This blog post has been brewing in my brain for a few months now. Sometimes it takes a while for experience to gel into words. It is International Women’s Day so I decided it was time to put this into the almost right words. After all, imperfect is the new ideal so I will make this post “good enough.”
I am a woman who is also a leader. However, it took many years for “bossy” to turn into “innovative leader” and I often wonder what could have been different if I didn’t feel as though being a leader were a shameful thing because I was a girl. Don’t get me wrong, I still hear “bossy” and other choice words but it is far less often.
I am also the mother of three amazing daughters (I am completely biased but it is also true!). Their journeys are varied and their life experiences run the gambit. Being a mother to daughters, I often think about how a male-dominant world shapes the lens through which they see themselves. I don’t want them to feel ashamed for having natural leadership abilities and this often dominates my thoughts on how we can do better. I see the difference in how female leaders are described and male leaders are described. Female leaders are “bossy” but male leaders are “assertive” and this isn’t just in adulthood. This labeling begins in childhood: “Queen Bee”, “Mean Girl”, “Bossy”….but where is “assertive” or “leadership qualities”? After all, these girls are showing an ability, at a very young age, to influence those around them and to organize teams. What if we harnessed and nurtured these abilities instead of squashing them or labeling them as negative or worse….we allow them to become bullies? What if we nurtured the Queen Bee and taught her to use her ability to influence her peers in a positive manner? What if we nurtured the Mean Girl’s ability to influence peer groups and taught her how to manage teams and collaborate? We have this amazing amount of raw talent and we allow it to run amok because we are too afraid for girls to be assertive leaders. We are throwing away more than half of our country’s most precious commodity: Innovation.
All because we are afraid of women who are leaders. We are afraid of the strong girls. We are afraid of the girls who don’t want to be placed in any box. We don’t have to raise our girls to feel shame for being a leader.
There are places we can see female leadership being nurtured. It isn’t impossible. For example, I have had the amazing opportunity to work with a school who drops most of the labels we weigh our children down with. Talent Unbound provides a safe and nurturing environment for their “Heroes” (what they call their students) to thrive. When provided with an environment where unnecessary social mantles are left at the door; the students are self-directed, and leadership is a core skill to learn…..well, something truly incredible happens: There are no mean girls. There are no bullies. In fact, it is easily the most positive learning environment I have ever encountered. It isn’t that there has never been a mean girl or a bully to walk through the doors of Talent Unbound because bullies exist in all environments. Because the Heroes hold each other accountable and create their own learning environment, there is no place for a bully to thrive. Bullying is a weed unable to grow in a well-tended garden. For me, this is what makes Talent Unbound a truly special place. (Caveat: I do handle their marketing & communications but it is because I begged them to let me be part of the team!)
Let’s celebrate our girls who are smart, funny, innovative, amazing leaders at all ages. On this International Women’s Day, I want to thank my fellow female leader friends and colleagues. You are amazing women who teach me new ways to innovate and lead every day.