Collections > UNC Chapel Hill Undergraduate Honors Theses Collection > "If I Was a Dude This Decision Would Be Easy": The Early Emergence of the Gender Leadership Gap Among College Seniors
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During the last 10 years, much attention has been given to women who “opt out” of the workforce. Researchers, Op-Eds, and popular media have turned to the issue of highly educated, highly paid women who leave the workforce and do not return, seeking to discover why and how they make these decisions. Still, consensus has not been reached and meanwhile, valuable members of the labor force fail to reach the pinnacle of their careers or abandon the workforce all together. One fact that everyone tends to agree on is that adults face new, challenging demands after having children. They must decide how to manage a finite amount of time. Do you trade your career for your family or your family for your career? Is there a middle ground? These are often questions that factor into a woman’s decision to leave the workforce. Yet, what happens before women have children? At what point do both women and men begin thinking about how their careers will affect their family lives in the future? Little research has been conducted with college seniors who are about to begin their first full time career. As a member of this cohort, I was curious about what other college students had to say about these questions. I wanted to know whether others had given thought to what they wanted their future work and family life to look like. Therefore, I interviewed a random sample of seniors at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Upon analyzing their responses through qualitative data software, I discovered that most men had given at least rudimentary thought to these questions. However, females had given significantly greater thought to them, so much so that many reported having already changed their career goals as a result. There was a clear divide between female and male responses, with their perspectives and answers to my questions being largely dependent on their gender. The interviews showed that if the gender leadership gap is to be closed by my generation or the one that follows us, policymakers must support initiatives that help men think progressively about the desires of their female counterparts while simultaneously helping women feel that they will be able to navigate their careers without sacrificing their desire for a family. Importantly, policy changes will not be effective if they only target those who are already in the workforce. My study revealed that women are especially likely to change their career paths and goals as early as college and thus, policy must be responsive to this trend.