Over the past few days, I have been exposed to an exciting amount of female power. From Friday’s Lunch and Learn with Sharecare’s unbelievably successful co-president Dawn Whaley to this Saturday’s Undergraduate Women’s Summit at McKinsey and Company, I have heard from so many incredibly driven and accomplished women of all ages. After discussing the presence of women in the corporate world with some of my friends over dinner on Saturday night, I feel compelled to write about my unique, and undoubtedly naive, perspective of women in the world…
I’ve never questioned my place in this world as a girl. In fact, I truly cannot remember a time in my life when I have not felt empowered as a female. All throughout school, the girls in my class were consistently the most hardworking and focused. I vividly remember being 8 years old and watching the boys in my aftercare program trade Pokemon cards and cover themselves in the filth from the outdoors, while the girls stayed inside to work on their homework before their mothers or fathers arrived to pick them up. We were obedient, yes, but also collaborative and academically competitive. I knew that the harder I worked, the better chances I would be something important one day. And so I tried harder. As I grew older, things didn’t change. The past 4 valedictorians at my high school have been girls, most of my bosses have been women, and I’ve taken classes with countless commendable female professors. In college, I’ve seen capable young women lead as presidents of the most established organizations and I’ve watched my female friends land internships and full-time positions at some of the most respected companies in the world. This isn’t to say I don’t think men are smart – men have equally, and mostly disproportionately, done all of the same things as the ladies mentioned above. But on average, I’d put my money on the females because up until this time in my life, girls have ruled my world.
But I’m coming to understand that this viewpoint is not the reality. Maybe it was my parents, perhaps my youthfulness, or even something innate inside of me – probably some combination of the three – that has allowed me to feel not discouraged, but encouraged as a woman. But the truth is that girls across the globe are fighting for the opportunity to compete with the men in their circles. They are sacrificing everything to feel as confident as I feel. And there’s also a girl – a girl deep inside of me – who probably isn’t as assured as I may think.
When I consider my challenges thus far, I haven’t directly felt subordinate to the males around me. However, I’ve noticed that the boys I compete with for various positions carry themselves with a sense of pride that even someone as confident as me doesn’t boast. I don’t feel incredibly comfortable in a suit, I apologize for asking questions, and I probably don’t raise my hand with the same force as my male counterparts.
And then there’s the thought of the future. Despite my perception of girls as equally intelligent and accomplished as boys, there’s a part of me that assumes my future husband will have a more respected job and will make significantly more money than I will. I don’t mean to suggest that money defines success, but in this case I naturally expect that I will not be the breadwinner of my family. And the worst part? I’m okay with it. In fact, I maybe even hope this to be true.
And see, that’s the problem. No part of me doubts that I have the ability to be an accomplished corporate woman. In fact, I expect that as well. I see myself working hard, just as I have since those elementary school days, to build a wonderfully successful and impactful career. I envision a future Jordan doing something to make a tangible difference in this world, not only as a woman, but as a general part of society. But I’m still clouded by social norms. I still see the world as run by men. And I hope that my admitting this, and by talking about these things, we can change that mindset
While my friends and I were discussing this dichotomy of thought, this idea that we want to be successful corporate women yet we don’t see ourselves being the family breadwinners, Emily mentioned something important. She said that one of her female colleagues told their intern class that when it comes time to start a family, there are two paths one can take. There’s the easy path, the path that seems necessary, the path that involves putting your career on hold to raise your children. The typical path of a woman. And then there’s the much more difficult decision. The choice to build your career further, while still raising children. This is the challenging option, the one that will be hard and may feel impossible some days. But she said that it’s the choice that we owe to future generations of women. It’s what we owe to ourselves.
I know that I am only 20 and that when I face this hurdle in my life it will be a lot more difficult than it seems today. But I hope that in the next 10 years the world changes in a way that will make the decision easier. I hope that one day, I’m not left with a forced feeling to sacrifice a career that I adore for a family that I love even more. I hope that it’s easier for me than it was for the women who lived in a world where being a working woman while being a mom wasn’t possible. I hope that when my future daughter(s) picture their lives, they don’t default to thinking of themselves as less successful and less accomplished than their husbands. I hope that one day I make the choice that would make my 8-year-old self quite proud .
It’s a girl’s world, we just haven’t made that clear enough quite yet.