America is Floundering – Girls and Women Need to Lead
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America is Floundering – Girls and Women Need to Lead

There are a lot of things going wrong in America today, and one of them has nothing to do with politics.

Today, there are only 24 women CEOs in the Fortune 500 companies. That’s only 4.8% of all Fortune 500 CEOs. And that number is not getting better, it’s getting worse. In 2017, there were 32 women CEOs in Fortune 500 companies. The Glass Ceiling seems to be increasingly more, rather than less, impenetrable.

The reason for the small numbers has nothing to do with college attendance. Certainly it’s true that more men than women graduated from college in the past. In the 1970s, 58% of men and only 42% of women graduated from college. But, since then, things have really turned around, and with a vengeance. Today, the ratio of men to women in college has almost exactly reversed such that there are 2.2 million fewer men than women enrolled in college this year. And, that trend shows no sign of abating.

Why, then, is the number of women CEO’s in Fortune 500 so small and, as importantly, declining. Obviously, there is something else going on and I would suggest it has less to do with male chauvinism and more to persistent socialization.

In a recent NY Times Op-Ed, Barbara Oakley, a professor of engineering, posited that the way we now teach mathematics may be hurting girls far more than boys, and that much of the difference in career choices is due far less to difference in natural abilities of girls and boys and more to broader sets of interests on the part of girls. Specifically, she notes that “boys and girls have, on average, similar abilities in math. But girls have a consistent advantage in reading and writing … even though their math skills are as good as the boys.” Thus, Oakley suggests that girls tend to gravitate to subjects that they enjoy and are less likely to engage in areas like mathematics that require less interesting and even boring but constant drilling and practice. Her remedy, Oakley suggests, is to be tougher on our daughters and require that they stick with the boring but necessary practice and drilling of mathematics.

Clearly, it’s time for things to change. Women are as able and smart as men – if not much more so. I agree with Oakley that change rests with parents and their encouragement – indeed insistence – that more and more girls give priority to studies in math and science. We need great minds everywhere, but it is past time for women to lead the way across the spectrum of human activity.

Daniel Socolow
Daniel Socolow: President, Socolow Group. Former Director of the MacArthur Fellows Program, President of the American University of Paris, Vice President of Spelman College. BA, MA, Ph.D.

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