Where the Women Are Not: Alone in Higher Education.

For most of my educational life, I didn’t give much thought to how my experience might differ from that of the males in my class. In high school, my honors and AP classes all had a lot of girls. Outside of that group, it sometimes felt like boys were intimidated by smart girls. That was their problem and not mine.

There are more women going to college and graduating from college every year at all levels from undergraduate to doctoral programs. Women are certainly taking every opportunity to become better educated and more successful. Yet, that was not my experience. I imagine that the world I face was more similar to the university life around 1900 than the typical female university experience in the year 2000. I was definitely in the minority, and everyone was not happy to have me in the classroom.

Physical science majors (physics, chemistry, geology, and astronomy) are about 25% female. None of those women were in my physics classes. I literally never saw another girl in an upper-level physics class. In the year that I graduated, my class was three boys and me. I was the 25%. Yet, no other girls had graduated from the geophysics program before me, and none graduated after me. So, the 25% can be deceiving. In fact, I was alone. My experience was that scientists are pretty open-minded. Everyone thought it was cool that I liked what they liked, and nobody ever made it seem like I shouldn’t be there. Sure, it got a little weird when all the physics Ph.D. students thought I should be their girlfriend because I liked physics and was nice to them. Other than that, I never had a problem.

I didn’t run into many women in my classes or as my professors, but that didn’t bother me. I was friends with the guys in my major, and the lack of women never made me feel like I didn’t belong there. I had one female professor in my major classes. She didn’t champion me with a “girl power” talk or really encourage me in any way. She was just there doing her own thing, and I’m not even sure that she liked me all that much. So, there was no female mentoring. I came to depend on getting support and advice from men, including a great advisor.

In the end, I switched fields and switched careers in graduate school. It had to do with the career path I was on and my realization my senior year that I would not emotionally survive a doctoral program in geophysics. I ended up in a doctoral finance program. Women in 2014 made up 42.3% of business doctoral graduates. Those women, however, are mostly in fields such as management and marketing. They are not in finance. Women were 27.7% of the doctoral degrees awarded in finance in 2014. Once again, I find myself in the 25%. I was the only female admitted in the year I started, but since people hang around for several years, I did get to know other women getting doctoral finance degrees. The university usually graduated one woman per year with a finance Ph.D., which meant there were about 4 of us there at any point in time. Half of them were Chinese students. If you want to be a minority in your field, be a white woman in finance. Even worse? Be a black woman in finance. They are almost non-existent.

Business Doctorate Recipients, 2014

I didn’t have a single female professor in graduate school. Maybe that was part of the reason some of the male professors were less than welcoming of women in their classes. This was the first time in my life when I ever experienced harassment and a clear message that the male professors didn’t want me there. There were two in particular who targeted me for their attacks. Luckily, I had a great advisor and enough of an attitude to be unbothered even then. I survived and thrived, which I am sure bothers them to this day. I didn’t have a female role model or mentor in my career because they just didn’t exist. Instead, my mentors and colleagues have been men who respect me and look out for me. Sure, there are times when it would have been helpful to have another woman in my corner. Finding people who you trust, however, should always come before anything else.

 

 

 

Being a girl boss in a male-dominated world

 

girl boss rules“I’m a feminist. I’ve been a female for a long time now. It’d be stupid not to be on my own side.”  — Dr. Maya Angelou

 

One of the questions that I get asked pretty frequently is what it is like to be a woman in a male-dominated field. Business schools, and in particular, finance departments are not a place where you find a lot of women. If you are looking for female mentors and a bunch of girlfriends at work, you are probably going to be disappointed. That has never bothered me. Actually, I rarely look around and even notice that I am the only woman in the office.

 

I was raised by a strong single mother who taught me to be strong and independent as well. I always believed that I could do whatever I wanted to do. I enjoyed playing with G.I. Joe and Matchbox cards as much as I liked dolls. I was good at science, so I was encouraged to consider that as a career option. I went to programs for women in science and leadership for women. Even then, I didn’t really think that being a woman was anything that should hold me back or that I would not be accepted.

 

So, I went on to get my undergraduate degree in geophysics. I was the only girl in the major and so was often the only girl in class. I noticed, but I was “one of the guys”. I was just part of the group and again it never crossed my mind that it should not be that way. The same thing happened when I decided to join Army ROTC. As soon as people saw what I could do, being a girl did not matter.

