What impact did HBS have on your life and the life of others?
As a black woman from the historically black Spelman College, the HBS experience was quite a transition. I felt very much like the “other”--an outsider with little experience in the northeastern Ivy League culture. I expected this, so I spent a lot of time preparing. Even so, nothing--conversations, articles, books--prepared me for the feeling of sitting in class that first day, discussing “Fieldcrest Blankets.” (Yes, I still remember!)
My gender and race had a huge impact on how I experienced HBS. I decided I had an important leadership role to play in class. Specifically, I felt compelled to represent the minority perspective in our discussions, when appropriate. It was important to create a shared experience for my sectionmates --to help them see what it’s like to manage in a diverse environment and to consider, with compassion, the opinions of people unlike themselves. I so clearly remember the day in BGIE (Business, Government, and the International Economy) that I carefully articulated the point of view of the disenfranchised, the underserved, and the underrepresented in a case on US economic policy. No one else took this position, but minds were changed and eyes were opened. It was a pivotal moment in our collective first-year experience.
Today, I work for a large enterprise software company that has many diversity initiatives to embrace inclusion in the workplace, which is particularly challenging in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)-intensive business cultures. Because I found my voice at HBS 30 years ago, I can now play a leadership role in the conversation about gender and race with the skill of an HBS alumna, persuading my colleagues to consider the benefits of building a more diverse leadership team.
I encourage you to develop a broad definition of success and leadership to guide your life choices. There are many ways to lead, and an impact can be made outside the traditional careers that are the oft-expected path of the Harvard MBA. Choose work that you love and your career will evolve in ways you’ve never dreamed of, because you followed your passion. In my 30 years of work experience, the most effective leaders motivate from an inspired place, displaying exceptional domain expertise and a deep personal commitment to the success of their business and their people. Take each and every course seriously; wisely choose your summer internships and second-year projects. Use this time to learn what makes your heart sing.
My very personal and heartfelt advice to you is to find your emotional and spiritual center and learn how to access this source of strength when you are challenged. And you will be challenged! Thriving in an environment as transformative and competitive as HBS requires an incredible amount of inner power. I have learned the importance of mindfulness and meditation in accessing my source of strength. You should nurture this practice while at the B-school and carry it with you for the rest of your life. Your Harvard MBA isn’t the most important title you will carry. Being a mother, a partner, a daughter, and a true friend--ah, those are the important titles. But with your Harvard MBA comes expectations and the insatiable desire to “have it all.” Balance, my sister, will be the key to living a joy-filled life during and after HBS.