Monday, March 29, 2010

No Limits on what women can achieve.

I don't know how many of you know this but I was a Biology major in college and worked as a research biochemist for two years afterward. The significance of this was brought home to me today when a friend (and fellow alum of Mount Holyoke College) forwarded me this link of letters to the editor in the New York Times . President Joanne Creighton of Mount Holyoke talks about why women's colleges turn out so many scientists. She writes that the keys to success are having role models, a lack of gender stereotyping and a hospitable institutional culture that sets no limits on what women can achieve.

I firmly agree with this. I was lucky enough growing up that my sister had gone to Mount Holyoke before me and that I had a women biology teacher in high school who believed in me. When I got to my junior year in high school the long time guidance counselor had retired and they hired a new guy who had zero experience. I went in to talk to him about my college plans - I intended to apply to Mount Holyoke early decision, major in biology and become a doctor. He told me that he thought it was a mistake, even with a 4.0 average, that I really should limit myself to local colleges so I could live at home. ACK. Not even an option. Then he suggested I go to a teachers college in Mississippi because really that's what women should be doing - teaching.

While I think teaching is a wonderful profession, at the time I had zero interest in that and I couldn't figure out why he wasn't listening to what I wanted to do. The fact that he had so stereotyped women into a single role was horrifying to me. Without my sister and teacher as role models I could very easily have listened to that guidance counselor (who yes I think was an incompetent fool) and my life would have been very different. He was creating an institutional culture that very much set limits on what a woman could achieve.

Mount Holyoke was a revelation, women ran everything - including the college itself. Role models were everywhere and there were never any limits set. I knew women who were training for the Olympics while studying economics, a woman who was a german/econ/dance major; and one who's goal was to work in Antarctica (and she did). The professors were fabulous - encouraging, supportive and who created opportunities for me to try new things. Because I saw so many women working in biology, I chose to work after graduation for a few years to decide where I wanted to go next.

My work led me to change directions and get an MBA in Marketing but I never doubted I could do it because that's what Mount Holyoke taught me - No limits.

This is why I am so passionate about the work of the organization I am in today. We all know that there are no limits on what women can achieve and we also know that we need to be telling this to our daughters, granddaughters, nieces and any young women we enounter. So just a reminder - tell a girl, young woman today that there are no limits.

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