Hello SBAI blog-readers! My name is Naomi Ahsan and I’m delighted to be a guest blogger for SBAI. I am concluding my last semester as an undergraduate at the University of Rochester and entering the job market in hopes of building more work experience for my interest in healthcare policy. Based on my experiences so far, I yearn for conversation on challenges in the career development of our young women. This post and the three that will follow have my thoughts on some of the issues that a young, ambitious woman may face, especially when she sees more men out there with her desired achievements/within her field than women. Sexism limits the chance that the best talent reaches its greatest potential. I’ll best posting this blog in three parts, so check back tomorrow for more!
When I was studying at the American University in Cairo in the fall of 2009, I took the issue of sexual harassment more seriously than ever before in my life. There was a high risk of being harassed in crowded public settings like the buses and trains. And what I was told again and again as a strategy for if I did get harassed was to call my harasser out, loudly, shaming the person and mobilizing others around me for help. I think that’s what we all need to do for every instance of sexism we observe or experience, and I’ve seen a lot of reason for it recently as I look for my first post-graduation job. My career planning so far has helped me recognize that I have an invisible knapsack of internalized sexism to unpack.
Ask the working women that you know, and many of us have a story of being insulted or harshly questioned. If it’s not to our faces, it’s when we’re not there or once our colleagues or friends simply become less self-conscious about their sexism as a token of their familiarity with us—to be considered “one of the guys” is a privilege that we might even aspire to. We face comments and judgments on how we look. Working women also don’t live up to some people’s ideals of motherhood. A lot of the censure of women comes not from men, but from other women. These things add up to distract and discourage women from being professionally ambitious: they make it harder for women, even when we want to do work that promotes the public good.
Are strong work ethic and aptitude not going to get me as far as my male competitors? I’m concerned by the apparent gender divides in pay and employment that were recently debated vociferously by Rachel Maddow and Alex Castellanos on Meet the Press. This is in spite of how there are more women than men with high school, college, and graduate degree diplomas. There’s good news for those who share my concerns on the societal level and I think we can expect more in the future. But by the time I have statistics to show that women are on par with men in holding powerful, high-earning jobs, I’ll be much further along in my own career trajectory. Furthermore, there is a story that statistics and policy analyses don’t tell about the personal successes of today’s leaders. Behind every great man or woman, there is a great mentor. There is probably an entire support network. Mentors can definitely encourage us to dream big and help instill the confidence that big dreams require, but whether or not we fall into the traps within our own minds is still up to us.
My task in this blog is to list some things young women like myself often do—and shouldn’t—on their track to career success. Check back tomorrow for my first suggestion!