We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby?

March is Women’s History Month, and I was asked to speak at a campus Women’s Club luncheon. Just provide a little info on yourself and your experiences, and then let the participants ask some questions, the club coordinator said.

So I got to thinking…what experiences should I share? Should I share the recent Obama report that says women have higher graduation rates than men, but still make 75-80% of what men do? I’ve had experience with that. Or perhaps the fact that women lag behind men in science and technology fields, and recent research shows that unconscious sexism may play a part in that? I’ve had experience with that, too.

I don’t want to portray a negative image of my own work experiences specifically, or the plight of women in the workplace generally. Overall, I’ve had a tremendously successful career and have been very fortunate to have many supporters, advocates, and mentors — most of whom were men. But I do want to be realistic, and the truth is that despite my many successes, I’ve had to wade through the sexism (inadvertent and covert, alike), unequal pay, differing expectations, and more to get where I am today.

It saddens me to  hear — from men and women alike — that we’ve come a long way, as if this somehow justifies the current state of things and makes it more acceptable. Really? Relative pay has increased at a snail’s pace over the last 30+ years, and we may actually be losing ground in the STEM disciplines. Perhaps we have come far in some areas, but not so much in others. And there are still, in the the immortal words of Robert Frost, “miles to go before [we] sleep.”

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