Of course you’d like your gifted daughter to have a fulfilling career that combines creativity, challenge, and the opportunity to contribute, and you want her to establish a satisfactory family life and relationships. However, glass ceilings and sticky floors continue in nontraditional careers for women. Although there are many more women business executives than ever before, only four Fortune 500 companies are led by women CEOs. In major symphony orchestras, only about 15 percent of the musicians are women. Women make up only 13 percent of the U.S. Congress. Although 45 percent of medical school students are women, only 7.5 percent of department chairs and 4 percent of deans at medical schools are women. Even in education, a predominantly women’s field, only 12 percent of school district administrators are women. Although women have greater opportunities in these fields now than they did in the past, they continue to be pioneers in these careers.
Successful women in our Jane research taught us much about what had made a difference for them. Here’s some advice gleaned for parents:
Have High Expectations for Your Daughters
At least as high as for your sons. Though too-high expectations can cause difficult pressures, your belief in your daughters’ abilities helps them believe in themselves. If you share your expectations in a positive, coaching way, your daughters will appreciate it. Girls feel that coaching parents are their allies, and coaching parents see the positives in their daughters. Judging parents see the negatives first, and girls feel that judging parents are against them. Be a coach, not a judge.
Teach Healthy Competition
Our successful women remembered being motivated and exhilarated by winning in competition. Prizewinning achievement built their confidence and taught them self-discipline and perseverance. They also had losing experiences, but their losses sometimes provided important defining moments. Internationally renowned violinist Pamela Frank’s father taught her to laugh at her mistakes. When eight-year-old Pamela pouted because she had not played a perfect performance for her grandparents, her father said, “Who do you think you are, Itzhak Perlman, who can’t make a mistake?” Frank’s parents taught her how a sense of humor could help her cope with her perfectionism.
Deemphasize Appearance and Popularity
When family values emphasize beauty and popularity, girls feel pressured to fit a peer norm typically dictated by the media. Girls’ self-esteem must be built on finding their own interests and identities. If it is tied only to the number of boys they attract, they can lose themselves in their social world. During the crucial teen years, our successful women were learning skills that often led them to their careers. Interest in boys and social life is normal and healthy, but immersion in the social scene may be destructive to what girls can become.
Boy-dependent girls spend their scarce time in front of makeup mirrors or shopping for the latest fashions.
Successful women often felt “different” in middle school and high school. They coped with that difference by finding peers who shared their interests and positive values—hardly ever the mainstream values of their peer culture. Women in law and government were often involved in speech, debate, and student government; women in the media participated in drama and writing; scientists and physicians were excited about science early on; and musicians and artists were often defining their talent identities by middle school. Business executives were frequently entrepreneurs all during their childhood, and many a senior vice president or CEO bragged about her ability to sell the most Girl Scout cookies. These women were honing their skills for future success. Their involvement in girls’ groups or attendance at girls’ schools was higher than average, perhaps giving them the freedom to develop their personal confidence.
Help Your Daughters Balance Work with Play
Our successful women tended to be hard workers. They studied hard, and most were excellent students, but typically, at some time in their lives, they realized that they needed to balance work with less pressured activities. Encourage your daughters not only to develop a healthy work ethic but to have fun, too.
Help Them Find Good Role Models and Mentors
Many of our successful women looked to their parents, grandparents, teachers, and mentors for role models. When Jane Pauley’s teacher Harry Wilfong advised her to join her high school speech and debate team, it ultimately led to Pauley’s television career. She hadn’t made the cheerleading squad, a great disappointment at the time, but Mr. Wilfong’s “So what else do you have to do on a Saturday?” encouraged her to try an experience she might never have known otherwise.
Mentors were not easy on our successful women. Botanist Camellia Okpodu’s mentor was very critical, but it was this mentor who gave her the confidence to earn her Ph.D.
African American neurosurgeon Alexa Canady reminds girls and women not to depend on the praise and appreciation of those around them. She learned early that she was not always welcome in a world dominated by white men and
couldn’t depend on their encouragement, but that her own good work had to speak for itself and give her the opportunities she believed she deserved. Fortunately, she also found some male and female mentors who believed in and encouraged her. Girls should look to male as well as female role models, because girls need to envision themselves doing work typically performed by men.
Parental support is crucial if girls are to find their way to success. The doors to exciting, challenging careers have opened somewhat. However, today’s generation of girls, who do not remember the women’s movement, may have to be pushed and pulled by their parents to understand how important it is for them to find their own identities, not to depend on boys and men for their self-esteem, and to fulfill themselves.
—Sylvia B. Rimm, Ph.D.
Sylvia B. Rimm is a child psychologist, director of the Family Achievement Clinic, and clinical professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.
By the Author
- Education of the Gifted and Talented, 5th edition, by Gary A. Davis and Sylvia B. Rimm, Allyn and Bacon, 2003
- See Jane Win for Girls: A Smart Girl’s Guide to Success, by Sylvia B. Rimm, Free Spirit, 2003
- How Jane Won: 55 Successful Women Share How They Grew from Ordinary Girls to Extraordinary Women, by Sylvia B. Rimm and Sara Rimm-Kaufman, Crown, 2001
- See Jane Win: The Rimm Report on How 1,000 Girls Became Successful Women, by Sylvia B. Rimm with Sara Rimm-Kaufman and Ilonna Rimm, Crown, 1999
- Raising Preschoolers: Parenting for Today, by Sylvia B. Rimm, Crown, 1997
- How to Parent So Children Will Learn, by Sylvia B. Rimm, Crown, 1996
- Why Bright Kids Get Poor Grades and What You Can Do about It, by Sylvia B. Rimm, Crown, 1995