Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Age Discrimination at College?

So far, my experience at Mills College has been great.  It's a diverse, inclusive community with straight, gay, bi, trans, black, brown, beige, young, and older women and men, and every combination thereof (men are only in graduate programs).  While I had some concern about fitting in at my age when I started, I promptly felt comfortable and very much a part of this exemplary SF Bay Area microcosm.  I've had NO problems.   

Enter a new professor into the MBA program.  Now, this guy is at the top of his game in the non-profit world and I respect him and have learned a lot thus far.  But, I sense he doesn't like me speaking up in class.  Note that participating in class discussion is 30% of our grade, which is sizable.  I'm going to guess that he and I are about the same age, and this is one class where all the other students are young women in their twenties.  It's a small class - there's 15 of us. 

Here's what's been going on.  He skips over me every time there is more than one person with her hand raised.  When my hand is up and he gives me the nod to speak, and then another person raises her hand, he defers to her and cuts me off.  On one occasion, he straight up told me that he wanted to hear from someone else even though no one else had a raised hand.

So, I got really paranoid.  Am I the classroom blowhard?  Am I the obnoxious person that everyone groans internally when I speak?  This is my second Masters degree, so I have been in A LOT of classes and I've never faced this problem.  I have good relations with all the young women in the class and I love to hear what they say.  Many have approached me after class and have told me that they've appreciated something that I've said.  I think I'm really sensitive to classroom dynamics and discussions given I've been a lecturer myself at a State University, and have needed to mitigate classroom blowhards.

In the class after he told me he wanted to hear from someone else, I very deliberately limited my participation and took note of how many times everyone spoke.  One women spoke 12 times (she is typically very vocal - he's never told her he wanted to hear from someone else), I spoke 4 times along with 2 other women, 3 students spoke 3 times, and 2 spoke 2 times.  Again, he nodded for me to speak and then cut me off and deferred to another student who had raised her hand.  And, as always, he gave me attitude.  I have never left this class feeling upbeat or good.  I always leave feeling sad, depressed, and/or demoralized.  I have worked really hard to learn to honor and respect my feelings, rather than dismiss them.  So, I don't think I'm completely imagining this dynamic.      

But, what's going on?!  How much of this is my projection?  Is it age discrimination?  I am the first to admit that I'm mega-sensitive to specifically white men in positions of authority silencing me.  I was raised with 2 older brothers who were always heard before I was (if I even got the chance to speak).  And, I've had many, many experiences where I was granted no voice by men who boomed right over me.  In fact, I would surmise that one of the reasons I love academia so much is because I finally found an environment where I could speak, and be heard and valued.  Now, I feel like I'm being censored even in academia (by this professor only).    

I'm going to do another tally of how many times we speak up in class, keep mine to a minimum, and monitor his responses to me as compared to others.  I'll let you know the results and then decide on what action to take if he continues.  Any ideas or suggestions?  Any similar experiences?                   


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Summer Break & School News

I haven't had a summer off in so long that I can't even remember.  It's been delicious!  While I had a tremendous "to do" list, including reading for my upcoming classes, I haven't done even half.  I'm okay with it.  I've spent time catching up with friends and family, staying up late and sleeping in (yes, sometimes to noon!), puttering around the house, and getting started on a fitness / wellness program.  

When I started my menopausal transition, I kept feeling like I needed time off to regroup, recollect, and to rethink the priorities in my life.  This summer break has provided me with that time and it feels "just right."  I feel nourished, rather than depleted and happy to be alive once again.  And, I do have some exciting school news ...

