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What Makes a Woman Successful?

Views from the top

by Jen Graves, Stanford University

James Brown was wrong. It's not a man's world anymore.

The number of women in such previously-male fields as business, politics and engineering has been steadily increasing since the 1980s. Education continues to work to close the gender gap in math and science, and statistics indicate that more women than ever before are taking an interest in these areas.

What makes a woman successful in today's world? How can mothers encourage their daughters?

"I don't think there's anything that ever, ever takes the place of a great deal of love and security in bringing up a child," said California Congresswoman Anna Eshoo. "With love comes a sense of self-confidence, and if there's anything that has been lacking in girls and young women over the years, it's that. Without self-confidence, it's much more difficult to break new ground and do new things."

The increasing "technologization" of today's job market makes it imperative that young women and girls take an interest in computers early on and educate themselves in the ways of the web. According to Congresswoman Eshoo, women not only need to be learning technology, but also creating it.

"I think what's essential in this is that there be women in the industry to design software that will speak to young women and girls. That will get them to be more comfortable with computers and the net and anything and everything that comes with it.

"You can see why it's so important that women be everywhere and a part of everything. Why is that so? Not because we're better, but because we're shaped by different life experiences and our world views might be a little different, and it's important to have all those views at the table."

Cheryl Vedoe is one woman who definitely gets her views on the table. Originally a software engineer, she is now CEO of the Silicon Valley-based company, Tenth Planet.

"I think that one of the things that's very helpful for girls growing up is for them to see women in a variety of different roles, including homemakers, engineers, teachers, businesswomen," said Vedoe. "We want girls to see that women have choices."

In order for young women to increase their set of options, we must teach them to be comfortable with technology as a tool, according to Vedoe. Instead of just teaching kids how to use the computer as a word processor, we should teach them how to do things like presentations and business or economic planning.

The President of Stanford University's chapter of the Society of Women Engineers, Munira Rahemtulla, became computer-savvy in just that way.

"When I was really young," said Rahemtulla, "my dad brought home our first computer. He encouraged me just to play. Then, he would bring home software and say, 'You can use this software, but not until you read the manual.' He would have [all the kids] do data entry or record-keeping for him."

Rahemtulla hopes one day to start a company of her own.

"When I see women that are really successful and confident about their abilities," said Rahemtulla, "it gives me a lot of inspiration."

The Society of Women Engineers at Stanford provides a support group for women which can be mimicked early on in the home with a good foundation of encouragement and diverse role models for girls.

"I'd encourage parents to create as many opportunities as they can for their daughters," said Vedoe. "Encourage them to take challenges and make decisions that are right for them. My parents encouraged me to do and be anything I could."


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