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Some male students, many with finance backgrounds, commandeered classroom discussions and hazed female students and younger faculty members, and openly ruminated on whom they would “kill, sleep with or marry” (in cruder terms). “You weren’t supposed to talk about it in open company,” said Kathleen L.

Mc Ginn, a professor who supervised a student study that revealed the grade gap.

“It was a dirty secret that wasn’t discussed.” But in 2010, Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard’s first female president, appointed a new dean who pledged to do far more than his predecessors to remake gender relations at the business school.

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And they did not know what to do about developments like female students dressing as Playboy bunnies for parties and taking up the same sexual rating games as men.

“At each turn, questions come up that we’ve never thought about before,” Nitin Nohria, the new dean, said in an interview.

The interventions had prompted some students to revolt, wearing “Unapologetic” T-shirts to lacerate Ms.

Frei for what they called intrusive social engineering.

The institution would become a laboratory for studying how women speak in group settings, the links between romantic relationships and professional status, and the use of everyday measurement tools to reduce bias.

“We have to lead the way, and then lead the world in doing it,” said Frances Frei, her words suggesting the school’s sense of mission but also its self-regard. Frei, a popular professor turned administrator who had become a target of student ire, was known for the word “unapologetic,” as in: we are unapologetic about the changes we are making.

Year after year, women who had arrived with the same test scores and grades as men fell behind.

Attracting and retaining female professors was a losing battle; from 2006 to 2007, a third of the female junior faculty left.

At a reception, a male student in tennis whites blurted out, as his friends laughed, that much of what had occurred at the school had “been a painful experience.” He and his classmates had been unwitting guinea pigs in what would have once sounded like a far-fetched feminist fantasy: What if Harvard Business School gave itself a gender makeover, changing its curriculum, rules and social rituals to foster female success?

The country’s premier business training ground was trying to solve a seemingly intractable problem.

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