Most of you have not witnessed extreme gender inequality during college, and most of you do not think of yourselves as activists. But I have news for you: The corporate world does not offer equal opportunity, and most of you will need to become activists to create lives which include children and work.

But you probably spent your school years hearing that you can be anything you want and that having kids is not something to worry about now. Both of these ideas are misleading.

Most likely, you cannot be anything you want if you expect to have kids; you cannot be a mom who goes to weekly tap dance lessons or weekly baseball games and a mom who runs a Fortune 500 company or leads the United Nations team to Rwanda. You have to give up one of those dreams because kids are not compatible with the amount of work required to move up through the management ranks. You need to consider this when planning your life.

“Sexism at the top remains strong,” says Barrons Business Daily in an article touting the successes of women in the workplace. Men may always outnumber women at the top because women are not willing to make the “sacrifice of friendships and family life that the jobs normally require,” it states. The New York Times magazine chimed in with a cover article highlighting how more women with business degrees from top schools are leaving the work force to stay home with children.

Here are some facts to consider:

Sixty percent of male managers have kids at home as compared with 40% of women managers. Corporate life was set up so that one person in a couple works and one stays home with the kids. For all the effort men and women have given to changing this system, it remains relatively unchanged for senior executives.

These facts come from a recent study commissioned by Congress, which shows that men and women climb the corporate ladder together, and then women with children begin to lag, earning lower salaries. Meanwhile, childless women managers remain on par with the men.

Those women with children who continue to climb are more likely to get divorced than the men with kids who continue climbing, says Barrons magazine.

The congressional study tells us that women struggle with career issues that don't affect men. Women, not men, typically must choose between a high-powered career and raising kids. And so far, we have not found an answer. Each woman who gives up something — a career, a kid, time at the office or at home — will tell you the decision was tough. And the jury is out as to what works. The next generation of women will have to try new ways to juggle family and work.

Some schools, bless them, are helping women prepare for future balancing acts. At one top medical school, a panel of surgeons fielded questions from students ready to select a specialty. The discussion turned to a surgeon's notoriously long and unpredictable hours. A student asked the panel members if they would choose surgery again. The four men on the panel each praised their wives at home for supporting them and said they would choose this specialty again. The lone woman on the panel said she would not choose the specialty because surgeons have so little flexibility and she has had to sacrifice family time to succeed.

At this particular school, women choose their specialty with care: Ophthalmology has become popular because it allows for a family life.

Consider these issues when you select your field. If you want a family, find and build a career that is compatible with having a family. If you decide on a family-unfriendly career, find a spouse who will take care of the family (a common solution for women at the top).

Graduation speakers nationwide are touting opportunity, equality, and ambition. I wish I didn't have to be a wet blanket , but someone's gotta do it: Girls, get ready for a corporate world built by men, not women. Think of the workplace as a constant test of your ability to create the life you want. Think of yourself as a trailblazer.

As you make you plans for your summer, plan to take a break from the business book bestseller list. Instead, read with the goal of taking yourself out of your intellectual comfort zone, because fresh tracks in your thinking will lead to fresh tracks in your career. Here are some guidelines for summer reading:

Ask a big question.
All-day beach trips are great for long books. Blow up rafts promote uninterrupted thinking. Don't waste these precious chunks of time on John Grisham.

Instead, think of a big question, the kind that has no right answer but lots of angles, and dive into the relevant reading. One vacation, I asked the question: “Why do people tell stories?” Another question that has ruled my summer reading is, “What sort of human-computer interaction is fun?”

Sometimes, the answer to the question isn't nearly as revealing as just discovering what question really piques your interest.

Think like you're studying for a mid-term.
For most of us, rigorous thinking ended in college. But the organized, complex, thinking that gets you through upper-level philosophy courses also makes you sharp at the office. My brother Mike (an economist) reads linguistic theory to keep himself on his toes. I read Supreme Court decisions: They twist and turn the Constitution in ways that will give anyone an intellectual workout; they're not as dry as Kant and not as brain numbing as J Lo's love life.

