Freely Made Choices

Posted by Lloyd on July 10, 2009
Uncategorized

For months I debated what to do. From seventh grade on, everyone told me there were too few women in math and science. I went to “Hypatia Day” workshops that celebrated the first known woman mathematician. I wrote papers on women’s scientific and mathematical accomplishments. So I thought I should chalk one up for the sisterhood by continuing in those subjects. But it made me miserable to sit in labs when I wanted to write novels.

Ultimately, I went with the “selfish” choice: Do what makes you happy. Other women I know have reached the same conclusion. My roommate is a former chemistry major who decided she wanted to go into public interest law. I recently met a college woman who won thousands of dollars in scholarships for her genetic research. She decided after a while that she’d rather work with people than microscopes.

Freely made choices

Women, labor market researchers note, look for different things in careers than men. Women want flexibility, for instance, the opportunity to balance work with other parts of life and the chance to make a positive difference. Ninety percent of the queries about non-profit jobs on my college’s career-networking email list come from women. Many bright and talented women work in tech jobs, but if more women prefer fixing sick children’s bodies or fixing problems in society to fixing computers, so be it.

This choice—more than the fear that math and science are too tough for girls—creates the gender gap in tech jobs. After all, women aren’t wimps when it comes to difficult careers. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, women make up about half of all incoming medical school classes. The American Bar Association reports that law schools have just about reached parity. Women earn two-thirds of all new psychology PhDs, over 40% of all new PhDs, and even just under 37% of science and engineering PhDs, according to the National Science Foundation. There’s nothing women can’t do—there are just some careers most women choose to avoid. If the Girl Scouts see those careers as more valuable than others, that’s their perspective alone.

In fact, if the Girl Scouts really want to reach gender parity in a field where more quality workers are urgently needed, they’d team up with the Boy Scouts and the Ad Council to run spots encouraging little boys to become elementary school teachers.

But I’m not betting any Thin Mints on that happening.