The realization came to me later than it should have: getting a job is not the same as applying to college. After I graduated, I assumed for a long time that the work world operated the same way as the school world. If I wanted a job, I would comb through hundreds upon hundreds of job postings. If there were jobs that sounded interesting and I seemed to have the right qualifications, I would send in a cover letter and resume, then wait for a call to come in for an interview. About 98 percent of the time, a call never came.
Little did I know that by the time a company posts a job listing, in particular a journalism job, it’s often already all but filled and the posting is an HR formality. The people getting the jobs weren’t following the instructions as laid out on the “Work for Us” section of companies’ websites. They were having informal meetings with friends of friends.
School was all about following the directions and reaping the rewards. Getting ahead outside of school, I eventually figured out, meant figuring out rules that weren’t written down.
This real world lesson is a harsh one for girls especially. On the whole, we excel in school. We have for one hundred years. We nearly always get better grades. We are better behaved. Tell us to do our homework, raise our hand and sit still, and girls are much more likely to obey than boys. We’re also now attending college and completing degrees in higher numbers than young men.
This has some observers—from conservative Kay Hymowitz to centrist David Brooks to contrarian Hanna Rosin to mainstream David Leonhardt—worried that there is a boy crisis. If today’s boys are falling behind on self-control as well as grades, while women race ahead and get more degrees, will tomorrow’s flounder in the workplace?
But while we socialize girls to be better students, we do little to prepare them for a workplace that is not an even playing field. They leave school, a world full of clearly laid out rules and rewards, and move into a workplace that is tilted against them from the very beginning. Young women fresh out of college will make less than their male classmates in their first job, no matter what school they went to, major they chose, grades they got or job they took. That wage gap will continue to grow as their careers advance. They’ll make less than men in virtually any job they pursue. Even if they decide to go back to the structured world of academia and gain an extra credential like an advanced degree—something that the on-paper rules tell us should help them advance—they’ll still make less than a man with the same credential.