Have any of you read that article in The Atlantic by Anne-Marie Slaughter, "Why Women Can't Have It All"?
It has sparked a lot of discussion on various radio / tv / newspapers and it's also sparking this blog entry. I've actually wanted to write this for a while so I'm thankful to Ms. Slaughter for the inspiration.
I'd like to preface this by saying that I'm not a particularly power hungry or non-traditional person in many ways. I simply aspire to be happy and productive in my career and in my life. Also, I know men have many challenges these days as well, but I can only write from my own perspective and you know....I'm a girl....
Stereotypes / Women in Math and Science
When I was growing up, my mom was strict about making sure that I didn't fall into certain gender stereotypes. She would read children's books to me and point out that even though the doctor was a man in the story, that women were doctors too. She would tell me that a book was sexist if there were too many passive female characters in the background. As a token of her feelings towards prescribed roles, I carry her last name (which has caused endless confusion throughout the years!). My mom, like many other women in her generation, wanted to make sure that I didn't grow up (as she probably did) believing that all women became wives, secretaries, or teachers.
My parents also encouraged me and my brothers to work hard in my science and math classes. Success in these subjects was the key to getting a good job. I never really seriously considered studying anything else. Just decide what kind of engineer you want to be.
When I got to college, I met so many smart friends, both guys and girls. My engineering classes were dominated by guys even though my field, chemical engineering is a relatively female-heavy engineering field. I started noticing a gender gap though. In classes I doubted my ability to succeed. True or not, the guys just seemed better at engineering as a whole. Additionally, there was a lack of female role models. In four years of classes, I had one female professor in a technical class.
I graduated and out of the five girls who I graduated with, only one is still an engineer. (Of course a lot of the guys aren't engineers either, but the attrition rate for women in engineering is pretty high.).
Why is there still such a gap for women in math and science? Why don't girls go into these fields at the same rate as guys? In this crappy economy there's probably no better favor a 19 year old can do themselves than to major in something that has jobs and pays well. With the huge rate of women going to college these days, there's no reason why women shouldn't be dominating math and science fields.
As An Adult
Fast forward past business school and now I work in fashion marketing. It goes without saying that I'm not a minority there.
However the older I get, the more I notice two things: 1) The lack of women in higher management positions and 2) The amount of ridiculously smart girls who have, for a variety of reasons, deprioritized their careers.
I'll address number two first because I want to make sure I don't sound judgmental. There's nothing wrong with deciding family is more important than a career and I actually find it to be a pretty noble choice. I could easily make the same choice in the future and I understand that marriage and starting a family is a cornerstone of life. I just get frustrated when I think of the great things that so many women would have done otherwise (because they are so talented) if they had pursued their original career dreams.
The Lack Of Women In High Management Positions
This is a huge can of worms and I can't presume to understand every factor as to why this is. The statement that annoys me the most when this gets addressed, however, is that "Oh those women grew up when there weren't opportunities, it will be different soon".
I find that hard to believe. Nothing is changing that quick, and I will be shocked that if in 30 years there is near equal representation in the highest positions in government and in business.
I think some women take themselves out of the race to the top intentionally to spend more time on other pursuits - whether it be family or other interests. Or maybe they are less aggressive when it comes to asking for promotions and raises.
But I also think there's a social structure such that it's difficult for women to rise beyond certain levels. Top business positions are often filled based on relationships. While I'm not really at that level yet, I'd like to be and I am pretty sure it's more awkward to go out for drinks or go golfing or whatever with a group of guys if you're the only woman. And yeah that stuff matters.
And women who do rise to these positions are often unmarried or without families. It's like they had to choose one or the other.
So where does this leave me in my rant?
I don't really know. I could go on about this forever. It's also a conflicting topic for me because in my own personal life, I follow some gender roles happily. I like to cook for Anthony and I expect him to open doors. But I also want little girls to feel like they can excel in any subject and many women in positions of power who balance their families and careers. I hope we get there one day.