On Charlie Rose’s November 7, 2011 interview with Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, and COO, Sheryl Sandberg, they talked about Facebook, social networking and privacy concerns, and then the topic of women in business leadership roles came up. (starting at 49:14)
“I really think we need more women to lean into their careers, and to be really dedicated to staying in the workforce. I think the achievement gap is caused by a lot of things. It’s caused by institutional barriers and all kinds of stuff. But there’s also a really big ambition gap. If you survey men and women in college today in this country, the men are more ambitious than women. Until women are as ambitious as men, they’re not going to achieve as much as men.“
I am reminded of a professor at the university I attended who told me about an initiative the Computer Science department created to attract more women to the program. Women accounted for around 20% of the enrollment, which was the lowest for any program at the university, and even notably lower than Engineering, overall.
She said they were surprised that the enrollment of women actually went down after they instituted their program, and they were baffled by this. Anyone who has taken an undergraduate degree in Computer Science, especially at The University of Waterloo, will know exactly why such a program isn’t very appealing to women.
The Computer Science program’s leather jacket was then known as the male equivalent of a chastity belt, and the computer lab was your second, and in some cases, your primary home.
I hope her reference to women being more ambitious than men is in the context of the business world, and not overall, since many women are ambitious mothers, and some cultures still fully appreciate the essential role they play, as Western culture once did.
Within the business context, I wholeheartedly agree with her, but at the same time, there are very good reasons why women aren’t in business leadership roles to the degree that their formal education and experience compares favourably to their male counterparts. Having worked with women in business leadership roles, I have personally observed that ultimately, the responsibility of taking care of their children rests mostly with them.
Eliminating the institutional barriers she referenced is one thing, but trying to convince someone that a certain field and position in an organization is desirable for them despite what their personal preferences continue to indicate strikes me as elitist.