"I am fortunate to attend classes where almost every other seat is occupied by a female classmate, and I work through group cases with female voices at the table."
So wrote first-year student Ryann Kopacka (2nd from left above) on our Haas Achieves blog. Ryann is part of the full-time Berkeley MBA class of 2016, which welcomed a record 43 percent women.
And she's felt the difference. "Coming into Berkeley-Haas, I was sometimes uncomfortable sharing my thoughts about controversial topics, especially about gender equality and women in business. However, being among this larger group of women has accelerated my personal development," Ryann wrote.
"I am already more confident speaking up when I would have remained quiet, more assured in sharing my opinion when I would have kept it to myself, and more assertive in seeking leadership opportunities that I otherwise would not have considered. I feel a strong support system building among the women in my class, and I can only imagine how we will continue to grow as we progress through the program."
The shift in gender balance has been positively experienced by men in the Full-time Program as well. Second-year Jesse Silberberg also blogged on the topic and observed that in his experiences working with male-dominated groups, participants were quicker to form norms based on known (or assumed) similarities in past experiences--and more susceptible to groupthink.
"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," wrote Jesse. "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."
Ryann agrees that the work is not yet done. She celebrates that Haas is in a unique position with 43 percent women in its class of 2016, but observes, "We as the Haas community have a responsibility to invest in women, to continue to develop a culture that welcomes and supports women, and to be leaders in achieving gender equality."
“Our goal every year is to strengthen the diversity of the applicant pool across many dimensions, and we are thrilled to see our efforts reflected in this class,” says Stephanie Fujii, assistant dean of the Full-time MBA Program and Admissions. “We continually hear from our students and alumni that working with people who think differently, and who have experienced the world differently, was critical to their development as leaders.”
Haas leaders have made it a priority to improve gender balance at the school. In early 2014, Dean Rich Lyons was among a group of 14 top business school deans who met at the White House to begin laying out best practices for cultivating women leaders and improving workforce conditions for women and families.
Based on feedback from students, the school also increased efforts to build relationships between newly admitted women and female faculty and senior staff, as well as with alumnae in leadership roles. (Read more about the school's efforts in Historic Percentages of Women, International Students Begin Full-Time Berkeley MBA Program
For Ryann Kopacka, the common thread in these touchpoints was that the Haas community of women was genuinely interested in getting to know her and in helping her gather the information she needed to make her decision. "These efforts demonstrate how members of the Haas community go beyond themselves to make a difference to others, and to ensure that school’s gender balance matches its culture and values," she wrote.
Akilah Huguley, MBA 15, and the class vice president of admissions, says there have been many thoughtful conversations over the past year about gender balance and why it's important to MBA programs across the country and specifically to the Haas community. "I don’t believe any of us can say we weren’t surprised to see that 43 percent of this class is female. But what a pleasant surprise it is," she says. "However, I do not believe this number happened by chance."
Want to know more about what a b-school experience is like with 43% women? Read the Haas Achieves series.