When Carolina Perry and Mafalda Hipólito (MBAs ’19) heard that some of their peers were hesitating to start a family while at HBS because of how it might affect them in school, they knew it was time for action. “You never recover lost time, and time is the most precious resource we have—it’s irreplaceable,” Perry said in an interview with the Harbus. The two sprang to action, co-leading a collaborative task force with SAS.
First, a bit about family planning. We know family planning is not necessarily something that students openly talk about. “You won’t just walk into SAS and say, ‘I’d like to start a family,’” Perry shared, chuckling. Even among friends, it is not always something we share. What that means, though, is that this stress and these students’ voices were not being heard, simply because students didn’t have the time or know with whom they could talk.
The task force also included Joyce Majewski, Associate Director, MBA Student and Academic Services. Together, the three had a simple mission: make it easier for new parents on campus. The team realized that the nature of our classes, with cases and live discussions, can make it difficult for new parents. Still, they knew we could do more. The beauty of this partnership was its collaboration: students, faculty, and staff, all on the same team, co-developing ideas and brainstorming. FGI ideation skills put to use!
The task force brought in the community as well. There were several faculty advocates (including Jan Rivkin, Kristin Mugford, VG Narayanan, Rob Huckman, and Jan Hammond), and the team collaborated with the WSA, specifically Erica Santoni and Alexis Wolfer (both MBA ’19), whose roles in the organization were key for the team.
Santoni shared with us: “When Alexis and I decided to run as WSA Co-Presidents, we talked with many women on campus, to better understand their problems. Starting a family on campus emerged as a key issue, as it hadn’t been addressed in a systematic way yet. As a matter of fact, Carolina and Mafalda were the first to talk to us about it, and made us realize that the uncertainty around maternity on campus was preventing many women from starting a family and possibly from even applying to HBS in the first place.”
She continued, “We advocated with the Administration for the introduction of an official policy and for a stronger support system to better equip new parents (especially students giving birth). The response from the Administration was nothing short of amazing.”
The task force came up with a set of recommendations, such as helping with child care, housing, and pumping. They also developed some proposed policy changes, which went live in October. The policy itself is quite simple, and it’s accessible on myHBS. The policy offers students giving birth about two weeks off, and new parents (students who are adopting a child or whose partner will be giving birth during the academic year) about one week off. There are some specifics as to how many cases or sessions can be missed, and all the details are online. And of course, the Leave of Absence policy continues to be one additional option for students.
The real magic goes beyond the excused absence form. Students who are going on leave can get in touch with SAS, and that will commence a great process to work with the student and faculty to get absences set, and there is also an option to record classes so the student doesn’t miss content. And of course, the full resources and advising capabilities of SAS are right behind students.
This story is a great lesson for all of us at HBS. Students had an idea, worked collaboratively with MBA Student and Academic Services, and together the group made change happen. In fact, this is a blueprint for new ideas. Majewski mentioned that this truly was the “perfect collaboration” in her eyes, a testament to what happens when we work together to make change happen. Perry echoed these thoughts, saying, “It was one of the best projects we were ever involved with.” She continued, “We were truly impacting students’ lives.”
In addition to the leave policy, there is a broader theme here around what Majewski calls “respect for the whole being” at HBS. The idea is that we all come as part of other communities and serve other roles in our lives—maybe it’s being a parent, a child, a sibling, or a friend. HBS should be part of our lives, not become our lives. That’s a tough balancing act, and policies like the one launched in October signal the School’s care for our whole being.
Perry shared some closing thoughts for students thinking about starting a family: “Try not to postpone it if you want it. Talk with people. HBS will be supportive.” She pointed to many new resources available on myHBS so you don’t have to go through the awkward moment of asking. “Our goal was that people will make the decision they want to make.”
The parental leave policy is a big step in the right direction, and students continue to work with faculty and staff to make HBS more inclusive to all student families. Any students or partners with any questions are welcome to reach out to Nikki Miller (WSA & MomBA) or Nancy Hu (SA & Crimson Parents), who are moving forward with the same energy and enthusiasm this academic year. Today, there are over 80 student parents in the MBA program. There’s a big family community that is here to support any new parent or student who is thinking about starting a family.
And finally, for all of us at HBS, Perry and Hipólito’s story of collaboration should encourage us to reach out to faculty and staff when we have new ideas or an idea for change. Hipólito shared, “I would just emphasize how amazing it was to see the openness and willingness to collaborate we found at HBS when we worked on the task force—at SAS, with professors, other students—and would encourage other MBAs to be bold and ‘speak up’ about areas they are passionate about and feel that HBS could be leading differently.”
We can’t think of any better call to action than that.