Leaning in, standing up, and reaching beyond.
by Dara Silverstein
Women today have more opportunities in the workplace than ever before, but the picture is far from perfect. By 1990, U.S. women’s labor force participation had climbed to 74 percent, but 20 years later it had barely risen, according to a 2013 report from the National Bureau of Economic Research. Conflicting ideas about what accounts for this stagnation range from stingy maternity-leave benefits to sexism in the workplace. In a country where women in leadership positions caps out at 20 percent and women are still fighting for equal pay for equal work, women can feel devalued and internalize society’s perceptions of them as “less than.” A lack of confidence and assertiveness means women may be passed over for professional opportunities, exacerbating the problem. So the struggle toward gender equality continues.
Antioch University has been an active part of this fight from the start. Antioch College, its founding institution, was the first college in the United States to educate women on equal terms with men and to hire female faculty on an equal basis with male colleagues. It was also the first co-ed college to have a woman on its board of trustees. Today, the women of Antioch University continue to combat gender bias in society, and create opportunities for themselves and others.
Jen Baron, an Antioch University Santa Barbara student focusing on Environmental Studies, founded Girls Rock Santa Barbara! in 2012. GRSB! is a nonprofit organization that empowers girls to reach their full potential through music lessons, workshops, summer camps, and performances. Baron’s mission is to challenge gender stereotypes, increase the girls’ self-esteem, and help them express themselves through music. GRSB! doesn’t just teach the girls how to play an instrument or be in a rock band; it instills essential skills – such as teamwork and confidence to speak up – that will help them succeed in life and work.
Baron was inspired to create GRSB! after thinking about her own life and goals. “I was in a place of self-reflection. I had just wrapped my first studio record and kept coming up against this internal voice asking me, ‘Why did it take you 30 years to record an album when you have been writing music since you were nine?’ At the time, there were only a handful of people who actually even knew I played music,” recalls Baron. “The answer became more and more clear to me: I honestly didn’t believe I was good enough.”
As part of her coursework at AUSB, Baron began an independent study with Dr. Dawn Osborn, who was her advisor and professor, to try and tackle this issue. “I wanted to explore feminism and media culture and survey the women in my community,” Baron explains. “What I found was shocking for me. I heard responses all across the board in terms of demographics, and all saying the same thing: ‘I don’t believe I am good enough.’” Baron began digging deeper. She read journals on girls and self-esteem and was appalled and astonished by what she found. “GRSB! grew out of a deep need to create change in our community, and that’s just what we’re doing,” she says.
Girls Rock Santa Barbara! has been expanding rapidly since its launch. The program currently runs both a summer rock camp and an afterschool program for seven-through 17-year-old girls, a program for high-school girls where they earn community service hours by acting as mentors, and a weekend-long rock camp for women. The organization has served 165 girls and engaged more than 100 volunteers. Baron has plans to expand even more, developing an all-teen curriculum and a music label.
Celeste Anlauf attended Antioch University Los Angeles to earn her MA in Organizational Management, more than two decades after she’d graduated from college. “When I went to school, my parents said, ‘You are going to be a teacher or a nurse,’” Anlauf recalls. “I’d had dreams of getting an MBA after college, but women of my generation weren’t necessarily encouraged to get an advanced degree. The boys went to grad school; the girls didn’t.” Anlauf ’s master’s degree from AULA helped her change careers and take a leadership role in solving issues of inequity in her community. She is now the director of Major Gifts at the education nonprofi t Para Los Niños, which provides education and other resources for low-income children in Los Angeles.
Antioch University Santa Barbara’s new Women and Leadership Certificate program was designed to examine issues of leadership and gender. The mission of the 10-month program is to empower women to break through the “glass ceiling” and become leaders in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. As Director Judy Bruton explains, “Even though we have had educational parity for 40 years, where women have had access to the top educational opportunities, for many reasons it has not translated into parity at the top levels of leadership.”
In her recent book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg offers up possible solutions to the leadership gender gap, including the need for women to support and mentor one another. Th e Women and Leadership Certificate program reinforces that notion by offering a professional network of like-minded women and advisors to do just that.
Although women have a ways to go before they achieve parity in their careers, they’ve made huge inroads over the past decades. Everyone, of any gender, would do well to follow Sandberg’s advice to dream big, forge a path through the obstacles, support others, and work to achieve their full potential.
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As women in the U.S. fight for equal opportunities in the workplace, women in the developing world face very different challenges.
“Here in Ethiopia you have girls married at ages 10, 11, and 12 because the families are so poor that they marry off their daughters so they can receive the bride-price (dowry) and have one less mouth to feed. I am hired as a technical specialist by nongovernmental organizations to design different programs to help girls navigate their environment and avoid situations that are harmful to them.
A major problem that women and girls face in Ethiopia is a lack of education because of poverty. I was just in rural Ethiopia, and we were interviewing girls and their parents. They were saying they couldn’t send their daughters to school because they didn’t have money to buy a notebook and pen.
In my opinion, lack of education and poverty are the biggest challenges to equality for girls in Ethiopia. I think here it’s a lot about life skills, too. Women have to learn to be assertive, to make decisions. When you are a girl in rural Ethiopia, you spend half your time hauling water for your family; you are not told to dream or think big.”
-Ashley Lackovich-Van Gorp, a student in Antioch University’s PhD in Leadership and Change program, is working and doing research in Ethiopia on the practice of child marriage.
Learn how you can contribute to educational and vocational opportunities for Ethiopian girls and their families at CommonRiver.org