While attending Harvard Business School is a dream come true for many students, their families often have a more difficult time getting settled.
Jobs can be hard to find, rent is expensive, driving is chaotic and while the students are in class meeting new people, the partners have to find new friends on their own.
HBS has an organization designed to make the adjustment easier. The Partners’ Club was founded in 1984 with the purpose, as stated in the charter, “to aid the ‘significant others’ (i.e., spouses, children, girlfriends and boyfriends) of HBS students in becoming a part of the HBS community”. The Club consisted of weekly activities such as aerobics, tennis and crafts, monthly meetings, job information, special interest groups for childcare, mother support, pregnancy and fitness, and guest speakers.
In recent years, however, some partners expressed dissatisfaction with the Club. A poll conducted by the Club’s 2003-2004 Steering Committee showed discontent among many of the partners because they felt the Club catered to partners with children, even though 71 percent of members did not have children, and men did not join because all of the events revolved around women.
Around the same time, HBS administered its own survey of the graduating students to get feedback about their experience. The results showed students with partners were less satisfied than those who were single because the partners felt left out of the HBS community.
The co-presidents decided to take action and change the Club according to the members’ needs. The purpose in the charter changed to “provide a unique and independent community for the significant others of Harvard Business School students. … The Club provides a vehicle for non-students to adjust to a new lifestyle and find support in others who have faced similar emotions and situations.”
The co-presidents decided to involve the administration in making the Club a more integral part of HBS. Kim Sundy, co-president for 2003-2004, said the administration was receptive to their concerns.
“We met and discussed our thoughts and plans,” Sundy said. “Both parties felt that something needed to be done to improve the experience of the student and the partner, and we worked together to achieve this objective.”
Barbara Siegfriedt, co-director of MBA Student and Academic Services, worked with the co-presidents and focus groups to make the HBS experience better for students and partners. She said the administration felt the Club was essential to HBS and was pleased to help make it better.
“I think everyone recognizes how important the partners are in the community,” Siegfriedt said. “I think that’s really important for the students. I think that’s really important for the partners.”
Another step toward improvement was to change the name of the Partners’ Club to “Section P,” designed around the HBS format of dividing the students into smaller sections. The HBS Survival Guide stated a student’s section “will become one of the most important components of your HBS experience, and will be a source of lifelong friendships and business relationships”. Sundy said she and the other co-presidents, Pam Nix and Robin Schudmak, wanted partners to have the same opportunity and approached the administration about using the section theme.
“We decided to re-brand the organization to appeal to men and partners without kids,” Sundy said. “We wanted to mirror the student experience, illustrate that we were our own entity and that the Club was not a mommies and babies sewing circle, but a cohesive group of people with different backgrounds who were enjoying a new and different phase in their lives.”
The Club also tried to recruit men by adding the Men’s Committee, which ended up with approximately 10 members. While still in its infant stages, the creation of a group for men was progress towards diversifying the Club.
Dean Myers, co-president-elect for 2004-2005, said he felt comfortable being a male partner.
“I really did not notice any discernable difficulty with being a male within the Partners’ Club, and this is a testament to the willingness of the Club to find a fit for all its members,” Myers said.
All the changes the Steering Committee launched made the new Section P a more unified group. Siegfriedt said she was excited about the improvement in the Club and looked forward to seeing more progress in the future.
“They have done so much,” Siegfriedt said. “They have put so much effort into it.”
As for next year, Myers said the new co-presidents share a three-fold vision of a club that is accessible, accentuates a positive experience at HBS and is based on respect of everyone.
“We have been given a very strong Partners’ Club through the amazing vision, diligence and hard work put in by the current committees, and these efforts were matched by HBS administration resulting in the progress that has been made,” Myers said.