Some may say college is the passport to a brighter future, a.k.a., a better job, yet more and more women describe the experience of entering the work force for the first time after college to be like visiting a foreign country.
Sanya Brown, 30, a graduate of Georgia State University, has been working in the corporate world off and on since she received her bachelors in psychology in 1997.
“I worked while I was in college but it was different when I came out and got into the corporate end of things,” Brown said. “You have to be more aggressive; I didn’t feel adequately prepared.”
Brown, who currently works as an administrative assistant and is pursuing her teaching credentials at the University of Redlands, was shocked to find that unlike college, you cannot always trust that your work will speak for itself. When climbing the corporate ladder, people are forced to play by the corporate rules.
“It’s like that old saying; the squeaky wheel gets the oil,” Brown said. “I remember being very frustrated because there was this one promotion I wanted but this other girl got it because she was more aggressive than me, even though I had seniority.”
Despite the fact that doors are being opened to women as never before in the work force, men still have a tendency to dominate the more prominent positions of each field. It appears as though the corporate world is more responsive to women who display characteristics more inherent to men, such as competitiveness.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women make up 37.9 percent of the total work force, yet they only occupy 16.9 percent of the management positions. At the executive level that number drops to a shocking 6.6 percent of women.
However, these trends are not just relevant to the corporate world but to other professions as well.
“When my field first started out, archeology, it was primarily a man’s field because it was such hard labor,” said Carrie Hearn, 25, who graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with her bachelors degree in anthropology.
“It’s only been recently that it has opened up for women,” Hearn said. “But I still think when you get hired on as an archeologist, such as for a cultural resource management company that’s funded by the government, I often wonder if they look at your sex.
“It’s all about how fast you can work, how fast you can find the artifacts and how fast you can clean out the area,” she added.
Hearn’s experience was similar to that of many women who are often plagued with feelings of uncertainty when they first enter the “boy’s club” territory after leaving college life behind.
“I don’t think college prepared me for the work world,” Hearn said. “The projects and homework you get in school is a completely different experience from the real world, it’s not about going home and writing papers.
“I mean nobody really cares about that once you get out of college,” she added.
Yet, not all of the “shock” young women experience upon entering the work force for the first time is due to gender bias.
Some women find themselves unprepared to deal with a work environment ran predominately by pre-established close knit groups of other women.
Adriana Tostado, 23, a graduate from ULV with a bachelors in child development, found herself initially intimidated by the social scene of her office where she works as a child liaison for the county.
“I’m naturally a really shy person, so when I got there and noticed how close everyone was I wasn’t sure how to handle it,” Tostado said.
Tostado also found that college didn’t really prepare her for the office grapevine either.
“The one thing about working with all women is the gossip,” Tostado said.
“They’ve already set me apart in a way because they know I’m not comfortable with it.”
Like many universities, the University of La Verne seeks to combat this problem by offering job counseling services as early on in a student’s college career as possible.
This not only helps them to build their job seeking and interviewing skills, but also gives them a sense of confidence in their ability to handle what the future may bring.
“We offer assessment testing for students who may be still undecided about their major or career; we also have career counselors that can conduct mock interviews and can assist in reviewing resumes,” said Gloria Henley, administrative assistant for ULV’s Career Services.
“Students can even come in for grad school counseling and we have a career fair for students who want to go into teaching so they can speak directly with the school districts and possibly arrange an interview,” she added.
It appears that some women who had enough “working for the man” in their post-college careers find alternatives to meet their financial needs, such as working for themselves.
According to the National Foundation of Women Business Owners, women-owned businesses generate over $3 trillion in sales each year.
No matter what career path is chosen, the challenges of being successful after college is the same.
“You have to learn to read people and be aggressive,” Tostado said.
Christine Collier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.