 

Things are a little different these days. Yes, I sometimes encounter older men who don’t think I belong where I am. Still, I’m not the kind of feminist who thinks that she really needs a squad of women yelling about being treated fair and equal. I don’t automatically support another woman for any job because there is an unwritten “girl oath”. If I did that, wouldn’t I be guilty of the same thing that we claim the men are guilty of doing? My brand of feminism involves being the best you can be, working smarter than everyone else, and not standing for less than you deserve. I don’t want to be singled out and treated differently because I am a woman, a redhead, or any other classification. I want to be singled out because I am good at my job. Then, if that is not rewarded, I’ll find another place to work where it is. Women should support each other, but your support system does not have to be other women. Find people who see your worth and want to encourage your career development. When you carry yourself as an equal, others start to see you that way too. Now get out there and go take the world by storm, fellow girl boss.
top career mistakes college students make

Top Five Career Mistakes That College Students Make

top career mistakes college students make

 

It’s the start of a new semester at the university, which means graduation is just months away for many college seniors. The “real world” is just around the corner, and yet I see so few students really prepared for that moment. Now, I will admit to you that in many ways I was not all that different. At this time, I did not have a job lined up waiting for me after graduation. I didn’t know exactly where I was going or what I would be doing. I was, however, actively looking for work. I had a plan, and I had been putting in the time and taking opportunities throughout my college years that would eventually lead me in the right direction.

 

When I graduated from college I went home for a couple of weeks and then left to take a summer job as a lab assistant. It did not pay much money, and I lived in a large house with about 25 other college students. Still, I took the opportunity to work in my field. While I was there, I got a call with a job offer related to an application I submitted months earlier. I moved hundreds of miles away, and the rest is history. The point is that I was always working towards something and answered the door when opportunity knocked. Unfortunately, I don’t see that attitude in a lot of college students today. They seem to be making a lot of mistakes when it comes to their career search and prospects.

 

  1. Unrealistic salary expectations. Long before the first interview, you should have a good idea about what starting salaries in your field actually are. Unfortunately, a lot of college students seem to have inflated salary expectations. Talk to recent graduates and find out what kinds of jobs and salaries offered to them. Research average salaries here and understand how those numbers vary by location. For example, working in NYC, you will likely be at the high end while in Mississippi you could be at or below the bottom of the range.
  2. Unwillingness to relocate. My first job out of college took me from the Northeast to the foreign land of Mississippi. I had never stepped foot in the state before the day I moved there to start my career. It never occurred to me not to take the job because I would have to relocate. Life is an adventure, and in today’s economy, you cannot afford to limit your options to a small geographic region. Your dream job could be waiting across the country, so step outside your comfort zone and go for it!
  3. Feelings of entitlement. A college degree entitles you to nothing other than a piece of paper that you can hang in an expensive frame. Graduation is just the first hurdle and likely makes you no different from any of the hundreds of other applicants for a job. You are entitled to nothing. Consider yourself fortunate to get an interview and fortunate to get a chance to prove yourself to an employer. Be willing to work hard and do what is required even if you think you can handle more. Show that you can succeed in the small tasks, and bigger things will come your way. Plus, we all started at the bottom. Good colleagues are willing to pay their dues just like everyone else.
  4. Lack of professionalism. I’m not sure what makes students want to call me by my first name, call me Mrs. Goodwin, text emojis to me, or expect me to answer their emails at 2 am. I’m thinking it’s the same thing that causes them to show up to a professional event in shorts and a T-shirt or short skirt and 5-inch heels. I don’t think this behavior is unique to their interactions with me, and I worry about how this translates into an overall lack of professionalism that extends beyond the classroom.  Wear a suit and nice shoes, lose the backpack, and stop sending emails that use “hey” as the salutation.
  5. Not using the social network. Millennials are great at liking on Facebook, instantly Gramming, and snapping their Chat. Despite this social fluency, they tend to miss the mark when it comes to the actual value of developing their social network. Networking is crucial to career development and advancement. Take every opportunity you have as a student to meet people working in fields that interest you, get their business card, write them an email, and add them to your LinkedIn network. You never know what door that connection can open for you one day.