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Preparing women graduates to navigate the race 'Labyrinth'

The graduation season is a time of great opportunity and optimism, when years of study, preparation and experience for the First of many milestones of the race. While hiring trends were a concern for some classes that graduated earlier, recent figures show that unemployment decreased by almost five percent in 2015 for college graduates and the average median income increased by $ 3,000. According to the annual survey of the National Association of Colleges and Employers, business careers earned the fourth highest starting salary in 2015 and are among the main university careers sought by corporate recruiters for job opportunities. These are very positive signs for the Class of 2016.

However, as we strive to provide all students with solid academic preparation, professional exposure, and diverse experiences outside the classroom, we must recognize the unique circumstances that will affect students rather than men after graduation. The glass ceiling has been used to describe barriers for women in the workplace, and psychologists Alice Eagly and Linda Carli argue that metaphor is no longer relevant. They think that women must navigate a maze of obstacles and obstructions in the form of persistent gender discrimination, the balance between work and family and the double bond that makes their careers different and challenging. A labyrinth represents a journey that must be navigated, while a glass ceiling marks a stopping point.

As educators, what can we do to better prepare our future university graduates to successfully navigate this career labyrinth?

Recently I was a teaching advisor for a research project on this subject with Alicia Craig, a student of the Pitt Business Honors Program. Alicia reasoned that to help young women navigate successfully through the labyrinth, they must be provided with successful role models. For her project, she conducted extensive interviews with women of all types of occupations, sectors and industries who were effectively navigating the notion of Eagly and Carli of the Labyrinth.

Alicia's findings, which will soon be published in a digital magazine, provide interesting qualitative insights into the strategies used by these women to navigate the labyrinth. Several strategies were identified in Alicia's data, but three important issues emerged among the women she interviewed. These topics are best described as a "personal GPS system," which means " G oals, P eers and S style ".

First, women in business had to be clear about their " G oals," professional, personal and otherwise. Clarity of purpose was important in helping them make critical decisions at all stages of the career. Many of the women interviewed talked about how this strategy helped them to better define success, even when those definitions did not conform to the traditional view of professional outcomes. Navigating the labyrinth meant that, at times, these women had to develop new ideas of what career, work, family and life meant to them. These objectives effectively served as bread crumbs as they navigated around obstacles, detours and obstructions.

Second, the women interviewed had to establish strong relationships between " P eers". These people formed their network and provided them with social capital. The research suggests that social capital is almost as critical to the advancement of a leader as are their individual skills and performance. The women interviewed spoke about the help, the associations and the mentoring that was provided through their peer networks. Many of these relationships were formed during their college years.

The third component of the G.P.S. the system was " S tyle", or his personal approach that one takes when navigating his professional career. The interviewees were very aware of the double bind they faced for women and looked for ways to project authority without having to adopt stereotypically masculine behavior or be seen as a type of autocratic leader. Many of the women shared stories about how their dependence on collaborative leadership styles proved to be a critical tool, especially for their long-term success.

Navigating the labyrinth of the race was possible for these women because they developed clarity in their personal career objectives formed strong peer ] relationships within their networks and adopted a collaborative style that helped move them through dynamic and sometimes challenging paths. Now that they had progressed to senior leadership roles, many of these women were willing to share their experiences and offer advice to younger women who had just begun their careers. As we prepare to congratulate the Class of 2016, learn from these lessons and use the wealth of knowledge this research produces to help college women navigate their career labyrinth.

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