A depiction of a hot air balloon is seen with the balloon replaced by a lightbulb

Choosing a Career as a Woman

Choosing a Career as a Woman

Growing up, when someone would ask me what my favorite subject was, it was easy to say recess. When applying for college, however, there was unfortunately no “recess” option in the major selection portion of the applications. And even when choosing a major, it can sometimes feel that there’s nothing worth committing my education to, let alone the rest of my life. Which brings me to a question that most people have to face at some point in their lives: What career path do I want to take? 

While everyone has different experiences and passions, it can be easy to feel like you’re behind when someone tells you that they want to be the first woman president one day while you’re in the process of switching your major for the third time. It’s not that you’re not ambitious, but rather that you haven’t found your calling, or callings (because limiting yourself is so last year). 

It’s hard enough to feel like you have no direction. It can be even harder when the whole world is telling you to go a certain way because you’re a woman. 

While we’d like to think the world has progressed beyond normative gender roles, there is still a lingering effect on young women, myself included. Disclaimer: There is so much more to life than having kids. I say this, because although these statistics may make you feel otherwise, there is a point to it all, I promise.

A woman juggling a child and career

“Opt-out mom” is the term used to describe mothers that, for the purpose of a Pew Research report, “have at least a Master’s degree, an annual family income of $75,000 or more; a working husband; and who state that they are out of the workforce in order to care for their family” (Pew Research). The report headlined with the fact that “opt-out moms” make up 10% of highly educated mothers. And while, for many, this is a choice and a privilege, for some it may feel like children have become the sole purpose that they tried to avoid. 

On the flip side, when looking at an article in the Harvard Business Review, it found that in corporate America, 42% percent of women in business (academics, lawyers, doctors), are childless, even though many of them want children. 

Looking at these statistics, it may seem that if you want children, your career has been chosen for you. But don’t let yourself fall into this common misconception (remember the disclaimer!). 

As a second year college student, children aren’t even on my mind. Children seem especially unrealistic when I feel that I can barely take care of myself. Yet, as a young woman, I feel that my life may succumb to the fate of the “opt-out mom” simply because I can’t quite figure out what else there is for me to do. 

With my second year of college almost to its completion, I am still wishing there was a “recess” major I could switch to. I feel even more pressure knowing that my older sister, who I’ve always looked up to, seems to have it all figured out. But I find peace in knowing that I’m not the only one that has felt this kind of pressure. For instance, writer Brad Waters recalled his “envy” over his mother’s calling to be an artist at a young age in an article he wrote for psychologytoday.com. I, like Waters, can’t help but think, where’s my calling? In high school, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was instructed to take and devote your life to the result of a career assessment, a test that gave you a list of potential careers based on whether or not you consider yourself creative or a “people person.” Something about it felt forced. For instance, if you clicked “strongly agree” when the assessment asked if you like kids, then “teacher” automatically tops the list of careers they give you at the end. Waters was faced with the same feeling when his career assessment told him that he should live out his days as a bowling alley attendant (probably just because he clicked “strongly agree” when asked if he enjoys bowling with friends). Like Waters, I don’t like the idea of fitting into one box that is supposedly my “calling.” I want to dip my toes into different bodies of water, not just one, which becomes very difficult when you are expected to choose your one—or maybe two—college majors. 

A 1950s advertisement for Guardian Cookware magazine featuring the gender normative roles that society has put in place. 

That’s the first box: finding a suitable career. Now, imagine a Russian doll situation where you not only have to find a career, but find one as a woman. That’s two boxes, or dolls, that you must make fit. However, when you choose something other than what society expects, all of the sudden it tells you that the boxes (or dolls) don’t fit.

As a result, the task has become figuring out what your calling (or callings) is while simultaneously redefining what it is to be a woman in the workplace. 


Statistics of females in different fields and their median earnings compared to median earnings of men in the same fields

As a woman trying to navigate her future, it’s hard not to weigh in what society expects of me. Especially when there are glaring stereotypes and statistics to support them (I told you there was a point!). In fact, in an article for the Washington Post, it was found that men and women “segregate themselves by major” with women heavily concentrated in nursing, education, and social work majors and men in engineering and computer science majors. Not to mention, women tend to make less than men within those fields. “How encouraging!,” you might be thinking. And you’re not alone. 

But don’t lose hope. There is a silver lining. First of all, you are not just a statistic and there is nothing that says you must follow what they tell you. Also, as writer of the Washington Post article Jeffery Selingo reminds us, majors are easily changeable, with 52% of students changing them between the time they take their SATs and actually attend college. 

Second, there are programs like TWN that are specifically designed to help women “redefine ambition.” In other words, find not only a career path, but a life path that is suitable and unique to you regardless of what the world is telling you.

TWN has personally made a big campus feel like a small community, one that doesn’t pressure me to take a certain path, but rather supports me in my ventures to find my path, wherever it may be. 


https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/05/07/opting-out-about-10-of-hi ghly-educated-moms-are-staying-at-home/ 

https://hbr.org/2002/04/executive-women-and-the-myth-of-having-it-all https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/design-your-path/201206/the-imm ense-pressure-career-choice 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2017/12/08/why-is-ch oosing-a-college-major-so-fraught-with-anxiety/ 

https://hbr.org/2021/05/ask-an-expert-how-can-i-plan-for-a-successful-career and-a-family