by Kate Hinsche
Women face countless obstacles in the workforce, including sexual harassment and fewer opportunities for advancement. However, one more commonly overlooked struggle within the realm of career sexism begins in high school and college, when students begin to consider their future majors and jobs. During this period, a girl is bound to hear, “make sure you really care about [insert any traditionally male-dominated field] before you commit to it.” Her male counterpart does not receive this same question in a similar situation, but is more likely to get encouragement to go into a career known for high salaries.
To put it simply, career sexism begins in teen years when boys and girls are instilled with differing work mentalities. Boys are assumed to be the providers who need to make more money, so they are taught to pursue challenging jobs with stability and high wages. Girls’ careers are perceived as less serious, something that will take the backburner once they are married with kids, so they are told to find jobs that are “fun” or “creative.” Fun and creative translate to easy and non-committal in this situation.
Over the summer, I found a passion for computer science. Ecstatic about all the opportunities it opened for me, I came home from my programming class excitedly babbling about all the different applications of the computer science degree I hope to earn in college. My beatitude was met with a few nods of approval, then, of course, “I always saw you as more of creative person, like you could be a fashion designer or something,” and “make sure you really like computer science, because it can be, like, really hard.” A boy would not get these responses. This is in part because American gender roles foster an idea that boys are less creative than girls (but are better professional artists) and can work hard to expand their abilities, whereas girls have a set level of intelligence.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, women earn 57.4 percent of all Bachelor’s degrees in the United States. Of the millions of degrees earned each year, 29 percent are earned in STEM fields, but only 20 percent of those degrees go to women. The entry level salary for STEM careers is 26 percent higher than that of non-STEM related careers, meaning an early display of career sexism can significantly alter a woman’s financial standing for the rest of her life. I can’t help but wonder if some girls didn’t have to hear the, “like, really hard,” comments at an impressionable age, that 20 percent would be higher.
The career sexism that begins during youth is crippling girls financially and thrusting boys into an unhealthy and entitled provider mentality. It teaches youth that only half of the population has meaningful and important work to do. We can stop this vicious system by teaching boys and girls the same values and career mentalities.
Sources: Forbes, Burning Glass, National Center for Education Statistics, National Girls Collaborative Project