To Shatter Glass Ceilings, Spread These Four Messages to Young Women
When I see young women making their way through school and starting their careers, I feel a variety of emotions. I’m excited for them. I’m hopeful for them. I’m angry for them.
I’m angry because most young women have not been adequately prepared for the challenges they are about to face. Colleges prepare men and women in a one-size-fits-all fashion to transition from school to work, but this approach is ineffective because the professional world is a different place for women than it is for men.
By the time young women start college, they have already formed beliefs about the work that is available to them. According to the Women’s Bureau at the Department of Labor, the top professions for women are teachers, nurses and secretaries, as they have been for generations. In order to increase the range of options, young women need exposure to varied role models, and they need their consciousness raised.
Another critical issue that must be addressed early is the gender gap. Before their first job search, young women need to be aware of the gap and equipped to combat it. The status quo slates women to be paid 20 percent less than men, and for young college graduates starting entry-level positions, the wage gap has actually gotten worse. The Economic Policy Institute found that young male college graduates now earn 5.4% percent more than they did in 2000, while young female college graduates now earn 2.2 percent less than they did then.
To move the gender equity ball forward, here are four messages to communicate to the young women in our lives to allow them to shatter glass walls and ceilings everywhere.
1. Break into male-dominated fields early and often.
Growing up, I internalized fixing cars, investing in the stock market, installing home appliances and playing sports as male skills. All of these skills are valuable because they increase autonomy and agency. Now I know that women can be equally or more competent than men in any skill.
We can encourage girls and young women to challenge male-domination wherever it occurs. Just because a space has historically been occupied by men does not mean it should remain that way. With resilience, awareness and a little cheerleading, young women can become confident participants in any male-dominated space.
2. Release yourself from the “good girl” mentality.
In school, girls are rewarded for being nice, compliant and patient. At work, women are not rewarded for these qualities. In fact, they are often held back by them.
Being a professional leader means taking risks and navigating conflict. It requires speaking up about opinions, asserting ideas and rendering your achievements visible. But the “good girl” has not practiced these skills. When we encourage young women to release themselves from the “good girl” mentality, we invite them to express their authentic selves. From this place, they will make their richest contributions to society.
3. Claim your worth now.
Too many women have had the gut-wrenching moment of discovering that a man with either equal or lesser qualifications is being paid more than they are. I hope there comes a day when this practice is illegal in the United States, as it is in Iceland.
For so long, women have been told that others hold the power to evaluate their beauty, competence, likability and lovability. But true power lies in reclaiming the right to be one’s own evaluator. By encouraging young women to sing their own praises and believe that they are deserving of greatness, we better equip them to instruct others as to their worth.
4. Affirm other women.
Women are collectively owed centuries of overdue acknowledgement for their gifts. We can honor that historic deficit by affirming women widely today. We can challenge a “mean girl” culture that is rooted in insecurity in order to bring forward a world in which women are committed to each other’s growth.
When we tell women that they are amazing, impressive, brilliant and strong, we support them in seeing their own worth. The more we help each other make our talents and achievements visible, the more momentum we will gain as we rise up together. We can change the discourse for the next generation and model admiration over envy when speaking of other women.
We are on the precipice of a changing world. Today’s girls are better educated, stronger and more vocal than ever. As they navigate their lives, we can ensure they have the tools they need to break through any barriers standing between them and their dreams. Can you imagine a world in which the potential of all women is truly unleashed?
(By Lianna Gomori-Ruben. Gomori-Ruben is an education management professional. She believes in cultivating green spaces and energizing young people to build thriving communities.)