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Making room at the table

Samantha Rudelich

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Looking around a modern college classroom today, there is a historic amount of women and minorities seeking a higher degree. More women than ever are deciding to go into the workforce after graduation. If this is the case, why are these groups continuously not securing a seat at the proverbial table?

According to the Center for American Progress, women hold almost 60 percent of undergraduate degrees and 60 percent of master’s degrees. They represent 47 percent of the U.S. work force and hold 52 percent of professional level jobs. However, they are grossly underrepresented in the highest levels of the work force. Only 4.6 percent of CEOs and 16.9 percent of board seats of Fortune 500 companies are held by women. Beyond that, 3.2 percent of the board seats are held by women of color. Over two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies don’t have a single woman of color on their board of directors. Clearly, there’s a distinct disconnect between the education received and the opportunity to hold leadership positions.

The underrepresentation of women and minorities, not just in business, stems from years of systemic and social issues. This issue is not going to be rectified by singularly pointing to the patriarchy. It started there, but the problem is so mulit-faceted that there is no quick fix. But I do believe that we need to start now, before we even graduate. By specifically educating empowerment in these groups, we can instill the sense that they belong at the table. Self-doubt has the ability to cripple someone’s potential, but when you don’t see people similar to you having success, it’s hard to realize that you have the potential to earn it.

This doesn’t mean that we need to start promoting people to CEO because of their identities. Not all women or minorities advocate for one another. But shouldn’t they? It’s difficult to advocate when you’re the only one sitting at the table representing your group, but that’s when it’s most critical. Getting more women and minorities in those top positions begins when we decide to lift one another up. Formal mentoring programs within businesses can aid in ensuring that not only business knowledge and skills are passed on, but that specific experiences that stem from being a women or minority is shared.

Progress has been made by women and minorities over the past century, but it can’t stop there. Instead of patiently waiting for someone to realize that we need a seat and pulling one UP for us, it’s time that we grabbed our own seat and controlled our future. But we don’t have the luxury of wasting time anymore. The time has come to seize our seat and join the conversation.

Samantha Rudelich is a junior majoring in business management. Her column runs biweekly.

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Making room at the table