This morning, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg went on CBS’s the early show to encourage more women to pursue high tech jobs. Unfortunately, this is a message that even girls growing up in Silicon Valley don’t hear enough.
Flipping through the commendations given to 5th graders graduating from a tony Menlo Park elementary school, the gender differences jump off the page. For every boy lauded for “eternal enthusiasm for math and science,” there is a girl praised for her “friendly and kind personality.” Of the 37 graduating students, seven are commended for math and science. All of them are boys.
I turned the commendations into wordles. For boys, “personality” is important, but “academic” and “knowledge” are among the most commonly used words in the commendations:
For girls, “personality” dominates, and “academic” and “knowledge” have all but vanished. In their stead are “enthusiasm,” “soul,” and “commitment”:
Even if the girls and boys at this elementary school are equally good at math and science, the public messages they are receiving are very different. Boys are being taught that excelling in math and science is commendable; girls are being taught that being liked is commendable.
This is an elementary school a stone’s throw from Sandhill Road, the venture capitalists’ Wall Street. Tuition is more than $25,000 a year, and the school’s advisory board is made up of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and their spouses. Sandberg laments that there will not be gender parity at the top of business or high tech in her generation. Stories like this one cast doubt on whether we are laying the groundwork for such parity even among our youngest generation.