As it is the year 2015, the quest for equal rights for men and women has sure come a long way since the women’s suffrage movement that led to the 19th Constitutional Amendment in 1920. Today, our great grandparents would marvel at how far we have come; many women are choosing to wait longer to have children because they are pursuing careers with greater frequency, more of them are pursuing college degrees and higher education, and women are earning higher wages than they ever have before. According to the Center for American Progress, women make up just half of the population but earn nearly 60% of all undergraduate degrees and 60% of all master’s degrees in the United States. They rival their male counterparts in many other measures of education and performance, and make up the majority (59%) of the educated entry-level work force.
However, these statistics don’t capture the full picture. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) reports that in 2013, women earned jut 78 cents for each dollar earned by their male counterparts; and the gender pay gap is worse for women of color. Additional statistics reveal that women are vastly underrepresented in certain areas – science and engineering (14%), Congress (18.5%) and government, and leadership positions across all professions.
At the same time, the American Psychological Association recently shared research on a well-documented trend – girls tend to outperform boys in school, in all subject areas. So if girls perform better in school and go on to earn more of the college degrees than men and even more of the master’s degrees, then why are they so underrepresented in leadership positions in every sector?
One explanation could be motherhood – many highly educated females probably leave the workforce before reaching the highest level in their companies to have children and stay home to care for them. This reason should be respected and celebrated, but cannot possibly account for the vast differences in numbers. For example, if women hold 60% of the master’s degrees, then it is a stark comparison to see that they make up only 14.6% of the executive officers in Fortune 500 companies, 15% of equity partners in the legal field, 9% of managers in IT companies, and so on.
This article in the Washington Post brought forth some interesting points of view on this topic that may shed some light on the discrepancies we are seeing. It turns out men have very different points of view on the characteristics (and possibly ambitions) they would like to see in their wives versus their daughters. When asked about the qualities they would like to see in their wives, men cited things like “sweet” and “attractive,” but for their daughters they used terms like “strong” and “independent.” No one is arguing that men inherently do not want women to be successful in the workplace, but perhaps perceptions like these are still ingrained in our society from a time when women served primarily as caretakers.
That said, the rising generation is our chance to start altering these societal pressures. In schools, we must echo the expectations of the fathers in that article – encouraging our girls to be strong, independent, and intelligent. Our job is to educate them about science, math, technology, and leadership in order to lay the foundation to create options for them in the future. Our girls should grow up thinking that anything is possible – and down the road, we should love and respect them whether they become full-time moms or CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. But we should be satisfied only when we live in a world where each of those options is equally possible for them.