As many of you have probably noticed, there is an influx of “Can women have it all?” type articles floating around in all the major newspapers. The Economist a couple months ago, if I remember the hard copies (can you call magazines hard copies?) that my roommate received in the mail, had an article about women in the workplace, breaking down all the usual statistics. It seemed to start with Mary Ann Slaughter’s article called “Women Can’t Have It All?” Followed by Foreign Service Officer Dana Smith’s article in The Atlantic about how it is entirely possible to “have it all” as long as you clearly define what “it” is in your own way. Then, this morning, I stumble upon this article here:
and needless to say, I was a bit shocked.
Of course, the thing when someone reads articles like this is that they respond with their own experiences. I can’t speak from any other point of view. Then again, what else can I speak with? I just want you, reader, to take what I say with the fact that I haven’t conducted surveys or asked specific questions about this: this is all from my viewpoint.
I am not attacking the article. She makes some interesting points that I’m going to have to go through myself to understand (the idea of women having to be more “perfect” than men in order to get leadership). But the main sentence and idea I take problem with is this: “This is why, for example, when you walk into any given high school – or even middle school – class, the majority of hands raised, of voices speaking out, will be those of boys and most girls will sit silently, not trusting themselves to speak, afraid that all they have to offer is inferior.”
Frankly, I don’t find this true at all.
Maybe it’s the fact that I didn’t go to a NE Private University, but a Southern Public one (yes, I’m bumping up the high-school to college, but the same idea, I would imagine, should still hold.) But wouldn’t you think, in the more “oppressed” and “conservative” South that women would find more trouble leading? My undergraduate is on a 60/40% female/male divide heading every day more towards 70/30% (I think I heard somewhere it is currently about 63/37?). I was in several organizations, a double major who took way too many classes than was probably healthy, and worked with the Leadership Center on campus.
The question actually asked by most of us: Where are the men?
Let’s start with the classes. I was a History and International Affairs major: so, yes, definitely a liberal arts, but Political Science/International Affairs is a male-dominated field if you look at who is running politics, law groups, and academics. One class, a special internship course on export-controls, had 10 students: 6 girls, 4 boys. To even get in this class you have to have an impressive resume and an interview to be asked to join the class. What’s impressive on a resume? Leadership and internship experience. Well, that’s just one class! Take my Strategic Intelligence Class, then, for example. The top five performers in class: I believe all girls. The ones who spoke the most (myself included): almost all girls. My other international affairs classes? I never saw boys take lead in conversations without a woman’s voice interjecting. Women at UGA were passionate about their subject. In my Introduction to Comparative Politics class, the teacher would look to me sometimes to verify information that he was saying. Even my military history class, which had a few ex-military men in there, never stifled women’s voices. I think it was the only class in my entire career where I had more men than women. My one friend – the more silent type that when they speak, everyone stops to listen – often fought with the professor (they were hilarious fights because they always agreed with each other for the most part) and both of us were a constant source of discussion. Major scholarship winners at UGA last year: 1 female Rhodes, 1 female Gates-Cambridge, 1 female Mitchell.
Maybe it was the classes, you say, that I was taking. Fine, fine. Let’s look at organizations, shall we?
I received a call in early 2011 from NBC Nightly News asking the same question: “Where are the men in leadership positions?” I complete reversal from the article above. “I don’t know,” I told her. The International Affairs Honor Society was headed by a female student. Three of the four Honors Teaching Fellows in 2010 were women. The Roosevelt Institute always had at least two or three women in their major leadership positions. The list goes on: Habitat for Humanity, run by women; Invisible Children, run by women. It’s never something I really stopped to think about, because women were everywhere – leading, teaching, learning – that I probably took it for granted. I would bet you though that more than 50% – nay, 75% – of student organizations has a women in the top two positions of an organization. (SGA voted in a women Student Body President in 2011.)
Let’s talk about the organization I know best. It was a Board of Directors, of which I lead, with 8 positions. Want to know how many men? Two. One of them was gay. (I mention this because I think it is also, more even!, important to recognize the lack of LGBTQ leaders.) This organization helped all of the other volunteer organizations raise money, raise awareness, and collaborate on issues, for their respective issues. It took up an inordinate amount of my time. I wouldn’t replace it for anything.
So where, I ask you, does it look like millennial women aren’t leading? It certainly wasn’t at my school. Even if we went back to my high-school (no, no, I won’t bore you with that), I think you’d find relatively similar things (if I could remember them). Drum majors senior year: three women; top 10 positions in the rest of the band: probably 8 women, if not all 10; National Honors Society President/VP: two women. I know that there are problems.
There are those still afraid to speak up, still afraid what men will think of them. I am thankful for the women before me – and my parents who have taught me – who fought for the right for me to be myself. I can’t be any other way. I like leading. I am passionate. I am driven. I am smart. I want other women to feel the same way and am often confused when they don’t. But most of all, I’m thankful that I didn’t even recognize the issue of millennial leadership because of all the powerful, outspoken, individualistic women that I know. I don’t want high-school and college girls to look at articles like this and feel defeated, feel like it’s all too hard. Because it’s not. At least, not in these formative years. I’m just getting to see the job market myself and I think the problem we need to keep in mind is the work/life balance for women in the workplace. We need to make sure that these smart young women in high-school and college carry on these traits to the work force. If they hone them well enough during school, they should hold on to them in their job. And this, this is the important issue.
So millennial women, you keep leading strong.