Teacher, nurse, secretary, assistant: these are just a few of the jobs that young women are groomed to be good at, from a very young age. Through the toys we give them and the role-playing we encourage, we are inadvertently setting girls up for their future, without even giving them a choice. While those jobs are important and necessary, we need to be doing more to encourage our young women that their future doesn’t need to be picked from a box society has set. It is time we empower women to break through that glass ceiling and aim high.
Only 4.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. How is it possible that a group that makes up about half of our population is so underrepresented in high-level positions? There are many women who possess the necessary leadership skills to be a dynamic executive, yet we don’t see them getting the jobs.
There is an extensive amount of research literature that has been done on finding out why this happens, with many ideas leading back to the inherent sexism that corporate America is rooted in. But I am not here to convince you of that. Despite the odds, statistics, and people telling you are unable to reach the top due to your gender, I am here to say: you can. With the right about of tenacity, dedication, and resiliency, it is possible to sit at the head of a table one day.
There is no better example than my inspiring aunt, Francine Geller, who currently manages a global team of Channel Program Managers at one of the most respected companies in the world, Google. With a B.A. in International Political Economy from UC Berkeley and an M.A. in International Management from UC San Diego, she has also studied at the Kyoto Japanese Language Institute in Japan and has over 16 years of experience in the high-tech industry working for giants like Yahoo! And Intel. Her incredible intellect, communication skills, ability to connect with diverse people, and outgoing personality lead her from one opportunity to the next, ultimately culminating with the position of a lifetime. She states that, “As high-tech companies are predominantly male, I have had to learn how to communicate and work effectively with different executive styles. To be successful, you have to understand how other people work and flex your style accordingly.”
Along with my aunt, another polarizing female that I highly encourage you to become familiar with is Sheryl Sandberg, the current COO of Facebook and a former VP at Google. Her book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” is an invaluable resource for young women of any age and experience level in the business world. While she details many very important pieces of advice, there were two points that particularly resonated with me. First, she has found that women often get hung-up on being well liked by their co-workers, which ultimately stagnates their growth; commit yourself to excellency and the rest will fall into place. Second, she encourages young women to find mentors, though the relationships should be created organically. Having a source of encouragement and an advocate is invaluable and puts you at a serious advantage.
Similarly to Sandberg, my aunt urges women to seek out a network and alliance of female supporters to help you get to the next level. When asked if she had advice for young women looking towards a similar career path, she encourages you to “be an active contributor at work and challenge your comfort zone by taking on large impactful projects to help your organization grow. Taking risk will lead to great professional and personal development and may lead to a faster advancement in their career journey…surround yourselves with motivated and successful people to help [you] set high standards, and be eager to learn, accept constructive feedback, and be persistent.”
As I near graduation and head into the business world, I understand that many of you are not interested in a similar career path. But that doesn’t mean you can’t implement some of these ideas into your own fields. Whether you aim to be a professor, a clothing designer, or a researcher, you most likely will find yourself starting at the bottom. But there is always room for you to move up. It will require hard work and self-confidence and many people pushing you down, but always remember to “lean in.” Recent data states that if we continue in our current state, it will take until 2085 for there to be equal numbers of men and women in leadership roles in the U.S. I challenge you to fight against this statistic and change the course of our country; I would like nothing more than to be able to sit in a boardroom with other strong, powerful, and compelling women one day.