When asked to address the powerful group of women who attended Harvard’s inaugural university-wide Women’s Weekend (11/4-11/6), Dr. Francesca Dominici chose to take a different approach, placing the microphone in the hands of a panel of young female experts.
Dominici, who advocates for institutional and cultural changes by starting with the subtle inequities that affect students, questioned her experts, a group of articulate 5th grade and high school students, about differences between girls and boys regarding opportunities in sports and science, and the challenges faced by girls in today’s society.
The girls’ responses affirmed that the shaping of perceptions regarding gender roles starts at an early age, and is often negatively influenced by social media and reinforced by cultural benchmarks including salaries and work opportunities.
Asked to prove themselves in various arenas, girls often internalize social attitudes that undermine their self-confidence, despite equal or sometimes better performance. When questioned on what would help them to succeed, the girls called on Harvard alumnae to help reshape social views on feminism and women’s equality, particularly in the face of current backlash.
In her remarks following the panel, Dominici stressed that issues of work-family balance are both dynamic and intergenerational, requiring both the participation and encouragement of tomorrow’s future women leaders. According to Dominici, “We need to promote a new image of Academic Leadership, acknowledging that there are different ways of making path-breaking contributions.”