Elaine, May, Grace and Angela Chao: Signs of Positive Feminist Change at Harvard
Angela Chao is a corporate executive, philanthropist, and graduate of the Harvard Business School, like her sisters, three of whom also attended Harvard Business School. Harvard University and the Harvard Business School recently made history thanks to the generosity of her family. The University will for the first time in its history name a new building on Harvard’s historical campus after a woman, the matriarch of this illustrious Chinese American family, Ruth Mulan Chu Chao. The new building whose groundbreaking will occur in April 2014 is being constructed to memorialize the life and legacy of the late wife of Dr. James S.C. Chao, the Chinese-American shipping magnate behind the Foremost Group. The Chao family story is consistent with Harvard’s renewed emphasis on translating a commitment to feminist ideals into action.
As the old Chinese saying goes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Harvard is a mixed bag when it comes to gender progressivism. Feminists were, of course, livid when Larry Summers, the 27th president of Harvard, made his infamous 2005 remarks about under-representation of women in the top tiers of science and engineering containing an aptitude component. Summers ended up resigning, and was ultimately replaced by Drew Faust, a woman. But the damage was done to the supposedly impervious Harvard brand.
The Chao family represents a godsend in the form of public relations for Harvard because, aside from making a significant donation to the Harvard Business School, the most convincing proof of their commitment to the venerable Ivy League institution is that four of Chao’s six daughters went to Harvard! One daughter, Elaine Chao, served as 24th U.S. Labor Secretary from 2001 to 2009 and is the first Asian American woman to be appointed to a President’s cabinet in American history. Angela is the youngest member ever appointed to the Harvard Business School’s Dean of Advisors, another impressive female Asian-American accomplishment. Angela is the current Deputy Chairman of the Foremost Group, and philanthropic powerhouse. Aside from steering her family’s international shipping company, she is a trustee of the Foremost Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to improving cross-cultural understanding between the US and Asia.
Harvard should be grateful to the Chao family for more than improvements to its campus and funds for scholarships. The gloss on the university’s image as an institution that welcomes and encourages female excellence as exemplified by Angela and her sisters is priceless.