In a society organized by and for men, it makes sense for women to be exluded from pursuing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
STEM research and jobs spur the innovation for our Capitalist economic system. You can’t have innovation, at least how we are thought to conceive of it, without STEM. Which leads me to ask, what is at risk by excluding women from this field. But, let me take a step back, as I just I got ahead of myself and will address that later in the post.
As a Black woman and a young scholar, one of my research interests is the inclusion and exclusion of women in general and women of color in particular from STEM careers.
Women are disproportionally clustered in jobs that pay minimum wage, (waitresses, cashiers, nurse aides, child care workers) yet they are expected to provide the resources to take care of children and do the work in the home to raise children- married or not.
In fact I have contended that the issue isn’t the fact that single mothers raise low achieving children or are bad parents, but that women are not paid enough to do the work that is considered “women’s work.” Lets not start on the narratives around Black and Latina single mothers, that is a dissertation and a few books and conferences in and of itself.
So, it was with great interest that I read Ken Aueletta’s profile on the Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg. There are a few things that struck me about Sandbergs social network, economic background, and educational background.
She came to Facebook from Google. She attended Harvard, majoring in economics and took a class with Lawrence Summers- Public Sector Economics. According to the article she did not speak or raise her hand in his class, but she received the highest midterm and final grades. Born in DC in 1969, her father was an opathamologist, her mother was a doctoral student who chose to leave school and focus on raising Ms. Sandberg and her little sister.
Summers eventually recruited Ms. Sandberg as a research assistant after she earned her MBA and worked for the consulting firm, McKinsey and Company. What is incredibly interesting is that as Larry Summers career evolved, so did Sandbergs. After working for Summers at the Treasury Dept she went to work at Google in 2001 and Facebook in 2008.
As I read the article, I wondered, where is the baby, does she have a child, where is the baby. Then bingo. Here it is:
Sandberg fell in love with Dave Goldberg, her longtime best friend, and the two were married in 2004. Their first child was born in 2005. She struggled with her own work-life balance, and developed a sense that too many women at Google and elsewhere were dropping out of the workforce after becoming mothers, in part because they had not pushed to get a job they loved before they began having children.
I don’t expect a media writer to have a gendered critque of labor. So let me unpack this a bit.
Aueletta and ostensibly Sandberg are basically saying that the reason why women DO NOT have more institutional power is because they fail to get the jobs they want because they don’t strategically choose when to have children.
Is it possible that the reason why women do not have more institutional power is because society needs women to bear children, in order for our population to continue to replace itself.
The article does go on to offer a critique of Sandberg stating,
Critics, however, note that Sandberg is not exactly a typical working mother. She has a nanny at home and a staff at work. Google made her very rich; Facebook may make her a billionaire. If she and her husband are travelling or are stuck at their desks, there is someone else to feed their kids and read to them. A more sweeping critique is that it’s not enough for women to look inside. Marie Wilson, the founder of the White House Project, which promotes women for leadership positions, attended Sandberg’s TED speech and knows and admires her. But, Wilson says, “underneath Sheryl’s assessment is the belief that this is a meritocracy. It’s not.” Courage and confidence alone will not compensate when male leaders don’t give women opportunities. She adds, “Women are not dropping out to have a child. They’re dropping out because they have no opportunity.” And she doesn’t agree that new attitudes can close the gender gap. Wilson points to Norway, which requires that all public companies have at least forty per cent of each gender on their boards.
So there are some folks who understand that it is one thing to say “women need to work harder, speak up, and be strategic about family planning.” It is something completely different to say “I am in a privileged position, I have support staff at home and at work and because of this I have other opportunities available for my career.”
Keep in mind that Sheryl’s mom left a doctoral program to focus on raising her and her sister.
I understand the instituational exlusion of women. As I sit here with my stacks for readings for my doctoral comprehensive exam in August, trying to wrap my head around feminist research methods, feminist techno science, intersectionality and various epistemologies I am well aware of how the day to day constraints of life (working, buying groceries, laundry, caring for loved ones) can influence women’s abilities to pursue elite careers and paths of study.
I am glad that this issue is being discussed, but it is short sighted, disrespectful and ahistorical to blame women for their lack of advancement within STEM research paths and careers.
To put it another way, if men had the child bearing capacities of women, federally subsidized childcare would be available, accessible similar to Starbucks and McDonalds on nearly every major intersection in this country. I kid you not.
When women are given the support and expectation to soar, we do. I am proof of it. The women bloggers, engineers, professors, lawyers, graduate students, biologists, filmmakers and editors are all proof of it.
To blame women for their “lack of achievement” is short cited, individualistic and it fails to consider that raising children is work and that mothers who work both inside and outside of the home are penalized for it with lower wages and fewer promotions.Share on Facebook