Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling: Women Going Back to School

By Angie El Sherif

A woman’s day is hectic. Preparing a meal for her family, taking her children to school, or working a 9 to 5, a woman is always juggling time and tasks.  Imagine if she is pursuing an education on top of all that.

Surprisingly, many women have chosen this path. Returning to school for degrees or certifications can mean career development, personal enrichment, long term income security, or attaining that dream job they might have abandoned earlier in life to support a family.

Another reason women might decide to further their education can be to keep up with the male dominated workplace.  There are many fields where woman get the short end of the stick and by having this educational edge their credentials are amplified and can more commodiously move up in the workplace. According to an article in the Boston Business Journal, the technology industry is definitely one of those fields.

The article talks about Amy Salzhauer, founder and chief executive of Cambridge-based Ignition Ventures, a consulting firm for technology startups. It tells the story of how she has broken the glass ceiling sentiment through her accomplishments in this rapidly growing field.

“Salzhauer is in the minority, if not an outright rarity….she is one of a small number of women at the helm of their own technology companies,” writes author Matt Kelly.  Thought the article was penned nearly ten years ago, many of the same workplace biases still exist.

Today, many women assume they can succeed if given the right opportunities.  By furthering their education, they see a way to break through the glass ceiling.

Enas Aly, returned to school at age 35. At the time she was a single mother with a 14 year-old daughter. She went back to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology from Pepperdine University. 

“I decided to go back to school after 11 years after my bachelors in order to get a better career,” she said. Aly was working at the Department of Real Estate for the state of California.

“Because my daughter was older and was able to take care of herself for the most part, I decided that this was a good time to go back and study a field that interested me back in college,” she said.

While still working 9 to 5, five days a week, Aly did a combination of online and on-campus night classes.

Due to the demands of their everyday life, going back to school is usually a difficult decision for women. It is for that same reason however, that the option of continuing their education online is a easier choice. Online learning eliminates many hurdles for women returning to school. It gives them the opportunity to earn degrees without neglecting their existing responsibilities such as family or work.

Women have the opportunity to choose from an array of online degrees and programs such as teaching, nursing, computer engineering, business, fashion design, management etc. Regardless of the avenue of interest or goals, there are myriad choices – from the sciences to the arts. There are hundreds of learning institutions now offering online degrees, and that number is growing everyday. Ashford University, Kaplan University, Walden University and DeVry are just a few.

Women completing their degree completely online can work at their own pace, anytime of the day or night and anywhere that is convenient. There is no need to commute to campus at their lunch breaks or miss dinner with the family because of a night class.

Sherry Hafez has a full time job and is a mother of two children aged 10 and 6 and is currently getting her MBA online from National University.

“I totally recommend it to someone with a fulltime job,” she said. “It is a lot less competitive and so convenient.  I don’t have to leave my children or deal with parking or a babysitter. I like being at home and around while the kids do their own thing,” she says.

It takes Hafez about 2 hours in the evening to finish her coursework twice a week. Even though the work is very condensed, she says that she is achieving results a lot quicker.

That’s why it’s not surprising to learn that the majority of online students are women. In a study conducted by co-editor of Routledge International Encyclopedia of Women, Cheris Kramarae called The Third Shift: Women Learning Online, it was reported that over 60% of people studying online are women, most of them over 25 years old.

In her study Kramarae says a woman’s work is her first shift, her family is her second shift and her education, or online degree, is her third shift. 

Therefore, it is important for women not to be locked into a specific class time or place. A mother wants to eat dinner with the kids, help them with homework and tuck them into bed before she sits down to study.

“Flexibility is a watchword for women who prefer online education and is a particularly strong selling point for adult women who typically bear the brunt of family and work responsibilities,” writes Kramarae. 

However certain skills are needed in order to complete online degrees. Women who decide to use online learning because of the convenience and comfort have to realize that you must have good skills in computer, communication, and time management. Also, with the lack of a classroom structure, a person must be independent, organized and goal-oriented in order to succeed.

In the current economic climate, men and women are deeply motivated to make the commitment to acquiring new job skills or terminal degrees.  Even seasoned professionals are heading back to school preparing for a better future.


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