Where are the women?

September 23, 2015 by Elise Testa

During the fall of my sophomore year at the College I took an economics elective course entitled “Gender and Economics.” To be honest, I originally did not sign up for this course because I was dying to learn about gender issues, but rather because I had taken “Principles of Microeconomics” with Professor of Economics Lucie Schmidt, really respected her as both a professor and a person and wanted to take another course with her. However, after just a few lectures, I became fascinated with the material and loved exploring and learning about how gender differences could lead to differences in economics outcomes.

Prior to this course, it seemed to me just a fact of life that many women chose to be stay-at-home mothers while their husbands worked full time, but I had never delved deeper into how the decisions of these mothers affected both the household and the labor market. In this course I read several excerpts and articles by Sheryl Sandburg, author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, who is one of the most well-known advocates for women in the workforce.

Sandburg points out many of the disparities that still exist today between men and women in the workforce: Of the 197 heads of state only 22 are women; of the top 500 revenue-producing companies, only 21 are headed by women; women represent more than half of the adult population but hold just 18 percent of congressional offices.

As an economics major at the College, I decided to pursue my interest in investment banking and took the initiative to work two different investment-banking internships this summer. At my first internship, out of four interns, I was the only female. At my second internship, out of seven interns, I was the only female. Why did this occur? One obvious reason many might immediately think of is the fact that there are fewer female economics majors than male economic majors. Indeed, there is a pretty consistent trend of only about 30 percent of economics majors being female across the country. But why is this? Some may argue that females are innately more drawn to the humanities; however, I believe that what draws females away from this career path is the long hours and the seemingly impossible work-life balance.

Innately, whether we are consciously thinking about it or not, females are the child-bearers and feel a social responsibility to care for their children. In my experience talking with young women, this sense of responsibility seems to supersede the responsibility they feel to enter and remain in the work force. Additionally, women face barriers, such as a lack of self-confidence or assertiveness, which may make them shy away from seeking a prominent role in a highly-selective investment bank.

Due to these reasons, females steer away from the economics major and finance paths and move more toward other majors, which they perceive will allow for a more family-friendly career. However, with this reasoning, we are putting ourselves in an endless cycle in which women choose not to pursue a finance career path. Therefore, men are at the top of the ladder, and since men are at the top of this ladder, women do not pursue this career path.

I saw firsthand this summer the manifestations of what I had learned in “Gender and Economics”: Women are systematically choosing majors and careers that they believe will be better fits for their lifestyles once they are married and have children. This should not be at the forefront of a college student’s mind. Females should not shy away from majors or internships due to the belief that they will not have the time or capacity to balance their jobs with their personal lives.

On the other end of the spectrum, those females who do pursue a career in finance and find their internships and job experiences to be mostly male-dominated should not panic and change career paths because they feel isolated. At my internships this summer, I was not by any means isolated or discriminated against due to my gender; I could do the job better than the other men alongside me. I want other women to know they can not only work in finance and be investment bankers, but also rise to the top and be leaders in their field. Therefore, I decided to pioneer the College’s first Women in Business group this fall with the mission to empower and encourage females to join the business field.

Elise Testa ’17 is an economics major from Winchester, Mass. She lives in Fayerweather.

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