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Column: Women can walk in space. They can be bankers and CEOs, too
Shannon Casas high res
Shannon Casas

Two women walked in space Friday.

Though the U.S. first put women into space decades ago, Christina Koch and Jessica Meir participated in the first all-female spacewalk. Meir was just the 15th woman to ever walk in space, the Houston Chronicle reported. There have been 213 male spacewalkers.

That’s quite a notable discrepancy. 

Sally Ride was the first American woman in space in 1983, the year before I was born.

Had I wanted to grow up to be an astronaut, I had a role model. Women can be astronauts, because look, here’s Sally Ride flying past the earth’s atmosphere in the Challenger. Those role models matter.

Alas, being an astronaut likely requires a lot of math skills. I enjoyed math up until the point in high school when I couldn’t keep up anymore, literally. My teacher would write out equations on the old overhead projector and then — squirt. The equations began melting down the sheet and she wiped it all away. By the time I got to precalculus, this straight-A student was struggling to pull a D up to a C.

But Sally Ride completed a mission as a flight engineer, breaking barriers all the while answering questions like, “What kind of makeup are you going to take on the mission?” according to the National Women’s History Museum

There are bad questions. That is one of them.

On this most recent mission, makeup wasn’t the issue — but there was a wardrobe problem.

The spacewalk was supposed to happen in March, but there weren’t enough suits to fit the women.

“When the space agency first started flying the Space Shuttle in 1981, there were five suit sizes available for astronauts to wear,” the Houston Chronicle reported. “Over the years, that number was reduced to three: medium, large and extra large.”

Society generally smiles upon women who wear a size small, but not this time.

I guess it’s a good thing I favored words over numbers, because I sure wouldn’t fit in those spacesuits. 

Biases can often be subtle. When you picture an astronaut, who do you see? 

I could ask myself that question about a lot of jobs and answer “a man.”

The Times once ran an advertisement for a bank that featured all women. I didn’t realize I assumed all bankers to be men, but here were all these women in this ad — and it was striking.

Women are still not equally represented when it comes to executive positions (or politics, I might add), according to the most recent report on women in the workplace from McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org. In fact, a chart on page 6 of that report, shows the percentage of white women at entry level position to be 30%, but that decreases all the way up the ladder to just 18% for C-suite positions. Meanwhile, there are more white men at entry level at 35%, but instead of decreasing in representation toward C-suite, there’s a striking uptick to 68% of the C-suite positions being held by white men. People of color are at lesser percentages across the board, though the men are still represented in management positions at better percentages than the women. 

There are numerous reasons for this; bias certainly isn’t the only one. I’d encourage you to read two sides of that issue in last Sunday’s Times if you missed it. It's still available in the e-paper.

Thankfully, in recent years, more emphasis has been put on encouraging girls to explore STEM fields. Girls can be astronauts and bankers and CEOs. 

Personally, I’ve got two boys at home. Currently, one wants to be a dinosaur when he grows up. He could be an astronaut or banker or CEO or even a baker or a nurse or a kindergarten teacher — I don’t think he can be a dinosaur.

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a foster parent. You can hear her most weeks on the Inside The Times podcast on iTunes or Google Play.

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