I was talking with my friend’s 16 year old daughter the other day. Lets call her Greta.
She has a remarkable head on her shoulders.
Greta wants to be a doctor. Her family doesn’t have a lot of money, so she was talking to me about ways to pay for college and medical school. The options she had considered so far included: ROTC, college/medical school in Germany (she has dual citizenship), and the best possible school option utilizing our state’s tuition reciprocity program.
She recently completed a summer program at Johns Hopkins. It is one of the top pre-med and medical schools in the country. Her eyes sparkled as she told me about the experience.
She wanted to talk to me because she knew I had done similar things in my past. I received a PhD from an Ivy League medical school. She wanted to talk through the pros and cons of different paths with me.
In my mind, it was a straightforward conversation. She had a clear goal. She needed a sounding board for the best steps she could take to achieve that goal.
Her mother, my friend, was an active participant in the conversation. But she kept putting limitations on Greta. When Greta mentioned ROTC, she remarked how she wouldn’t want her daughter to have to go off to war. When Greta mentioned going to Germany, her mom worried that she would not be able to find a lucrative position upon return to the US.
But she had one main concern, and she mentioned over and over. She objected to Greta’s current passion — trauma surgery. Her concern was that trauma surgery would be limiting if she ever wanted to have a family someday.
As a reminder, Greta is 16.
I try not to insert myself into other people’s parenting. Truly, I do. There are so many variations on being a good parent in this world. No one needs my 2 cents.
But in situations like these, I have to intercede.
Why would a parent tell a daughter that a goal is unobtainable? At 16 years old, I can’t imagine why a parent would direct their daughter to a “lesser” goal. Especially when the theoretical limitation (a family) might not exist for 15 years or more.
In the case of Greta in particular, I was so impressive in her drive, determination, and planning. I believe she has enough drive to find her way through medical school and become a trauma surgeon. If she so chooses. I also believe she has enough drive to build a satisfying private life too. Especially if she has support from her family.
I spoke with my friend afterward. She told me that she would not be happy if she had a partner that worked long hours. She couldn’t imagine being a mother that had a demanding job. She was projecting her own concerns upon her daughter’s life, and trying to limit her choices as a result.
The tides are slowly starting to turn for women in the workplace. The fact that unconscious bias was even coined as an expression feels to me like a massive change. Unconscious bias is defined as:
Social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness.
One example of an unconscious bias is the idea that women (but not men) need to limit their career trajectory. To blunt it from the very start, to have a family.
And when I look around at my friends with daughters, I see unconscious bias in parenting.
These parents tell their daughters a message that they would never tell their sons. For reasons that might not even exist 20 years from now.
Lets not try to limit young women’s possibilities.
I have a PhD, I worked on Wall Street, and in biotech. And I have a family. Its isn’t easy. I can’t do all things at the same time. But I hope I am an example of what is possible.
And I would never tell my sons that they shouldn’t do something because they might have a family someday. If they want to be a stay at home parent and that works for their spouse and their family, I would support that as well.
Parents are critical to breaking the cycle of unconscious gender bias.
Lets teach our kids about possibility, not limitation. Because if they don’t learn it at home, how will the world ever change?