and informally by asking questions of our classmates—that expand our perspective and advance our thinking on gender.
My thinking is not the only thing to have evolved at Haas. The Class of 2016 is 43 percent women and every study group of five has at least two women. With the highest reported percentage of women among top MBA programs, and one of the smaller class sizes in our peer set, Haas could be primed to become the first business school with 50% (or more) female students. But one year does not a trend make, and we won’t get there unless men and women actively work to better understand gender dynamics, in our community and beyond.
Jesse Silberberg is a second-year student in the Full-Time Berkeley MBA Program. He has worked as a senior product manager intern in Amazon’s Kindle Education group, a Founder’s Intern at edtech startup DIY.org, a consultant in Deloitte’s Strategy and Operations practice, and a Presidential Fellow at Dartmouth College, his alma mater. At Haas he is the co-president of the Design and Innovation Strategy Club and the education lead for the Global Social Venture Competition (GSVC). A native New Yorker, he is still searching for great pizza in the Bay Area but happy to be doing so with better weather.