I was awarded the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Initiative scholarship!  This is a FULL tuition award based on merit (GPA), potential for leadership, and financial need.  When I got the award letter, I literally sobbed tears of joy and gratitude.  I never thought for a moment that I would get the scholarship due to my age.  In fact, I almost didn't apply.  Here's how my process went:   

There are many (ahem) "mature" ladies in the MBA program and we had discussed the scholarship opportunity.  We all felt it was a long shot given our ages and several of my peers didn't apply.  But, that little voice inside wouldn't let me not apply.  Full tuition for the school year is no small deal at a private college.  So, about 9 days before the deadline, I started the application, which included a formal application, academic transcripts, a 3-5 page personal essay, and 3 letters of recommendation.  It was at the end of the semester when everyone was crazy with finals and presentations, so my timing was poor.  Yet, I managed and the three people who wrote letters for me were real troopers.  I did everything I could on my end to help them as they were all busy as can be.  "Help" means getting the form to them asap, including self-addressed stamped envelopes, providing bullet points on my accomplishments, driving to them (if needed) to get the signed letter, and nudging them along (nice emails saying "5 more days"; "2 more days" until the deadline, etc.).  

Another thing that helped me is that I had my academic transcripts on hand.  When I had applied to Mills, I ordered extra copies and thank goodness!  I highly encourage anyone in academia to keep spares on hand.  It's the one part of an application that you have little control over.   

On the day the application was due, my packet was finally in order and I drove to Mills to personally hand it in.  It felt good to do so, yet I didn't get attached at all to the outcome.  If nothing else, it was good practice to work under such pressure and to know that I could pull it off.  

I feel it speaks volumes about Mills College and Goldman Sachs (especially amid all the ethical issues they are currently facing) to provide such significant support to a woman my age.  I also think it speaks volumes about the changing perception of mid-life women in school and in the workplace.  Ladies, we REALLY are reshaping the whole concept of mid-life, aging, retirement, and the value of our skills and knowledge!  Please know that if I can do it, so can you!                             


Friday, March 19, 2010

My Second Semester Perspective

Wow, it's been some time since my first two posts.  That's because my MBA program is far more demanding and time intensive than I had anticipated.  I had largely underestimated the rigor of the program, which I think is important to share for those considering returning to school.  

When I went in, I expected the time commitment to be on par with the full-time job I was leaving.  But, this is not the case.  Along with classes and homework are all of the extras that enrich my experience such as, tutoring, team meetings for projects, career counseling, workshops, clubs (I only belong to one), and meeting with faculty.  In addition, our program is in the process of hiring a new Dean and students have been encouraged to participate in the process, which has been really interesting.  We're down to two candidates and should have a decision by the end of this month.  Back to time-- I'd estimate that I'm probably putting in about 70 hours a week.  I'm not complaining though!  I'm loving the experience so far and feel incredibly grateful that I'm in school, rather than working.  

I don't get to have much of a social life outside of school and mitigating that with family and friends has been a bit of a challenge.  My loved ones are usually okay with being "on hold" for a month or two, but when I tell them that I'll see them in two years, it doesn't go over very well.  So, I pack in my socializing during the semester breaks, and try to stay in touch the best I can when school is in session.     

This semester I'm taking Macroeconomics, Leadership & Ethics, Management Information Systems, and Entrepreneurship.  I have about 350 pages of reading every week, along with assignments and projects.  Macroeconomics is my most challenging class because math is not one of my strengths.  Yet, I'm learning so much fascinating information that has a lot of application to what's going on in the economy now.  I understand it conceptually; but I struggle with doing the specific calculations.  Leadership & Ethics is my favorite class because it draws on many disciplines such as philosophy, history, economics, anthropology, and sociology, and it requires a lot of analysis and synthesis, which are my strengths.  We just read Milton Friedman's, "The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits," which was first published in New York Times Magazine in 1970.  He's a capitalist supremacist and it's interesting to ponder how much social opinion has moved away from what he argued just 40 years ago.                       

Tomorrow begins my first day of Spring Break and I am elated - I get 11 glorious days off!  No, no margaritas on the beaches of Cozumel or Red Stripe beers in Jamaica.  Instead, I'll be catching up on reading and homework; sleeping in and organizing; all of which are seeming really sexy and exciting to me! 

