By Dr. Nicole McZeal Walters
Until I found myself watching Bloomberg TV’s Women to Watch program early Sunday morning. Riveted, I listened to a panel of four, successful women leaders representing social media, technology, business, and finance, all based in the Silicon Valley. Much of the line of questioning related to asking these women did they feel alone in much of the male dominated industries, were there many opportunities for women, and how did they get their start? The women shared that Silicon Valley is the home of many start-ups, and opportunities for women indeed abound because their expertise is needed. The challenge is engaging women to pursue science and technology fields, because they traditionally go toward fields where they feel more “comfortable” or they can feel successful. Unfortunately, once they pursue these non-technology related fields, they can be stuck in staffing roles where the pay is not comparable to their male counterparts, the opportunities to advance are limited, and their male colleagues feel that they can’t separate home from work. Interestingly enough, all of the women shared their respective companies allowed them to thrive in a busy environment, they negotiated their salary expectations up front, and advocated for themselves. The other formidable piece of advice shared was women must find other support in each other as oftentimes the male colleagues sometimes do not “champion” their achievements, or leave them out of the loop with other opportunities. Additionally, the panel shared there is definitely strength in numbers and networking is critical. Finally, they were brutally honest: having a support system was critical. All agreed that they could not do their jobs if they didn’t have supportive spouses, nannies, or flexible, non-traditional work hours.
The thing is, no one really talks about the Pink Ghetto. It’s a largely invisible and largely unmentioned term. Hence, when I first broached the subject with many of my friends and loved ones who are considered “professional women,” many of them had never even heard of the term. For me, as a teacher, consultant, and now college professor, most of the opportunities that have come my way have either been through networking, previous relationships with colleagues, and others whom I have come in contact with who can champion my expertise in a related area. Seeking supportive mentors whose work and values I trust (and whom I aspire to), is also significant. Unfortunately, what I have found, is that many of us (myself included) sometimes do not feel comfortable advocating enough about the work that we do because we do not want to come across as being braggarts, or are afraid of other women thinking that we are show-offs. Men, on the other hand, have no problem tooting their own horn—or fighting for that corner office and that new title. Anecdotally, men are very supportive of other men and have typically lobbied on each other’s behalf for swifter promotions, bigger raises and better performance reviews. Now, don’t get me wrong. I wholly believe in the system of meritocracy, where the achievements of those deserving of accolades—male or female—should be awarded. The notion is putting the discourse out there for women to take a page out of our male colleagues’ book: start networking, hone your skills, pipe up about your achievements, start a Good Ole’ Girls Group, and lift others out of the Pink Ghetto. One stiletto pump at a time.
About Dr. Nicole:
Dr. Nicole McZeal Walters is a skilled educator with 16 years of professional experience holding teaching, administrative, consulting, and instructional design positions in school and non-profit organizations. Her public school career spanned 10 years as an early childhood and elementary educator in the Aldine Independent School District. Dr. Walters presently serves as the Regional Director for National Urban Alliance for Effective Education, San Francisco, and works as an affiliate faculty member at both the University of St. Thomas, in the Educational Leadership Department, and the University of Houston-Victoria in the School of Education & Human Development. Dr. Walters is also a blogger and co-creator of Education Made Visible, a web-based education news talk show. She recently joined Fox 26 News as an educational correspondent and expert and can also be heard each Monday, 10:00 EST as a radio co-host of NCEBC Talk Radio, an online radio blog talk show hosted by the National Council on Education Black Children.