Last week I interviewed my friend Gigi Collins about her experience at a women’s college. Her last point about having confidence in the workplace really struck home for me. As a young lawyer, I once had a grandfatherly-looking client who was a CEO of a hospital tell me I was “cute.” (I almost thought he was going to reach out and pinch my cheek). Being horribly green, I was chagrined but kept an awkward, frozen smile pasted on my face and prayed for the moment to pass; I didn’t have the confidence to say or do something about it. It never seems to work out like it does on TV where the female character will retort with something clever and witty that puts the CEO in his place.
I am intrigued by how women’s colleges seem to do a good job of instilling and nurturing confidence and I sure would like my daughter to have more confidence than I did. This is not at all to say that co-ed colleges cannot turn out confident women. My sister-in-law is an accomplished physicist and professor who attended elite co-ed universities and no one who meets her would ever say she lacked confidence.
I’m sure personality plays a big part in building one’s self-confidence and my daughter is a different person from me. But when I think about how much of my early post-college years were occupied by painful self-doubt and pervasive hesitancy, I think how wonderful and liberating it would be if she could be spared that. Whatever college she ends up attending, I hope and desire that her education there will build up her self-confidence and assurance.
Here are some websites for those who want to explore more: the Women’s College Coalition website cites studies showing that higher percentages of women attending women’s colleges enroll in the traditionally male dominated fields of math, science and engineering. The study speculates that “women in science, mathematics, and engineering at co-ed schools are often discouraged from pursuing science as a career because they have few interactions with role models and further they perceive that science professors fail to take them seriously.” I also read an interview in the New York Times with the president of Bryn Mawr College who laid out her case on the continuing need for women’s colleges.