Are women taking over the world? Or are they dropping out where it counts?
Yesterday I watched two TED talks. The first was by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. It was called “Why we have too few women leaders.”
Sandberg talks about ways to encourage girls and women to succeed in corporate environments. It’s lonely at the top. She’s made deals with CEOs of important companies who couldn’t direct her to the women’s bathroom, because she was the first woman who had been in that part of the building. Women, Sandberg insists, underestimate themselves constantly. When men are asked to explain their success, they attribute it to their personal awesomeness. When women are asked the same question, they name the people who helped them along the way, and consider themselves lucky. Remember when I was talking about ambition? I’m like a prophet. Kidding (especially since these talks were given a month ago. Being a prophet of the past isn’t nearly as impressive). But really– this stuff is everywhere.
The second TED talk I watched was by Hanna Rosin, the amazing journalist who recently wrote “The End of Men” for The Atlantic. It was called “New data on the rise of women.”
Rosin describes a scene at a men’s group in Kansas, where an instructor tells the assembled unemployed working class men (who are there because they can’t pay child support), “Eighty-five thousand dollars. That’s her salary. Twelve-thousand dollars. That’s your salary. So who’s the man now? Who’s the damn man? SHE’S the man.”
The skill gap in the workforce is widening and widening. It’s gaping like a wound. Like a bottomless chasm. And women are represented in dramatically large numbers on the side of skilled labor, and men are being left behind in the land of unskilled labor. For every two men who graduate college, three women are graduating as well. Women make up the majority of the workforce. Over fifty percent of managers are women. Women are taking over the world!
Except at the top. Women are not taking over the top of the world. Where are all the female CEOs and senators? Where are the female billionaires who invented a technological product no one can live without? Is that the part we’re supposed to be patient about? Should we tell Sheryl Sandberg to stop whining– she’ll have company eventually. One thing at a time. Should we tell Hanna Rosin it isn’t enough? Women need to be able to go all the way!
An ambitious, incredibly smart friend of mine recently told me she’d gotten into a great PhD program. A famous member of the department was interested in working with her. Everything was going perfectly.
I said, “I hope you’re just sitting around feeling brilliant and impressive all the time.”
“Actually,” she said, “I’m nervous. I feel like I’ve tricked them.”
There it is. What Sandberg is talking about. So many women feel like they don’t quite belong. Like they’re tricking their way into the system. Like things might fall apart at any moment. Maybe we’re becoming the majority of the workforce, but we still need to be reminded that we are not there by accident. That we should ask for a promotion, because we deserve a promotion.
I felt stupid in grad school. I was surrounded by men. I felt like I didn’t know anything and they knew everything. These days, I’m beginning to think that knowing everything isn’t the point. Thinking you know the right amount is. Believing that no matter where you are now, you have what it takes to succeed. That’s the important thing.
So let’s start believing.
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Un-roast: Today I love the feeling I get when I open the door to my apartment and go inside and I can take off most of my clothes.
A slightly edited version of this piece appeared on Huffpo today.