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Understanding and Challenging Gender Hierarchy

While women have attained major leadership positions in the business world in recent decades, Judy Bornstein 82F believes that much more still needs to be done to address gender inequities. A Hampshire course she helped develop through a $55,000 gift to the College will focus on that issue, with a goal of providing insights that current students can use to enhance their own careers.

"There aren't enough women in business, especially at the highest ranks," said Bornstein, a partner and chief financial officer of the private equity firm American Infrastructure Funds.

Bornstein first discussed the idea of funding business-related offerings for women on campus with Marlene Gerber Fried, then the interim president of Hampshire College and currently senior advisor to the president. Their talks developed into the Bornstein Business Project for Women, a pilot project that promotes the advancement of women in the business world.

At the center of the project is a course on women in business, which fits well with Hampshire's interdisciplinary approach by tying into subjects ranging from economics to gender studies to sociology. Bornstein's gift will fund the course for the next two, as well as provide grants for student research, internships, and conference travel and encourage mentoring opportunities between students and women alums.

Gerber Fried proposed the idea for the course to first-year economics professor Helen Scharber. She in turn collaborated with Fried and Bornstein in developing the seminar-style course Women on Top? Understanding and Challenging Gender Hierarchy in the Workplace. It is being offered for the first time in spring 2012.

"I teach economics from a critical perspective, and Hampshire values that," said Scharber. "Why are there so few women in these positions, and what can be done to make it easier for women to have these positions?"

Gerber Fried is excited to see that Scharber is building a constituency for the course throughout the Five College consortium, which she believes will help establish it as an important and regular offering at Hampshire. Women on Top? will have students investigate and analyze challenges and opportunities for women in the workplace, especially in leadership. They will be asked to look into theories that explain gender differences in occupations and wages, and evaluate possible solutions to current challenges women face.

In the second half of the thirteen-week course, women who have become leaders in business will speak to students, and share their experiences. Those speakers include Bornstein; Red Bridge Strategy, Inc. principal Cindy Carpenter 78F; Wells Fargo Securities managing director and senior municipal bond research analyst Natalie Cohen 74S; consultant and former UNA-USA senior vice president and chief operating officer Nahela Hadi 83F; Next for Women founder Whitney Wilkerson 95F; and Eileen Fisher, Inc. chief culture officer Susan Schor.

Bornstein hopes that students will see that a variety of backgrounds and academic interests can lead to business success. She studied elementary education at Hampshire, and was a teacher before earning her MBA from Simmons College and entering the business world. The intellectual tools she honed at Hampshire, Bornstein said, allowed her to thrive in both fields.

"There's so much about being a success at Hampshire that relates to being a success in business. You can't just accept the information that's in front of you and be satisfied with quick answers. You have to dig deeply, investigate, and be a critical consumer of information," said Bornstein. "I would love to have the class both encourage women to go into business, and help them see how diverse the work of business is. There is a lot of good to be done in the business world, and Hampshire students are ideally positioned to become leaders in a wide array of business careers."

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