Esteemed guests examine the role of women in politics at November luncheon, analyze obstacles

Why aren’t more women in politics? What does it mean to be a woman with a career? What structural issues within the education system lead to decreased confidence in young women graduates? Students and faculty at Colby explored these questions and more during a facilitated discussion about women in politics on November 17. Co-Director of the Civic Engagement Division, and Professor of Political Science at Central Michigan University Cherie Strachan led the conversation. Strachan is also the co-founder of the Consortium for Inter-Campus SoTL Research, which facilitates cross-campus data collection for civic engagement and pedagogy research in political science. She is the author of High-Tech Grassroots:  The Professionalization of Local Elections, as well as numerous articles and book chapters

Strachan opened the luncheon with a few remarks, explaining that, despite increased access to education and professional opportunities for women after second wave feminism, female participation in the political arena has, in contrast, hit a plateau. “The issue is primarily a pipeline issue, as fewer women than men aspire to public service,” she began. She then invited attendees to consider the following facts and their  relationship with this trend:

-Incidents of sexual assault and sexual harassment are often swept under the rug.
-Pregnant women are regularly encouraged to drop out of graduate programs.
-Family formation boosts male academic careers, but has the opposite effect on females.
-More female academics than male academics regret not having more children.
-Women disproportionately fill the ranks of untenured adjunct professors.
-One-third of colleges and universities have family policies at are out of compliance with federal law.

Many of the attendees sought to make connections between the data of challenges facing women and occurrences on Colby’s own campus. Sarah Whitfield `09, assistant director of career services, reflected on these statistics: “I was particularly fascinated by the data presented about the time in college really making a difference regarding whether women run for office or not. It really made me wonder if data from Colby would reflect the same results…for me at least, Colby was where I found my confidence and I wouldn’t be surprised if others felt the same,” she said. Similarly, Assistant Director of the Goldfarb Center and Oak Institute Amanda Cooley said, “I thought Professor Strachan’s thoughts on the subject were interesting, especially regarding the role academia plays in political ambitions.” The responses of both women point toward one theme: what can we do to make sure Colby women are as prepared as possible to enter and succeed in any professional arena they choose after graduating?

The Women in Politics luncheon is a part of the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement’s initiative called “Women at Work.” The series is a program that is designed to inform students of the challenges that come with being  a working woman in today’s society, and how to approach said challenges. This fall, there were presentations on both women in STEM  and the wage gap between male and female workers.  In addition to the facilitated discussions, the initiative also brought a series of workshops to campus, including seminars on negotiating, interview skills, and personal branding, specifically for female applicants.
When speaking of the goal of the workshops, Whitfield said that she was “hearing more and more from female students that they were selling themselves short in interviews, on their resume, and even in class.” She continued by saying that “ultimately, I hope that students, particularly women, will go through the series and feel as though they both understand why women often lack confidence and that they know what to do about it so that they can personally be more confident.”

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