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Business School Just for Women

MBA program at Simmons College offers training and confidence to female executives

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SIMMONS Graduate School of Management - the only United States business school exclusively for women - is located on the premises of a former finishing school in Boston's Back Bay.

Instead of learning how to be executives' wives, however, today's students are training for executive positions of their own.

The Simmons master of business administration (MBA) program was founded in 1974 by Margaret Hennig and Anne Jardim, former Harvard Business School faculty members and co-authors of "The Managerial Woman," a 1976 bestseller. They serve as joint deans of the school.

Dr. Hennig recalls the frustrations that drove them to leave the male-dominated culture of Harvard. None of the school's teaching cases showed a woman performing successfully in a senior position. "There were cases in which the woman was always the problem," Hennig says. "What do you do when Agatha Sue has had her desk at this window for 19 years, and you have to move her? She refuses to move. Problem."

And there were less subtle inequities. "The classroom building, which is almost a block long and four stories high, had one ladies' room and seven men's rooms," Hennig remembers.

When their pleas for change at Harvard went unheard, Hennig and Jardim decided to start a new graduate business program designed specifically for women. They took the idea to Simmons College, a private women's college in Boston.

In the feminist heyday of the early '70s, the Simmons MBA program was greeted enthusiastically. Donations came from both the radical, new Ms. magazine and the conservative, old-line Business and Professional Women's Foundation. "The spread [of support] was unbelievable," recalls Jardim.

During the past two decades, the Simmons program has developed a strong reputation in New England. But it is relatively unknown elsewhere.

"Within the business-school world they ask: Don't people who are interested in gender studies belong in sociology or psychology and not in business schools?" says James Schmotter, dean of Lehigh University's College of Business and Economics in Bethlehem, Pa. "That has probably led to an undervaluing of Simmons."

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