Female Executives Can Inspire Young Women to Pursue Math and Aim for Success
I recently came across an article that gave me more than a few moments’ pause. It was about one of my idols, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer.
At age thirty-eight, Mayer became the CEO of a multi-billion dollar corporation and turned the struggling company around seemingly overnight. Incidentally, in addition to being one of the few women in charge of such a large, visible company, she’s also a mother, and a bit of a fashion icon (certainly in the tech world). In my mind she embodies the “everything woman.”
But what jumped out at me the most in this article in Business Insider were the statistics regarding girls and math. Consider:
“Statistics show that many high school girls do not feel like they belong in math or science classes. In 2003, 84 percent of high schoolers who took the SAT and said they wanted to major in computer science were boys — obviously that means just 16 percent were women.”
Mayer had this to say: “It wasn’t until I was a professional woman mentoring other girls in math and science that I learned that openly liking math and science is unusual for girls. It’s actually considered far too nerdy and far too much for the boys.”
This resonated with me, working in such a male-dominated industry as commercial real estate, but not because I ever felt swayed to pursue more liberal studies. Instead, it hit home with me because I was incredibly fortunate to follow my passion for math, and was encouraged by my teachers to do just that, just as Mayer says she was: “Wausau schools were so supportive that I never felt strange for a second about pursuing math and science and being good in them.”
Marissa capitalized on her math and computer science skills to run a multi-billion dollar technology company that requires a deep understanding of mergers & acquisitions (she was involved in Yahoo’s acquisition of Tumblr), product and supply chain management, and building software that consumers would connect with.
I, too, feel fortunate that my aptitude for math was encouraged in school. I was in an accelerated program, and only a quarter of the students in my class were girls, but I can say with complete honesty that our teacher encouraged us with the same level of support and guidance that the boys in the class received. I know that this experience played an influential role in my decision to pursue a career in the real estate industry.
To encourage the next generation – our daughters, nieces, granddaughters, mentees – to pursue fields that might not be the “norm,” it’s important to give them support at a young age to discuss business and finances. My parents sure did: even as a child, finances and complex real estate deals were openly discussed at my family’s dinner table. I was encouraged to make my own financial targets, save money, and watch my monetary objectives become realities.
More than that, it’s never too late to jump into a male-dominated field that may not have been encouraged in school. And it’s never too late to hone your skills in math, finance, and accounting to make yourself even more valuable in the workplace – and allow you to grow into a position that would otherwise have seemed unobtainable. Sign up for continuing education classes at a nearby university. Join a professional networking organization that caters to women in male-dominated industries (The AWM, Association for Women in Mathematics, was founded for the sole purpose of encouraging women and girls to study and have careers in math).
While it bothers me that many young girls think that math and science are for boys, I can’t help but feel incredibly grateful for the support that I had to pursue my personal goals and strengths. I also am grateful for amazing women like Mayer who lead the way and show today’s young girls and women alike that math is not nerdy. I mean, look at Marissa!
Photo: Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for Yahoo News11