Ambition and the Gender Divide

06.05.13 | Posted in Guest Blog

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I am privileged to teach leadership and bring the Birkman into several programs at LSU. One of the them that has quickly become “the” must have Masters is in the ISDS department and under the direction of Dr. Jim Van Scotter and Dr. Joni Shreve, the Masters in Business Analytics is set to begin its 3rd year this week. One of the standout students from the inaugural class is Lauren Lee Stuart.  She is a mover, shaker and a bona fide entrepreneur!  Lauren and I talk from time to time as she is launching a start up. I am confident the world will know who this young lady is at some point. Enjoy her blog!

Lauren Lee Stuart is an independent contractor incorporated in Louisiana as 3E Consulting. She is an August 2012 Business Analytics graduate with extensive experience in energy, environmental, and economics research and program implementation. In addition to the roles of CEO of Econofy, Inc. and Executive Director of the Greater Baton Rouge Clean Cities Coalition, she serves as a board member for WHYR 96.9 Community Radio. You can read more from Lauren Lee at her blog here.

As a young adolescent, my free time was spent writing, editing, and publishing an online newsletter called “Girlz Online.”  In high school, summers were filled with swim lessons for the neighbor’s children in my family’s backyard pool. My father paid the insurance bills, my mom offered referrals and I kept the schedule. My clients would pay extra fees for rides from camp or baby-sitting after the lesson and were eager to write checks for the quoted prices. My gender was irrelevant. What mattered to them was that I took care of their children and ensured their safety in the pool. What mattered to me was that I set out to accomplish something on my own and succeeded.

Along with being swim instructor, I earned other care taking roles as a babysitter, PE teacher, nanny, and hostess. Coming into college, I had my sights set on earning an economics degree. My interest in this field lay in the recognition that money makes the world go round and many problems can be traced back to structure of markets. Soon I learned that my case was an exception to the rule.

Not one of my professors was female. The one other young woman in my class was a driven exchange student from Colombia. For the first time in my life, I experienced situations where my gender was identified as a personality characteristic. Suddenly it was apparent that my insights and interests were not always parallel to my peers’. We would spend hours debating the value of a life or the commons after class and I couldn’t quite comprehend how so few of the discussions ended in agreement. I hypothesized that our individual experiences had led us each to establish our own set of values that affected our perspectives.

To test this theory, I stepped up as a leader in the student Economics Society and began organizing monthly dinner discussions. My motivation was partly out of confidence built from prior successes, partly due to an assertion that my community had unmet needs, and partly in rejection of the purely quantitative opinions of my peers.  What I learned through this exercise was that an appreciation for future quality of life is not a gender driven trait but rather a mark of leadership.

For men ambition is expected; for women it is accepted -at best. For females, entering the workforce is optional; for males, it is presupposed. The gals who do work are called Makers. These ladies bring home the bacon, bake goodies, and make the house a home. Right alongside the men they work for their wages. Then come back home for the second shift. The moving recent documentary by PBS spotlights a few of the first women who became leaders in civil rights and in business. The Makers serves as a reminder that women have not always been afforded the right to work alongside men and shows young professionals such as myself that there is still much improvement to be made for general equality.

In her recent book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg calls for the recognition of the final remaining element for women to truly have equal access to leadership positions and home-making. According to this female tech-executive, men must take-on a fair share of chores that are typically considered the realm of female obligation. From laundry to cooking and child-care, only when men share the “second shift” at home can women truly realize their professional potential.

As of 2012, there are no women leading their industries. Pay for females is still 11% below what men are paid for equal work. We have come a long way but the gap persists. As a modern day woman reaping the benefits of a prolonged struggle for equal rights, it has only recently come to my attention that the playing field is not yet level. As I embark on the ultimate entrepreneurial challenge, I am encouraged and inspired by companies like Etsy who offer incentives for women to train as engineers.

Meanwhile, I have tried to solidify my own skill set by completing a masters of science in business analytics. This degree has contributed significantly to my ability to take risks an entrepreneur. Through the MSA program at Louisiana State University, I learned how to identify qualitative factors and assign quantitative weights in a way that has the power to model intrinsic values. I enrolled in order to have the foundation and confidence necessary to start a new company and mid-way through, was approached by an old friend about helping him launch a technology venture called Econofy. We set out to help residential and commercial customers save money on their utility bills by offering a complete electricity-monitoring platform with building efficiency simulation, appliance shopping guide, and discounts for energy efficient upgrades.

As of December 2011, I have worked relentlessly to analyze the market opportunity for Econofy while simultaneously building a network to support the startup company.  Having a background in writing and community organizing has certainly been valuable in this endeavor; however, my analytical competencies have proved invaluable. As I work with a technical team and contractors, I have complete confidence that our team dynamic is well-rounded and driven to meet our goals. We are now quickly approaching completion of the research & development phase and preparing to launch. We realize that our shared interest is not in starting a small business, but in building a strong company complete with a vibrant community.

I am convinced that the primary action we can all take to diminish the gender divide in earnings and in leadership is to build inclusive communities focused on ambition. Where men and women, young and old, are inspired to pursue their passions and encouraged to expand their own skillsets. Econofy will contribute to this effort by fostering interest in innovation, promoting energy-efficiency lifestyles, and establishing a culture of daring to care. I applaud the UnCommon Leadership Blog for similarly empowering the leaders of today and tomorrow. Whether it’s in business or in your community, we invite you to embrace your own inner drive to act in order to fix what’s not right.

2 Responses to “Ambition and the Gender Divide”

  1. Johnny Palazzotto says:

    Very well written, explained and presented. You are an important human being and I hope respected by all you encounter. Glad to call you friend. Remind me to tell you a Los Angeles story.

  2. Lauren Lee says:

    Thank you for the kind words, Johnny!

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