Are universities inspiring women’s success?

Written by Jöns-Berg Jörg-Bergs

Jöns-Berg Jörg-Bergs is the author of the upcoming book Gender Gap, the Economic Benefits of Closing it, due out October 11, 2017. He is also a director at The Pew Charitable Trusts, a senior fellow at the World Economic Forum, and an independent advisor to the United Nations Economic and Social Council and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. A version of this essay is also available in the September/October issue of CNN Money.

On the day before “Take Your Daughter to Work Day,” an organization called the Kresge Foundation released research showing that women are not making it into leadership positions in American companies — according to a survey of more than a thousand companies. Women leaders remain a rarity in part because men prefer them and because middle management remains dominated by white, male employees, the report said.

The message is obviously worth taking to heart, particularly considering President Donald Trump’s appointment of several women to his administration. But examining more deeply, let’s see how much of this is driven by the structure of our society, our culture and our universities.

What I believe is just as important as the fact that women are not in power in America is the role of universities and colleges in shaping our society. The best schools have the most demanding and connected curricula, and that means they are incubators for thinking big, innovating and learning that will make good products and give back to our society in unexpected ways. We have for too long denied these universities the resources they need to engage in the process of modernizing and making good products.

Numerous studies tell us that millennials are attracted to career paths that offer greater flexibility and control over their work lives. Changing policy and practices at universities will likely help close the college gender gap in the U.S. and help make way for more economic security for women.

Many institutions are moving in this direction already. More are integrating technology, workplace fairness and equity, and social justice initiatives into their curriculum and that’s making for more satisfied, productive and committed student-athletes. More of these institutions are recognizing that students will benefit from learning how to be more responsible corporate citizens.

When you ask what feminism means in the 21st century, it is always complicated. Some people will tell you “the cure for every illness is feminism,” while others will say “a vote for the devil is still a vote for the devil.” One thing that’s clear is that feminism is no longer a singular identity, but a mindset that extends to a host of values and behaviors. A change in that mindset will help take the nation in a new direction in terms of women’s advancement and the health of our entire society.

If you want to close the college gender gap you have to change policies and practices at universities.

Another big part of the equation is partnerships. Faculty who teach the students who will take them into business schools and workplaces should stop teaching the kind of “unreasoned” courses that current research shows are an impediment to the economic equality for women. Instead, they should model how to teach critical thinking, practical problem solving and empathy.

Collaboration — led by teachers, rather than administrators, researchers, and higher-education entrepreneurs — can help answer some of the big questions of our time, including how to balance commitment to personal needs and the achievement of long-term goals with the new kinds of work that require physical and mental health and the support of caring community members.

Cultivating respect for any privilege leads to a loss of it, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. Asking young women to trust their own judgment as they make career decisions is a major part of the education process, and knowledge can then lead to action. Ignoring all evidence is not the kind of action women need today.

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