allie heymannTwo months ago, I was sitting in White-Gravenor Hall 305, enthralled by Elizabeth Alexander’s presentation to Georgetown University Women in Leadership. Alexander, who previously served as Joe Biden’s press secretary, was the definition of poise. She was bold, she was eloquent and she had a quick wit with an easy smile. Throughout her talk, she delivered many eye-opening statistics, most of which concerned the staggering discrepancies between men and women in top-tier leadership positions. She encouraged those in attendance, mostly female freshmen and sophomores, to reflect on their goals and anticipated career trajectories. The idea of this exercise was to draw out the question that plagues feminists and intellectuals alike: Where are all the mature, middle-aged female business leaders?
Since that day, I have ruminated on this query. As a female college student who will hopefully graduate within the next two years, I will be entering one of the most competitive and unforgiving job markets in history. This is worrying to me, especially as I am looking at several years of debt following graduation. I want to walk away from college with the intellectual capability and the wherewithal to find a well-paid, involved career that will carry me into a sustainable future. Yet, according to a 2008 Pew Research Center Social and Demographic Trends survey, “Women occupy only 2 percent of the CEO positions at America’s Fortune 500 companies.” Women face similar challenges in the political arena, and the statistics are even more disparaging for women in technical professions. Surprisingly, however, the poll also reports that “69 percent of Americans believe women possess the necessary qualities to make equally successful leaders.” The categories polled include honesty, intelligence, hard work, decisiveness, ambitiousness, compassion, outgoingness and creativity. Women scored markedly higher in every category except decisiveness. This data poses the question: What is causing the good ol’ boys’ club to prevail in the face of an educated, talented and well-equipped female work force?
The fault lies beyond differences between men and women and falls somewhere in the realm of social inequality. We women have twisted ourselves into a tight corner of accepted social norms, in which we exit the workforce early and never seem to re-enter our field. We become mothers and caretakers and accept lower-status positions to juggle relationships and love. In short, we compromise. I believe that making work-based compromises and managing familial obligations is very important but with this caveat: We must have the opportunity to re-enter the work force.

My mother once jested that it is impossible to put “mom” on a resume. After raising four independent, strong-willed and intellectually capable children, her accomplishments did not make her eligible to find new, full-time employment. When she got married and decided to have children, she was at the top of her game — she had graduated with honors from Rice University with a degree in computer science and had a promising career at IBM — yet her business success and her academic talents were reduced to dinner-table fodder. Her situation speaks to the inexcusable social reality that the cost of motherhood is the price many women pay for a top-level career. Yet therein lays the irony of the situation: A mother inherently fills all of the necessary categories for good leadership, as mentioned above. They are usually older, wiser and more experienced in dealing with difficult situations. But they are excluded from a growing class of male CEOs, COOs and corporate leaders.

It is important to think about why “mom” can’t go on a resume. What is barring our mothers, arguably some of the most intelligent and nurturing women we know, from coming back as business and political leaders? Why are those numbers so low? It’s a dilemma that deserves great thought and significant action.

Allie Heymann is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. THROUGH THE GLASS CEILING appears every other Friday.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *