Last night, I found myself in a place I had never environed, a Georgetown University Women in Leadership meeting. After spending nearly a year under the assumption that this organization was merely another feminist group, a group bent on perpetuating divisive rhetoric about gender biases, I can now say my assumptions couldn’t have been further from the truth. Needless to say I was pleasantly surprised by last night, almost even happy to be proved wrong. Our society does have a gender equality issue, but too many women’s groups are focused on all of the wrong problems. GUWIL, however, has taken a different approach to the fight. Fueled by the Lean In movement of the enviable Sheryl Sandberg, this is a group of women who aren’t fighting old battles, but setting the tone for women’s rights in the 21st century. With a focus on encouraging women to follow their ambition, men to support their partner’s professional goals and society to redefine their expectations of women, GUWIL truly has the potential to lead our generation’s efforts to achieve gender equality.
At the Bring Your Own Boy (BYOB) event GUWIL held on Wednesday night, both the men and women in attendance discussed a range of issues, and while many were not of interest to me, I was particularly compelled to contribute to the discussion on recruiting events targeted to women. As a male student in the MSB, it can be particularly frustrating to be inundated with emails from financial firms looking for interns only to read further into the email and discover that only women are allowed to apply. While the financial services industry does seem to have somewhat of a gender disparity, creating a system of affirmative action for women does not seem to be the best solution, particularly when the women applying for these jobs are as qualified as the men.
Ultimately, this process of specially recruiting women ties into a bigger problem that women face – earning respect and likeability for their success in the workplace. Women will continue to find those things harder to attain if people resent them for perceiving their success to be derived from affirmative action. I think these programs sell both men and women short. Whether its believing males wouldn’t hire women without being forced or women wouldn’t be qualified without special assistance, affirmative action for women in the workplace only perpetuates a notion that women are not equal.
To achieve gender equality we must work towards creating a society in which women are praised for their drive and tenacity, not disparaged by both men and women alike. Scaling back on these affirmative action programs is a step in that direction, a step in recognizing that women can stand on their own two feet and achieve success without special assistance. By discussing these issues, and inviting men into the discussion, GUWIL has shown that they are an organization committed to serious debate, not simply just reinforcing their own viewpoints. While the challenge is great, I hope GUWIL continues to challenge society’s views of women and I for one will definitely be looking forward to my next chance to come back.