In 2011, women surpassed men in gaining advanced college and bachelor's degrees, for the first time in American history. And yet, while women have entered the workforce in record numbers over the last half-century, gaps remain in certain industries, and women are still not as visible in top leadership positions. There are also additional challenges facing this generation brought on by the recession – one in two college graduates are jobless or underemployed.
We asked our MAKERS their thoughts on the current challenges facing young women today. Many mentioned the lack of women in science and technology, while others stressed the importance of establishing a paid parental leave in the United States. Due to an increase in the number of working parents in America, there was also concern expressed by the MAKERS about the amount of pressure placed on workers to successfully balance family and work.
Ursula Burns addresses the problem of women dropping out of the workforce. She acknowledges that there are many reasons for this withdrawal, but argues that there needs to be an analysis of institutional biases, rather than only individual choice. Jennifer Siebel Newsom extends this problem to the issue of paid parental leave. The United States is one of only three nations that does not guarantee this social service, which means that often working parents must make difficult financial and career decisions when celebrating the birth of their newborn children.
In contrast, Nancy Lublin, believes that the biggest challenge for young women today is that there are too many options. Instead of feeling limited by career and family expectations, she thinks that women now have difficulty making decisions because they are presented with an abundance of opportunity.
Shelly Lazarus, pioneering ad executive, is concerned about additional pressures facing young women in terms of physical appearance. In a research study undertaken by Lazarus and the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, they discovered that only 2% of women in the world actually consider themselves beautiful. What must change is not the women themselves, but definitions of beauty around the world that hold women to such rigid expectations.
Lastly, Amy Richards, reminds us that the concerns of one generation will not always be carried to the next. Women today might not need to be concerned about their access to women's health facilities - though, this is highly dependent on region. Instead, Richards argues, women today must worry about access to birth control, sex education, and equal treatment at home and work. In her view, each generation should benefit by the gains made by the last.