We just came to the close of another Women’s History Month, which celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and serves as a call to action for leaders around the world to help accelerate gender equality. From both a personal and professional standpoint, this was an exciting time for me as I helped lead a number of activities to advance women’s empowerment.
However, amidst my feelings of solidarity and inspiration, surrounded by amazing women and girls doing amazing things, I have to admit there was a voice inside my head that said, “This is great, but what about my boys? We need to empower them too.”
I know what many people are thinking. They’re boys. They will grow up to be men. And men have ruled the world for centuries. They still dominate on Main Street to Wall Street to Silicon Valley. So, why do we need to empower them? This is true, except for the fact that it’s actually boys and young men who are falling behind from an educational, social and economic standpoint. Meanwhile, girls have outpaced boys in basic skills like reading, math and science – a result of tremendous efforts over the past few decades to improve female academic achievement. But now the scales are tipping in girls’ favor, leading to a new gender gap in education.
While boys of color – Black and Hispanic – account for the biggest gap, don’t be fooled into thinking this is just an urban problem. Boys of all racial groups, in all parts of the country are being outperformed by girls, at all levels of education – from elementary through college.
Around the world a different picture emerges, especially in developing regions where only about two thirds of countries have achieved gender parity in primary education and 62 million girls are not in school. However, in most developed economies, and certainly in the U.S., women have advanced past men in education and are increasingly gaining ground in the professional world.
That’s not to say there isn’t still work to be done on that front, particularly in the technology sector. The latest government statistics show that only 29 percent of women are working in STEM fields. However, the picture for Black and Hispanic men is even worse, with a mere 7 percent holding those occupations.
Let me be clear. The feminist in me definitely cheers for my fellow sisters doing it for ourselves. And maybe this issue never would have crossed my mind if I’d had girls instead of boys. But the fact is, I’m raising two black boys and stats like the ones mentioned here are frustrating and worrisome.
We all understand the need to eliminate the inequalities that exist within our education system. Yet we seem to overlook the fact that achieving gender parity is not just about lifting up girls. It’s about making sure that both boys and girls have equal access to the highest quality educational opportunities.
By no means am I suggesting that we take our foot off the pedal to accelerate girls’ achievements. What I am suggesting is that for every program launched such as Girls Who Code, let’s not forget that we also need more programs like All Star Code. Let’s figure out ways to make sure all boats rise and that our focus on educating girls is not to the detriment of our boys of color.