Read to understand people.
Your career is dependent as much on people skills as it is on how well you do your work. So I recommend An Na's novel, “A Step from Heaven” (Front Street, 2001), which I love. It's a kids book. (For those of you who don't read kids books, you should. They'll remind you of that terrible time of life that is junior high school, and then you'll appreciate where you are in life now, no matter where you are.)

“A Step from Heaven” is about Korean immigrants, and it does a great job of showing the barriers to success that people of American-born parents do not face. Think of these barriers when you manage someone who didn't have all the advantages in life that you had. Remember that topics like patience and compassion are as important to your reading pile as leadership and finance.

Don't read to stroke your ego.
Just because you have already accumulated a reading pile tall enough to last fifteen summers doesn't mean that you have to read those books.

Our tendency is to be attracted to topics we already know a lot about. For a while, I was reading too many books about time management. I am a good time manager, so each book's recommendations would allow me to say, “Great, I'm already doing that. I'm great.” When I forced myself read about sales, because I was uncomfortable in that area, my reading became much more productive.

Force yourself to read in areas that are unfamiliar to you. Read about your weaknesses. Read about people who annoy you and topics that bore you. The best antidote to disdain is a deeper understanding.

I learned my first lessons in the importance of workplace communication when I had a job in the British Pound trading pit at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. What makes the exchange special is that there are no pretenses: You don’t have to be an Ivy Leaguer or a genius trader to succeed. The people who do succeed are alert, quick, and well versed in the art of communication.

It is ironic that the most treasured office skill is most prevalent at the most un-officelike place. But the trading floor is a great classroom for people who work in a traditional office, especially those who remain stalled professionally because of a lack of communication skills.

Lesson 1: Learn the secret language.
Every office has a secret language. At the Merc, it’s hand signals. The trading pit — literally a pit — is filled with people waving and motioning because it’s so large and loud that people have to use hand signals to talk to each other. I had to take a class so that I could signal phrases like “Prudential Bache has a large order in the British pound pit that needs to be filled at 68.” The guy across the room might say, “Watch me for an order coming in,” and I’d have to keep a close eye on him all day because he’d only signal the order once before giving the business to someone else. The difference between “buy at 68” and “sell at 68” is the turn of a palm. At a standard office, the secret language may be that business is mostly conducted by e-mail or meetings, or that the boss likes to be presented with ideas in a certain fashion. If you don’t communicate in the way that people expect, no one will hear you.

Lesson 2: Build relationships during downtimes, and you will benefit during the fast times.
When the trading floor is slow, the traders and clerks stand around talking; the scene resembles a bar. If you are not funny, or insightful, or clever, or at least good at laughing at other peoples’ jokes, people will not like you. And if people don’t like you on the trading floor, it will cost you — just like at the office. When trading picks up and phone orders from brokers stream in, people will trade with you or they won’t. At the office, if you are disliked, you aren’t asked out to lunch, assigned good projects, or given help and support when you need it.

Lesson 3: The small communication cues are the most important.
In the office, this rule is subtle. For example, I had a boss who was great verbally, but whenever he got nervous he would bite his nails and, no matter what he was saying, all we heard was, “This place is headed for a train wreck.” People pick up on the most casual, seemingly trivial things.

The great thing about the trading floor is that you get immediate feedback when you botch a small cue. When trading is fast, prices move fast, and if you miss a price, you could be held responsible for getting that price anyway. In the language of hand signals, a trader can say, “I have 600 shares to sell at 70,” in less than two seconds. The trader will make that sale by simply catching someone’s eye and seeing that person nod. If either one of those people makes even the slightest mistake, they could lose thousands or millions of dollars.

It is not an exaggeration to say that poor communication skills are the number one problem that holds people back in the workplace. One manager I talked to at a Fortune 500 company said that most of her management time is spent coaching people on how to talk to each other so that teams work efficiently. “And people don’t even appreciate it,” she says. For everyone out there who has been coached by a boss, be grateful. Because on the trading floor, you’d otherwise be fired immediately.