Wander into any Starbucks in any Starbucks kind of neighborhood in the hours after the commuters are gone. See all those mothers drinking coffee and watching over toddlers at play? If you look past the Lycra gym clothes and the Internet-access cellphones, the scene could be the 50′s, but for the fact that the coffee is more expensive and the mothers have M.B.A.’s.
We’ve gotten so used to the sight that we’ve lost track of the fact that this was not the way it was supposed to be. Women — specifically, educated professional women — were supposed to achieve like men. Once the barriers came down, once the playing field was leveled, they were supposed to march toward the future and take rightful ownership of the universe, or at the very least, ownership of their half. The women’s movement was largely about grabbing a fair share of power — making equal money, standing at the helm in the macho realms of business and government and law. It was about running the world.
Arguably, the barriers of 40 years ago are down. Fifty percent of the undergraduate class of 2003 at Yale was female; this year’s graduating class at Berkeley Law School was 63 percent women; Harvard was 46 percent; Columbia was 51. Nearly 47 percent of medical students are women, as are 50percent of undergraduate business majors (though, interestingly, about 30percent of M.B.A. candidates). They are recruited by top firms in all fields. They start strong out of the gate.
And then, suddenly, they stop. Despite all those women graduating from law school, they comprise only 16 percent of partners in law firms. Although men and women enter corporate training programs in equal numbers, just 16 percent of corporate officers are women, and only eight companies in the Fortune 500 have female C.E.O.’s. Of 435 members of the House of Representatives, 62 are women; there are 14 women in the 100-member Senate.
The talk of this new decade is less about the obstacles faced by women than it is about the obstacles faced by mothers. As Joan C. Williams, director of the Program on WorkLife Law at American University, wrote in the Harvard Women’s Law Journal last spring, ”Many women never get near” that glass ceiling, because ”they are stopped long before by the maternal wall.”
Look at Harvard Business School. A survey of women from the classes of 1981, 1985 and 1991 found that only 38 percent were working full time. [...] Of white men with M.B.A.’s, 95 percent are working full time, but for white women with M.B.A.’s, that number drops to 67 percent.
Why don’t women run the world?
Maybe it’s because they don’t want to.