Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Smart Girls are at a Disadvantage

I am male and a manger. When I am not writing the next New York Times bestseller, I am running a non profit in which part of my job is to hire, train, coach and evaluate my staff. I take this very seriously and put a lot of thought into each staff member’s professional journey and how I can empower and help them to reach their full potential.

The nature of the non-profit world means that I am often working with young people who are in their first full-time position. They will most likely stay a few years as they learn skills and garner experience that will help them leverage a better paid job. To do all this while working in a nurturing and ideological environment is an attractive initial proposition. After a while, however, they are seduced by either higher salaries or more responsibilities.

Our national organization, Hillel FJCL, prides itself on equal opportunities, with zero tolerance for a situation whereby anyone experiences discrimination because of their religious beliefs, sexual preference, or gender. Recently, one of my female employees shared her concerns about being able to advance in the non-profit world because she is a woman.

Is the Milennial woman still held back at work?

She shared an article by Heidi Grant Halvorson, the author of Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals. The article itself appeared in the Huffington Post.

Succeed: How We Can Achieve Our Goals

While the article talks of the messages transferred to a girl in the home and classroom, Dr. Grant Halvorson also suggests that women might hold themselves to a higher standard than men, that they are more self- critical than their male counterparts.

Quoting studies from the 1980’s by psychologist Carol Dweck (author of “Mindset“) she suggested that girls are less likely at the 5th Grade level to believe they can improve themselves. Couple this with the other well-known factors – teachers give boys more time, turn to boys to answer questions first etc., then the image projected is that boys experience a more empowering environment at school, university and in the workplace.

Girls are more likely to let a boy answer a question, even if she knows the answer

I am not sure that the millennial, brought up on a mega dose of entitlement necessarily falls into this hole, but there are definitely those who are not seeking the higher status (and high compensation) professions, even though they have the ability. There are still far more young women who are prepared to make compromises and sacrifices to follow their partner than their male counterparts.

Whatever is holding the millennial female back from challenging for equality in the classroom and the workplace troubles me. I cannot influence them growing up at home or in the lecture hall. I can only offer the best possible nurturing working environment.

But whenever one of these young women leave, whether for a new experience, more money, or professional advancement, I can’t help feeling a wave of protectiveness. It doesn’t happen to me with the fine young men who pass through our organization, so there must be something there.

Are woman still held back in the workplace? Please share your views, experiences, and solutions.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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One thought on “Smart Girls are at a Disadvantage

  1. Going back to what you said about girls in 5th grade being less likely to believe they can improve themselves, I’ve always noticed something. If there are a girl and a boy in school, and they both have the same intelligence level, often the boy will THINK his intelligence is higher than it really is, and the girl will THINK hers is lower than it actually is. I think it has to do with ego.

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