It turns out I'm not the only one who sees this association (i.e. told ya so). Harvard Business School underwent a self-imposed gender makeover, adjusting curriculum, social rules and rituals and trying to change institutional norms. Part of this: hand-raising lessons.
Nearly two years earlier, in the fall of 2011, Neda Navab sat in a class participation workshop, incredulous. The daughter of Iranian immigrants, Ms. Navab had been the president of her class at Columbia, advised chief executives as a McKinsey & Company consultant and trained women as entrepreneurs in Rwanda. Yet now that she had arrived at the business school at age 25, she was being taught how to raise her hand.
A second-year student, a former member of the military, stood in the front of the classroom issuing commands: Reach up assertively! No apologetic little half-waves! Ms. Navab exchanged amused glances with new friends.
There is certainly a persistent difference in how men and women participate in class (a friend of mine said that in his male-dominated department, men do not actually raise their hand- they simply start talking). The fact that this difference exists for ambitious twenty-something professional and graduate students is indicative of a larger socialization training on appropriate behavior for boys and girls. It might be hard to overturn by the time these students reach grad school, but I admire Harvard for taking on the challenge.
Also notable from the in-depth article: there was a fair amount of push-back from the students who did not particularly appreciate being subject to the incessant gender lens. If you're happy to believe that there aren't any problems to fix, consider this:
At an extracurricular presentation the year before, a female student asked William Boyce, a co-founder of Highland Capital Partners, a venture capital firm, for advice for women who wanted to go into his field. “Don’t,” he laughed, according to several students present. Male partners did not want them there, he continued, and he was doing them a favor by warning them.