Tuesday, November 25, 2014
A Chance at the Top for Boys AND Girls
We want the best for both of our kids, and we are working to help them learn as much as they can about being good people and successful people. We're fortunate that we have a (relatively) stable life, we've had good health, and we're able to provide our children a lot of opportunities. For my daughter, as I have noted before, I do worry about institutional limits that are placed on her in many contexts.
She's in first grade, but expectations are already being set. On her homework last week: a little boy in her reading comprehension story builds a tower with sticks and bricks and stones. Next story: a little girl gets fancy bows in her hair instead of her usual ponytails. I wish I were making this up.
This is more pervasive than I think many people appreciate. Take, for example, the Barbie computer science book that had people raising their eyebrows (and cursing). NPR has a report explaining the basic issues here. The basics:
A book called Barbie: I Can Be A Computer Engineer was originally published in 2010. Author and Disney screenwriter Pamela Ribon discovered the book at a friend's house and was initially excited at the book's prospects, she tells guest host Tess Vigeland.
But then she continued reading.
"It starts so promising; Barbie is designing a game to show kids how computers work," Ribon says. "She's going to make a robot puppy do cute tricks by matching up colored blocks."
But then Barbie's friend Skipper asks if she can play it, and the book continues:
" 'I'm only creating the design ideas,' Barbie says, laughing. 'I'll need Steven's and Brian's help to turn it into a real game.' "
Harvard Business Review recently published a piece, Research: How Female CEOs Actually Get to the Top, that offers some insights. It's a good read, and is shows that success at the highest levels is often limited to women pursuing a different path and in companies with a particular culture. At a minimum, the article suggest that the advice we give women about how to get ahead may not be useful. (Not shocking given that the advice is often coming from men.) Here's an excerpt with my biggest takeaways, but I recommend the whole things (it's a short read):
The consistent theme in the data is that steady focus wins the day. The median long stint for these women CEOs is 23 years spent at a single company in one stretch before becoming the CEO. To understand whether this was the norm, we pulled a random sample of their male Fortune 500 CEO counterparts. For the men in the sample, the median long stint is 15 years. This means that for women, the long climb is over 50% longer than for their male peers. Moreover, 71% of the female CEOs were promoted as long-term insiders versus only 48% of the male CEOs. This doesn’t leave a lot of time for hopscotch early in women’s careers.
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It may be that the playbook for advising young women with their sights set on leading large companies needs to be revised. Just as important, there is something inspiring for young women in the stories of these female CEOs: the notion that regardless of background, you can commit to a company, work hard, prove yourself in multiple roles, and ultimately ascend to top leadership. These female CEOs didn’t have to go to the best schools or get the most prestigious jobs. But they did have to find a good place to climb.
To be clear, I am thankful things have progressed to the point that my daughter really does have a legitimate shot at the same success as my son. Things are better than they were, and I see that. I'm just not satisfied that we're where we need to be, because her access to opportunities do not mean she has the same likelihood of success. We'll keep working on it, as I'd like to think we all should.