God-willing, I am graduating from college this year.
Myself, and all of the other women who will graduate from college this spring are currently faced with a very different image of the working world than our mothers. We’ve witnessed the birth of movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp, and expect that the age of Mad Men-esque gender dynamics are over.
I know that many companies are rushing to build entire teams devoted to improving their gender demographics. Girls are more in demand than ever, in fields like computer science and engineering. Human Resources may be the birthplace of Diversity and Inclusion initiatives, but it is no longer the only department in which women can break glass ceilings.
The degrees that I will be receiving certainly lend themselves to a career in Diversity and Inclusion, a quickly growing field, but despite being constantly reassured that the bounty of opportunities is ripe for the taking, I still don’t see much in the way of possibilities beyond entry and mid-level positions. My classmates and I are often disappointed when evaluating potential employers because we don’t see ourselves progressing long-term, as evidenced by the stark lack of women in upper management. Statisticians who have analyzed the issue have coined the term ‘leaky pipeline’ to describe the mountain of obstacles women face, starting during the time they are being educated and persisting through their ascents to upper management. Women slip through cracks because of discrimination, inflexible workplaces, and pay disparity. The leaky pipeline is a vicious circle; it’s what causes women to leave their careers before reaching their full potential, resulting in a lack of representation in higher positions.
All of this makes it extremely difficult to find female mentors. While there are a number of women who have made names for themselves in tech, for them the journey to the C-suite was not an easy one. In all likelihood, the last 20+ years of their life may have been devoted to fighting their way up the ladder, battling misogyny, chauvinism, and a constant shadow of doubt cast over their competence. When they were starting out, there were no diversity initiatives. Today, companies like Pinterest are flaunting their diversity goals to increase the number of women on staff to make it more appealing for someone like me entering the workforce.
However, I’ve also been hearing stories about women who have made it but are usually the ones who become Ice Queens that Monique has talked about at great length in her book Leading Gracefully and in last week’s blog. It sounds like these negative feelings make some women especially reluctant to offer mentorship or even encouragement to the younger generation of women who are just starting out.
When I asked a friend who entered the workforce a year ago what her experience has been, she shared how she was given the opportunity to work with the CEO of an all-female company that did not go as planned. The woman who she expected to be mentored by ended up treating her as a personal assistant instead, going so far as to ask her to pick her kids up from school. She told me matter-of-factly, “Guys don’t get asked to do that.” We walked down the sidewalks of San Francisco in silence for some time as I tried to digest the weight of her words. She would tell me later that the same thing happened to her roommate.
In spite of saddening stories like these, I am looking towards the future with optimism and excitement. Working with Monique as an intern at Highest Path has shown me that there are successful women who are eager to walk the walk and bend over backwards to give young women like myself the opportunities to learn and grow in a positive environment. What the working world needs now are more successful women who understand the valuable role that they play in patching up the leaky pipeline and establishing new precedents for the generations of successful women yet to come.