While having lunch with a former student the other day, I reminisced about my childhood. Mine was far from ideal, being raised in Los Angeles in the 1940s and subjected to racial prejudice because my mother was a Latina. Nonetheless, as I approach the 80th decade of my life, I’ve come to appreciate the lessons learned by hard knocks and wouldn’t exchange them to be young and innocent again.
When I was young, I thought I knew everything. Now that I am old, I’m humbled by the amount there is to know. Understandably, feeling as I do, I’m inclined the think that Jon Birger’s, “A Driving Force,” about the rising power of millennial women, is a paean to naiveté. (“A Driving Force,” by Jon Birger, Fast Company, July/August, 2016, pg. 108.) Rightly, he points out that since 2000 more women have graduated from college than men, many of them entering professions once considered to be male bastions. Based on those statistics, he predicts women’s salaries will be on a par with men’s by 2020. (Ibid pg. 108)
Unfortunately, he fails to see two negatives at work. First, wages have declined, overall. Women have not so much moved forward as men have taken a step backward. Second, and this is where a sense of history is necessary, each time women invade a field once dominated by men, salaries go down. (“The Vanishing Money Trick,” by Martha Burk, Money, Summer 2016, pg. 41.) The feminization of a skill tends to lower the work’s value, an effect which is neither parity nor progress.
At best, Birger’s euphoria applies to well-educated and privileged women. In no way does it depict the conditions of the many, particularly those living in the rust belt. (Blog 5/20/16) Even so, the rosy picture he paints withers in the face of reality. Women at the top seldom receive compensation comparable to their male counterparts. Worse, when women are brought in to head a company, it’s often when the business is in decline. Marissa Mayers of Yahoo is a classic example. If no turn around occurs, the failure becomes the woman’s albatross. This phenomenon is so common, researchers have labeled it, “the glass cliff.” (“Women CEOs and the glass cliff,” by Suzanne McGee, The Guardian, excerpted in The Week, August 12, 2016, pg. 38.)
While it is true that females today are encouraged to reach for the stars, it is also true that patriarchal gravity threatens their success.