As girls grow into women, we need to feel confident that we’re capable of self-reliance and that we have choices to be anything we wish to be as adults, if we’re willing to do what it takes to achieve our goals. While we’ve advanced toward this end in recent decades, our circumstances are usually less than ideal as we reach adulthood. Self-doubt can emerge when a girl sees her brothers or the boys in school being encouraged to excel in sports, while for her competitive pursuits are viewed as unimportant or unfeminine. Peer pressure can arise when other girls seem more concerned about competing over a boy by looking her most attractive, rather than preparing for a career. Parental expectations take their toll if her mother coaches her to find a man to marry while she’s still in school, so she can raise a family.
Some progressive thinking mothers urge and even inspire their daughters to follow their career ambitions, in spite of the fact that the playing field may be shaky—like the seismic waves of an earthquake. Perhaps mom has a career, or else she’s never worked outside the home and her best hopes are be based in an illusory concept of getting ahead in the workforce. Dad may be able to help. But only experience will teach the fine points of working in an environment where the cards are stacked against women on the brink of entering a career.
Even if we’re privileged enough to enjoy every advantage in attending the right schools and having the best connections, the tasks we set for ourselves in establishing financial independence can be monumental. Globally, most of the wealth has been controlled by a small percentage of the world population. And historically men have controlled a far greater percentage of wealth than women. While the numbers are changing, men still hold the vast majority of leadership roles and high-paying jobs in the US.
Clearly, young women need enough confidence to defy the odds against them, plus the skills required for negotiating—not to mention those abilities unique to our chosen profession—in order to land positions equal to or above men. The Catch 22 is that to compete with men, we need to learn these skills largely from the men with whom we’re competing—those who are in control of most of the money and resources. It’s no small feat to enlist the help of the presumed rival. It requires diplomacy. Plus we need to convince men that we’re a good investment—not just to make the world a better place, but to increase the bottom line; that is, to make a profit, because this is the hard core motivation for competition. For centuries, men have depended on money to support themselves and their families. They’re not going to risk losing it if they can avoid it.
Let’s say a particular woman has outstanding qualifications on her resumé. In a perfect world in which everyone is ethical, she may be given a chance to hold a leadership role in a sector of business, law or medicine. She may be hired simply based on merit. On the other hand, in the real world, some individuals will do just about anything—whether or not it’s honest and just—to gain money and power. And if unscrupulous men—or women—already have it, they will likely do what it takes to keep it, no matter whether it hurts another’s career and earning potential.
Every woman who’s considering entry into today’s job market should be prepared for the competition and possibly sabotage she will need to withstand when she attempts to move forward. She will need to be equipped with relevant training, not just a textbook education on the basics of her chosen field. A woman with courage and ambition can advance in the workplace; but only with her eyes wide open—and perhaps the skin of a rhino—will she find a real opportunity to triumph. And as if this isn’t enough, she needs the wisdom to elicit others’ support instead of making enemies if she’s to have a chance to prevail.
Women who work deserve our commendation, congratulations and even our awe for their efforts toward financial independence. In fact, however high a woman climbs on the ladder in her chosen endeavor, she deserves our respect for her fortitude and persistence.
I implore both men and women to be generous in reaching out to women who want to be self-sufficient in creating wealth that benefits the economy as a whole. A prerequisite for economic survival today requires 100% participation of any population—a team of both men and women—to contribute the very best of our talent, skill, and integrity.
Mary Kathryn Jones