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Girl Power, Part 2

18 Oct

Last week I interviewed my friend Gigi Collins about her experience at a women’s college.  Her last point about having confidence in the workplace really struck home for me.  As a young lawyer, I once had a grandfatherly-looking client who was a CEO of a hospital tell me I was “cute.”  (I almost thought he was going to reach out and pinch my cheek).  Being horribly green, I was chagrined but kept an awkward, frozen smile pasted on my face and prayed for the moment to pass; I didn’t have the confidence to say or do something about it.  It never seems to work out like it does on TV where the female character will retort with something clever and witty that puts the CEO in his place.

I am intrigued by how women’s colleges seem to do a good job of instilling and nurturing confidence and I sure would like my daughter to have more confidence than I did.  This is not at all to say that co-ed colleges cannot turn out confident women.  My sister-in-law is an accomplished physicist and professor who attended elite co-ed universities and no one who meets her would ever say she lacked confidence.

I’m sure personality plays a big part in building one’s self-confidence and my daughter is a different person from me.  But when I think about how much of my early post-college years were occupied by painful self-doubt and pervasive hesitancy, I think how wonderful and liberating it would be if she could be spared that.  Whatever college she ends up attending, I hope and desire that her education there will build up her self-confidence and assurance.

Here are some websites for those who want to explore more: the Women’s College Coalition website cites studies showing that higher percentages of women attending women’s colleges enroll in the traditionally male dominated fields of math, science and engineering.  The study speculates that “women in science, mathematics, and engineering at co-ed schools are often discouraged from pursuing science as a career because they have few interactions with role models and further they perceive that science professors fail to take them seriously.”  I also read an interview in the New York Times with the president of Bryn Mawr College who laid out her case on the continuing need for women’s colleges.


Girl Power, Part 1

14 Oct

In our search for the right college, my daughter’s guidance counselor suggested that we look at a few women’s colleges.  At first my daughter was skeptical; I attended a co-ed college so it never occurred to me to consider them.  But through the years, I had met many graduates of women’s colleges and they all struck me as strong, confident women.

Being neurotic, I decided to do some research and asked one of my friends, Gigi Collins, who is a graduate of Sweet Briar College, about her experiences.  I’ve known Gigi since our daughters were in diapers together at the same daycare and she’s a fellow blogger.

Q: Why did you choose to attend a women’s college?

I resisted going for a campus visit to a “girls’ school.”  I vividly remember driving up the entrance to Sweet Briar – just gorgeous.  Anyway, I had an amazing tour guide and admissions interview.  They actually cared about ME – I was not a number like at the other college visits.

Then I had an epiphany about women’s education – I could go to college where there were more women role models and mentors among the faculty and administration.  And the best part was, women could take leadership positions in student government, athletics, and clubs.

Q: How is excluding men from your classroom an advantage?

First let me tell you how awesome it was to wake up with three minutes to get to class and be able to throw your unwashed hair into a ponytail and grab those ugly sweats – and not worry about trying to look pretty while sitting next to the cute guy whom you wanted to impress.

Think about the traditional male disciplines like math, science, and engineering.  Studies have shown that more women will pursue these disciplines in an all women’s setting.

Q: What is the social life like in a women’s college?

It is whatever you want it to be.  I partied a lot my first two years (shhh…don’t tell!) and then by the time I was a junior I decided to concentrate on my studies and my friends on campus.  At that point I was more interested in my future than parties and men.

Q: Are there women who would not be happy at a women’s college?

Yes, I do believe that it’s not for everyone.  From my experience, some women are adversarial or overly competitive with other women.

Q: Why do you think women’s college are successful in turning out confident, self-assured women?

I think you could say that confidence depends on the person’s personality no matter where they went to college but having said that, I think a women’s college creates an environment for women to feel safe to learn about their capabilities without men around to tell them otherwise (either overtly or covertly).  There’s a feeling of confidence that I can do anything I put my mind to.  I can usually tell when I meet a woman whether she attended a women’s college.  There is just something about them that I can connect with.

Q: How does a women’s college prepare its graduates for the workplace where they will compete with men?

It goes back to having self-confidence.  My first job was at a bank in New York City and I worked with mainly men and older men at that.  One day in a meeting one of the men called me “sweetheart.”  After the meeting I asked to speak to him privately and told him that I did not appreciate being called sweetheart and that my name was Gigi, to please use it.  Later in graduate school, I had to work in assigned study groups – all men plus me.  They immediately started in on the disgusting jokes.  One of them said to me, “Sorry, we’ll cut it out.”  I replied, “Don’t stop on my account – we all have to work together – I’ll let you know if it gets out of hand.”  After that I was “one of the boys” and only had to get them back in line a few times.  I definitely give credit to my women’s college experience – it gave me the confidence to speak up.


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