During the course of doing my job, before I walk into any given room, I can usually make a safe assumption. Once I enter the room, I will be in the minority but not necessarily for the reason you would think. My name is Devon Mercurius and I am the New York City Program Manager for Invest In Girls. My job is to educate high school girls from 10th-12th grade about financial literacy and facilitate workplace visits to meet women working in the private sector, usually finance related, with the hopes that more girls gain an interest in those careers.
The nature of my job regularly places me in environments dominated by women. I don’t know how common that is for many men in their professional careers but that is the only reality I have known as a professional. So far in my working life, the majority of my supervisors have been women, I have only worked for organizations run by women and women have been the majority of the staff. I don’t have a frame of reference outside of that experience to compare.
Prior to my current job, I ran coed programs where young women had a higher rate of participation. Working with IIG has been the first time I have been in schools focused exclusively on educating and empowering women. As male educator teaching young women in such an environment, I realize I get the same questions from people when I describe my job.
Why are you only teaching young girls? Do boys not need this information as well?
My organization, Invest In Girls, was founded by women to address a problem they saw in an industry they loved. The issue was the gender gap in the financial services sector. It was only in 2015 that female enrollment at the top MBA programs hit 40%, which is a record high. While there are many women working in the industry, the higher you go on the management ladder the percentage of women decreases with each level. Companies are actively trying to change this dynamic and our founders wanted more girls to consider careers in this field to continue that fight but also to take advantage of the great opportunities those careers present.
Secondly, yes, young boys do need this information as well. However, I do not believe that targeting women creates a deficit for boys. There is great deal of data behind the positive societal benefits of specifically educating young girls and women produced in the last few years from numerous organizations including the United Nations and World Bank. This is in addition to a cultural trend in the United States of more women being the primary earners and CFOs of their households. I believe our programs are empowering young women to teach their siblings, parents and or friends this information as is the case when students learn something that excites them. Males are included in those relationships.
In my time with Invest In Girls I have worked with a wide sampling of students. I have led workshops for students that encompass the full socioeconomic spectrum and were from many countries and cultures. All these differences usually become irrelevant in the moment you realize that they all share a deep interest in learning about finance. They may not all want to learn about the same specifics but generally educating yourself about finance is seen as a very practical matter. This I must say catches me off guard sometimes as you don’t often associate ”practicality of thought” and “teenager” when you’ve been an adult for a while. Time and time again though they have proved contemporary narratives about young people very wrong.
I’ve met young girls who’ve taught themselves about personal finance by having to translate for a parent when they were dealing with family finances. I’ve had other young girls ask me specific questions about how credit cards work so that they can help their parents better understand the family finances. I’ve had some girls finally gain an understanding of what their parents do for a living at financial firms which sparked conversation as this new found knowledge created a curiosity. I’ve also had students realize how they can organize their finances to save up money for concert tickets, which is a major moment for a teenager.
Personally, being the only male in a predominantly female environment has served as a learning experience. You become aware of your habits. My use of the word guys as a plural pronoun to describe a room full of young women became a social tick I was suddenly very aware of. I was educated about the concept of the Pink Tax. The Pink Tax is a term used to describe the markup placed on goods marketed towards women even if they are very similar in composition to a product marketed to men. I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking more about how male role models can help to positively shape/foster successful women generally and how much we as men can learn from such experiences.
I was part of a small breakout group recently at the Global Forum on Girl’s Education for men working in girl’s only education. The men of the group were from a wide swath of organizations/institutions, different levels of administration, parts of the world, education levels and worked with varied populations of young women. One of the commonalities of experience that seemed to be shared with the group is how enriching the experience has been in ways many didn’t predict. I think that accurately summarizes how I feel half way into my year at Invest In Girls.