In the early 1970s I began to notice what I then called the feminization of Jesuit higher education. I was dean of arts and sciences at Loyola University in New Orleans and then moved on to the presidency of the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania — both Jesuit schools.
Female enrollment was growing on both campuses and I remember wondering whether previously male-dominant Jesuit colleges were up to the challenge of preparing women for positions of leadership in a changing world.
In the 1990s I found myself teaching at the Georgetown University business school where the female enrollment was high and the women students were giving serious thought to how they were going to strike a balance between work and family in their careers.
I had all my students write a personal mission statement to be carried with them as they picked up their diplomas and ran. Invariably, the women incorporated something about a balance between family and career into that mission statement.
Now there are more women than men in colleges all across the country. The challenge of educating them (and helping them educate themselves) for leadership is still there. So is the concern about balancing work and family responsibilities.
Fortunately, for many females and their male friends who are wise enough to want to explore that issue together, Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, has produced a book titled “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.” It opens up issues that men and women should be discussing together as they prepare to enter the world of work.
As they celebrate the growing recognition of equality between men and women in America today, men and women have to be encouraged to understand that, while equal, men and women are not identical.
There are differences, and those differences have to be recognized and respected if women are to overcome their underrepresentation in the leadership ranks of American business. They also have to be respected if there is to be a fair distribution of housekeeping and child-rearing responsibilities in the two-career family.
Women tend, for example, to be more relational than men and more vulnerable to loneliness; men tend to be more achievement-oriented and thus more vulnerable to discouragement. This is not to say that women do not want to achieve and men are never lonely. It is simply a question of predisposition and propensity. There are differences.
The April issue of the Harvard Business Review carries an interview-article with Sandberg titled “Now Is Our Time.” Women and the men with whom they will be cooperating and competing in the workplace, as well as the men with whom they will marry and establish families, will find here not only food for thought but an agenda for planning their respective careers.
Similarly, the “women’s centers” that are cropping up on previously male-dominated campuses should not exclude men but engage them as listeners and contributors to the conversations about what it will take to lift the glass ceiling and lower the barriers to advancement that women now confront in the world of work.
Jesuit Father William J. Byron is university professor of business and society at St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.