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Grad & MBA Orientation

My Goddess, you can't even begin to imagine all the wonderful young people on this campus! Two that I met and chatted with for a time stand out: Stephanie, a tall, slender African-American who has been working since she was 13. She's the first in her family to go to college and figured out the ropes on her own. She earned her B.A. at U.C. Berkeley, working the whole time to put herself through. Berkeley, she said, gave her more than an education; it taught her self-reliance. She's been working I.T. at a non-profit for several years and got laid off. She's starting her Masters in computer science and is hoping to be able to only go to school and not work for at least one semester. I hope she gets her wish - I know she'll do well.

The other stand out is a young man (yes, Mills accepts men but very few apply), who is a part of my cohort in the MBA program. He was raised in East Oakland and Richmond, CA. As he put it, "there were 12 of us on my street who started school as kids together. Today, 8 are dead, 2 are in jail, and the other is mentally retarded. Then there's me ..." He's working at an AIDS non-profit and will be pursuing his MBA concurrently. He wants to get his doctorate and become a professor, particularly so he can help young people of color. I have no doubt that he'll accomplish this and much more.

I tell these stories because I think the young people of today often get a really bad rap. I think they are smart, experienced, insightful, sensitive, aware, and brimming with an authentic desire for social change and good. I love them and I'm so grateful to be among them.

There's also a good proportion of mid-lifers like me in the program, probably 15%, which is reassuring (I'm not the only lunatic). I haven't had the chance to talk with all of them, but those I did chat with shared similar stories and goals; e.g., laid off, bored to tears with previous job, seeking growth through education, and looking for a change.

I want to mention that another part of my decision to return to grad school is in honor of the spirit of my friend, Willie Neiman. Willie and I earned our Anthropology Masters together and remained good friends over the years. We always talked about how we were going to go back to school one day (he was brilliant). He died of cancer last year at age 53. I'm sure he's hangin' on Mt. Olympus with Zeus thrusting lightening bolts, and traipsing off from time to time to help Thor wield his hammer. Willie's spirit keeps me strong and resolute in my decision. "Full throttle," Willie!

Back to Mills ... We're the first class in the new Lorry Lokey Graduate School of Business building and it's magnificent! It's super modern and green, with an incredible garden rooftop that you can see when on the second floor. We have plush chairs, state of the art technology, and that awesome newness everywhere. It feels like a fine place to be spending my time! I have my first class tomorrow - Negotiations. Can't wait!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Why, OH why would I do such a thing?

Crazy, courageous, ridiculous, delusional, brilliant or all of the above? These, and many more such thoughts, have bounced and bounded around my brain since deciding to earn my MBA at the age of 50. So, here’s my story:

I’ve been employed as a managing editor for the past 17 years, nearly 13 of which have been with the same company. My job has been that of a content editor for an enormous history, social science, humanities curricula called the Paragon Curriculum®, which is implemented in Mosaica Education, Inc. schools around the nation (it’s a proprietary program). My job has been very gratifying— I’ve learned so much and have worked with wonderful people. But, the curriculum is done, finished, complete— nearly 40,000 pages— and I’ve been laid off.

So, I’m at a crossroad. I’ve thought deeply and earnestly about what I want and going back and working at what I’ve been doing just isn’t resonating. I went through a serious health challenge a few years back, which is still affecting me. I have an acoustic neuroma, which is a type of a benign brain tumor. I’ll write more about it another time, but for now it is suffice to say that working at a computer for 8 – 10 hours a day, five days a week, which is required of my job, is way too challenging. I want a change and I feel it is in my best interest to seek a change, so I started considering graduate school.

I already have a Masters degree in Anthropology, which has served me very well. Yet, it’s been a long held dream to create my own business. It’s been fascinating to witness the growth of Mosaica Education, Inc. and, as the first employee hired, I’ve experienced the ups and downs of a start-up company. While I want to form my own business, I seriously lack so many of the skills necessary to do so—accounting, finance, marketing, advertising, and so on. When one earns a degree in the social sciences like I did, one does not even dabble in these disciplines. So, I decided that a MBA would be a great choice!

I’m enrolled at Mills College in Oakland, CA and classes begin on August 26th. Please come with me as I chronicle my journey of earning a MBA @ 50!