The XX Factor

Why Can’t Guys Mentor Women?

Meghan , thanks so much for posting about the importance of female mentorship. I’m no physicist (anymore) but with many friends plus a mom in science, I am especially sensitive to the need for and frequent lack of XX mentorship in these disciplines. We’ve all heard reports that Americans lag behind in the hard sciences generally-but less reported is the fact that women rarely take on the quant-heavy jobs that do exist, or that tenured female science and engineering faculty are almost nonexistent. Then there are the other, real disadvantages talked about in the Fisman/NBER report.

Some of this, of course, has to do with lifestyle choices (cough, kids) that take female mentors out of the workplace. Some of this has to do with a distinct confidence deficit among junior and mid-level female workers that keep them from being top brass (one former employer told me that the women who interviewed for jobs often had better resumes than the men, but couldn’t sell themselves in person, and lost the job). But can’t we also blame men in these disciplines who are less willing to mentor young women? Perhaps they are just not that into helping women along; or fearful that accusations of impropriety might fly. But in male-heavy fields, what’s wrong with dudes lending a hand?

Enter “Smart Girls At The Party.” This may seem like an oblique reference, but somehow, this regular ON Network show-featuring Amy Poehler and friends supporting young women in hilarious, Christopher-Hitchens defying fashion-really speaks to me on the issue of underrepresentation and female mentorship . In this episode, a charmingly gregarious second-grader named Ruby broke it down on friendship, feminism and more , while Poehler and company, veterans of improvisational comedy, provide a real-time example of their craft to the little tot. That is to say they offer an enthusiastic “YES” to her every suggestion-including weeping on demand. Watch:

May Ruby grow up to have a fine career in psychotherapy, or pop stardom.