Maximizing GDP requires fighting sexism in education

Josephine MacLean

Texas could add $202 billion to its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) if it achieved a greater measure of economic gender equality by 2025. A new study by McKinsey & Company identifies six impact zones; “Leadership and managerial positions, unpaid care work, single mothers, teenage pregnancy, political representation and violence against women.” These equality indicators must be addressed in order for the United States to achieve gender parity.

Before a girl chooses her first elective, she’s probably heard that boys are better at math. Before a young woman enters the market as a consumer, she has been bombarded by images that value her sexuality over her intellect. Before a woman starts her first career, she’s likely been asked if she wants kids or not, as if she can’t have both. By the time women become actors in the economic system, their experiences in society have already decided their financial outcomes. 

Julia Cuba Lewis, Executive Director of the Girls Empowerment Network Austin, sees examples of this in her every day work.  

“We have a really horrible rate of sexual harassment for our girls in schools. I have to say that has something to do with pay equity. When girls are trained to believe [being harassed because of their gender] is acceptable, and then they get into a work environment where they are expected to negotiate for themselves, we don’t see negotiation [at] as high a rate as we would hope.” 

Non-profit partners often act on the front lines of inequality. GEN Austin is one organization that’s working locally to combat systemic issues for middle school girls. Cuba Lewis’s organization provides girls support so that when they grow up they can take control of their personal and financial lives. GEN Austin works to improve girls’ lives through empowering the individual, programs such as Pathfinder, events such as Career Week and the We Are Girls conference help middle school girls fight the status quo. 

“I remember the days when smoking was normal, and somehow our country changed that, and we did that in a relatively short amount of time … if [gender equality] is a priority it is possible.” Cuba Lewis said.

But it doesn’t feel like a priority right now. At my latest girls’ night, we started talking feminism. We touched on how 77 cents to the dollar is a white statistic (in reality for Latina women it’s closer to 50 cents to the dollar). At one point someone mentioned if there was one more of us at our table, one of us would be sexually assaulted in college. We shared the numbers we knew, we talked statistics. 

As the night went on we started telling personal stories. The numbers went away and we talked about the first time we got groped in public, the first cat call, the first sexist comment we received online —  a lot of firsts. It turned out, two of the four of us had already faced sexual coercion or assault. Half. 

Inequality infects almost every aspect of women’s lives. While organizations like GEN Austin are making a profound difference in the Austin area, we have a long way to go if we want to get anywhere near that $202 billion dollars — and even that isn’t anywhere near what we could get with full equality. 

MacLean is an advertising and liberal arts honors freshman. Follow her on Twitter @maclean_josie.