Girls run the worlD...
At the beginning of March, I, like most Duke students, was overwhelmed by how much I had on my plate. If I were at an all-you-can-eat-buffet, someone would be offering me a second plate after watching me attempt to stack a final dinner roll. But when I received an email asking if I would be interested in working on a Women’s History Month project, I said yes. How could I pass up an opportunity to encourage girl power?
Boy, I wish I had.
The project involved writing profiles on the female employees at a financial services company. Not only were they involved in a male-dominated industry, many of them also held traditionally male leadership roles. My goal was to highlight gender inequality, encourage more women to join the industry, and showcase these women who had found success despite unique obstacles. I expected that interviewing them would make me feel empowered and inspired. Instead, the project left me feeling defeated and confused.
More than half of the women could not answer the question: “what does women’s history month mean to you?” Many of them told me that Women’s History month shouldn’t even exist. They claim it highlights our differences rather than showing we are the same as men. But why is it such a bad thing to admit we are different? Our unique qualities are strengths that can be used to our advantage. Why shouldn’t we celebrate the fact that women are more often exceptional networkers, organizers, and planners? Another woman told me that Women’s History Month is as “irrelevant as National Donut Day.” Women’s History Month is an opportunity to remind ourselves of all the brave women who paved the way for the women of today. Excuse me, but I didn’t know that RBG, Rosa Parks, and Rosalind Franklin are on the same level as donuts.
Even more disturbing, several women said they did not have a single female role model. I couldn’t believe this; I am surrounded by and constantly learning about women I idolize! To name a few: my mom, my female-identifying professors and friends, Kamala Harris, Greta Thunberg, Taylor Swift! If you need further inspiration, see the TIME 100 Women of the Year project. I think it’s probably impossible to have never been positively impacted by a single woman. I was disappointed that these women did not utilize the opportunity to acknowledge the women who had helped them find success or who had inspired them along the way.
Plastering a smile on my face, I moved on to ask what advice they would give other women considering who are entering the industry or trying to advance their careers. One interview really made me want to fake a Zoom malfunction. She told me that success requires a male mentor. That women need to be more receptive to the male point of view, less judgemental and less sensitive. She advised becoming “one of the guys” and focusing on making yourself likeable in the eyes of men.
When I asked about possible ways to encourage more women to enter the field, one woman fired back “do we even need more women to enter the field?” Meanwhile, her own company reports that female financial advisors make up only 23% of the industry. Yeah, I would think that we would want more women to enter the field! When writing their profiles, I had to tweak and twist each of their answers to please my editor and her visions for the project. But by the end, I felt like I had written a bunch of lies. The profiles reflected what I had hoped they would say, not what they actually said. If the women who experience gender inequality in the workplace on a daily basis don’t care about gender inequality, who does?
I’m not sure when it became so taboo to be a “feminist.” And why do successful women still wish they were more like men? I don’t suppose to have all the answers. After this experience, I am still processing and pondering these questions myself. How would I have responded to being interviewed? What does women’s history month mean to me? At the very least, it’s a reminder of the progress we have made and the progress we still have to make. A reminder of all the women who have inspired, encouraged, and taught me throughout my life. But as someone who is (hopefully) entering the job market in less than four years, I am slightly concerned. Will I too begin to believe that success requires conforming to male-driven standards? Will I want to hide my qualities associated with being female?
Unfortunately, these women’s perspectives are probably not unique. There are plenty of other industries with the same gaps and leadership positions overwhelmingly filled by men. Structural changes need to be made so that women can actually believe that we are equal to men. These gaps are proof that we are not yet equal and the month of March was the perfect time to reflect on the past and then make adjustments to our policies and practices so that the future looks at least 50 percent female. As we enter April, let’s not forget what Beyonce has been telling us since 2011.