The Day of Dialogue: Women in Traditionally Male Dominated Fields
During Franklin & Marshall (F&M)’s Day of Dialogue (Oct 5, 2016; Wednesday), the Kappa Delta chapter on campus held a session named “Women in Traditionally Male Dominated Fields”. Dr Kate Plass, F&M’s associate professor of Chemistry, and Dr Leanne Roncolato, F&M’s associate professor of Economics, talked about their experiences in male dominated fields. Dr Plass has fortunate news that she almost forgot that she is in a male dominated field since she does not face a lot of challenges based on her gender: she is, however, aware that this would not be the case for her mother’s generation. Dr Roncolato, otherwise, has a different story. While at college, her challenges ranged from being one of very few females in her classes to receiving skeptical comments from some men while she got stellar grades in Math. Her accomplishments were questioned; her self-esteem was shaken because she is a female.
The challenges imposed on a female in male dominant fields includes not only societal challenges by male counterparts but also mentality of females themselves. The presenters from Kappa Delta pointed out that though this is not the case for all, females generally tend to be less confident, less bold, or tend to apologize for their boldness. When female students answer teacher’s questions in class, they tend to start with “Well, I might be wrong, …” while male students tend to give their answers straight away confidently, unapologetically.
In fact, this challenge of very few female roles in male dominated fields has a cyclical impact—very few females in these fields discourage females to consider these fields as their option; again, due to such lack of consideration, the female population in these fields remains low. Females, at least the generations before us, tend to consider some career options as: “this is not for me as a female” while male counterparts usually do not have such considerations. During the session, a male attendant commented that he had never thought of any career he could not opt for. I wonder, as a female says decades ago, the male society, and perhaps even other females, would say: “She’s bossy!” In fact, we need these “bossy” women in order to take initiative and to boldly enter these so-called male dominant fields so that other women can follow the path.
Women nowadays obviously have relatively more rights and opportunities than women about two to three generations before. Nonetheless, to-date, while women are asked to list male dominated fields, they do not need to think hard; the list comes out automatically. In fact, this is not solely women’s problem: this is men’s problem as well. This is a challenge for males who care about equality and development of the society. This is not solely women’s challenge; this is the societal challenge. This is not women’s barrier; this is the barrier for this 21st century society as a whole. Yet, while talking about gender issues or taking gender classes, a significant majority of participants are females. Even during the session, out of an overflowing attendees of thirty to forty people in a stager room, only about five of them are males. Personally, I respect the male counterparts for their choice to be in the session out of a variety of options. Yet, I also want to say (and I think my female peers would also agree) that we need more of them for our society.
Dr Roncolato mentioned that she sometimes wondered if she, as the male skeptics suggested, got into her college partly because of a quota, not solely because of her skills. While it might have shaken her confidence a bit at that time, even if it was a quota system, she said, in retrospect, she should be glad about that. A quota for women means that the society (even it does not admit yet) knows that they need women.
We, women, need to know that we can be anything we want to be, whether a scientist, mathematician, economist, a consultant, or a CEO. We, women, need to believe that “I might be wrong…” is invalid and void because we are voicing our beliefs; and there is no right or wrong in one’s belief. There is neither right or wrong, nor nothing to be apologetic about being you and pursuing what you believe. After all, we, women, together with the whole society, need to know that the word “bossy” is obsolete because we are not bossy but we ARE the boss!