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Over the Glass Ceiling

Photo by Stephanie Pellicano.
Photo by Stephanie Pellicano.

As I sit down in a mix of silenced female students and faculty advisors, I don't know that the next hour will be consumed with a discussion about business and the ever-challenging issue of gender divides. However, each female student wears a look of seriousness that many other female students may have not have sported in such a situation, though the circumstance requires us to be more critical.

We are all worn out, and this is apparent from the scuffed blemishes on the messenger bags that carry a load of books and supplies to the tousled strands that cover our heads, which contain an even heavier load of information. There is much to be said and much to be relieved.

Seven female business students with a mix of concentrations including economics, accounting, finance, communications and marketing, along with four faculty members of the W.P. Carey School of Business gather for discussion on the need for a women in business initiative. Ideas sparked from recent acknowledgment: a statistical lag in numbers of female enrollment in certain business major programs in comparison to their male peers.

Once the conversation begins, there was nothing to be held back. The female students explore areas of popular debate like how women have to sacrifice more to maintain the home as opposed to men, and how women must demonstrate a certain level of emotional strength to fulfill powerful roles in business.  While some females express a certain level of yearning to hold these roles, others express a desire to satisfy a more traditional lifestyle.

Supply chain management and finance senior Beth Crumrine says she oftentimes feels judged because she hopes to be able to balance a career with family.

“I want to get married, have kids, the whole deal, and I sometimes feel like that wanting that role is viewed as weak or lesser by some of my fellow females,” she says. “It is always a weird dynamic for me.”

To relate the issue of females and their role in business on a classroom level, some females feel equal to their male classmates and never feel barricaded, while a few females in the dialogue express that they were unable to speak in class or ask questions. Oftentimes, their questions were answered during personal discussions with the professors, who seemed more willing to answer their questions in that setting.

However, a statistical analysis of enrollment numbers identifies a significant difference in the female to male ratio in a typical economics class opposed to a marketing class. While most lower division business courses have a rather equal distribution, upper division economics or finance courses have a higher number of male students compared to female students.

Career development specialists at the W.P. Carey School of Business Jyll Harthun says the concern is over why these numbers are so low in certain business majors and what needs to be done to help bolster these numbers.

“If it’s about females being intimidated, then that’s a problem,” she says. “However, if it’s about females being ignorant, then this is entirely different.”

Female students in the discussion who were economics or accounting majors say they were not intimidated by the subject matter, but their involvement was limited in class.

Economics senior Mike Eaton says there are not many female students in his upper division economics courses, with merely two or three of a total of 50, and oftentimes their presence is not known.

“Females don’t speak in class as much as the male students,” he says. “There may be an intimidation factor correlated with the issue.”

According to some, there is a need for an intervention to give female business students the comfort and feasibility to pursue degrees in these male-dominated interests if they wish to pursue them, but the next steps are being questioned.

Should these opportunities empower females as well as males? Would promoting the female cause create an even greater separation between the sexes?

The discussion dialogue helps answer these questions as female students express their ideas and thoughts about acting on the issue and promoting a better social environment for all at the business school.

“I think to get a good response the initiative needs to be careful not to further emphasize the divide between males and females,“ Crumrine says. “If presented as a community for resources and opportunities to gain knowledge, this will aid in success for all.”

Eaton supports the idea that any effort made should be open to male and female participation.

However, business communications junior Jessica Lopez says female students would respond well to the initiative but questions the willingness of male students.

“Providing mentorship to a group of females will supply them resources and will allow them to relate with each other,” Lopez says. “As for males, I feel they might be a bit intimidated because males are used to being the dominant figures in business.”

Harthun says the objective of any form of action will be to help the overall environment of the academic scene. This concerns females’ success in their classes as well as their overall business aspirations.

“How do we help further you as a business student as opposed to a female student?” Harthun says. “This is what we are working towards.”


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