I know it’s a highly subjective question, but ask yourself, “Do women, like me, need help in careers?” A more objective, if not conclusive, way to look at this question is to consider it from the standpoint of employers. Careers belong to individuals, but employers create jobs and work which forms the basis and progression of someone’s career. In labor and employment circles there is consensus opinion about the importance of knowledge workers. It has reached a point where it has become synonymous with the future of work. How many times have you heard employers say, “The key to success is having an educated workforce”? According to MarketWatch, “Nine out of 10 new jobs are going to those with a college degree.” Search Google and you will find over 35 million results returned for the “educated workforce”.
If 21st century employers are serious about building an educated workforce, they must go beyond merely giving lip service to women. Nominal inclusion no longer works for the women and careers. Why? Because women are more educated than men and they increasingly represent the educated workforce. In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, every year there are 300,000 more women than men who graduate college with a 4-year degree. In the U.S. alone this means there are 1.25 million more women than men currently enrolled in colleges and universities. At any one point in time, up to 56% of student populations on campuses are women.
The aftereffects of having more educated women is starting to take hold and translate into employment gains. According to the President’s State of the Union address, women filled 58% of the new jobs created in the economy last year. Nevertheless, there is important ground to gain. Women still lag as a percentage of workers employed in management (i.e., according to Catalyst, only 35% of managers in S&P 500 companies are women) and they realize just 80% of the compensation men earn for equivalent jobs (a.k.a., widely recognized as the gender pay gap.)
Viewed either way, both opportunities and challenges women face are creating a greater need for career resources. However, the supply of career resources for women has been slow to catch up with demand. One thing seems clear, most of the needs women have to start their careers are not being filled in college. According to The Atlantic, “Fewer than 20 percent of undergraduate students reach out to their school’s career centers for advice.” This, according to one Executive Director of Career Services I spoke with at a large university, is a best case scenario. When questioned privately, he admitted the percentage of students properly served by his office was closer to 10%. Because women are graduating college in greater numbers this affects them even more. The trend to overlook career services runs counter to the majority of students enrolled in college with their studies properly focused on career. Eight in ten college students, in fact, “cite the prospect of a job as a critical factor in their decision to enroll.”
If it doesn’t happen in college, where do educated women receive help in their careers? In many cases, it’s hard to be find. Industry observers have identified the disconnect between college and careers as one of the reasons why underemployment, according the Washington Post, runs as high as 40% among college graduates. Underemployment is another factor which impacts a greater number women than men.
In fairness to women and career services, neither should assume direct blame for the disconnect. And, while more certainly can be done to unite college with career, many schools do recognize the importance of change.
In many ways, the problem could become the solution. By distilling it down to incoming measures not being properly aligned with outgoing factors of success, we may have identified one root cause of the problem. Another way of saying this is that our fixation on all things admissions has taken the focus off from applying an education to future jobs and careers. The solution forward, therefore, becomes manageable. Simply re-prioritize the two. We need, as Stephen Covey once said, “To begin with the end in mind.” Previous attempts have been made by our government to start addressing these issues, but real solutions will more likely to come from stakeholders. Chief among these, in my mind, would be the close involvement of Higher Ed and employer organizations.
In the meantime, we tenuously watch as tuition inflation balloons student debt. And, whether or not we have children in college, we all become stakeholders by default.