I will never forget when I was about fourteen years old my Grandmother asked me when I was going to learn how to cook. I said, “Why do I need to learn how to cook?” She said, “Well, what are you going to do when you get married”. I said, “I will marry a man that cooks”. I didn’t think that sounded odd at all at the time, and I still don’t think so today. God bless my Grandma.
Having just finished the first half of “Lean In” by Cheryl Sanberg, COO off Facebook, I am incredibly conflicted by what she is saying. I have nothing but admiration for a woman who has accomplished as much as she has without selling her soul in the process. Kudos, Cheryl. Keep up the great work!
What I feel completely compelled to write about is my own personal story of becoming a successful business executive, wife, mother and aspiring entrepreneur, and not a single bit of it (good or bad) had a single thing to do with the fact that I am a woman.
Don’t get me wrong, it has been a long and winding road filled with plenty of potholes, cliffs and steep hills going up and down. At times I have questioned whether or not I had the courage, the skills, and the perseverance to achieve my goals. I even questioned my own sanity and the validity my goals at times. But one thing I never questioned was whether or not I had the opportunity or the right to pursue and achieve them. In that way, I have always been a fearless woman.
The only girl in the room
I have been the “only girl in the room” so many times I lost count. For a long time, I was the only female on the executive team of the company I worked for, I was the only female my cohort of MBA graduates, and I was even the only female on my golf league! Growing up I had six stepbrothers (yes, six), one stepsister (who was really more like a brother) and one full brother. In addition to doing lots of normal girly things like playing with makeup, dolls, and gossiping about boys, I also spent plenty of time playing flag football, riding motocross, and learning how to change the oil in my own car. What does that make me? A woman who enjoys a more fulfilling life because gender is completely irrelevant.
Fearless Women make gender irrelevant
Thanks to my mom, the greatest woman to ever walk the face of the Earth, I was raised to believe that there is no such thing as discrimination and bias, if you don’t let it be so. I repeat, if you don’t let it be so.
So, armed with that wisdom, and my abnormally high level of confidence around boys, I hit the real world right after high school and lived by the following principles.
1. Just because some women are discriminated against, does not mean you have to be one of them. Choose paths and environments where discrimination is not tolerated or put the effort in to changing the environment.
2. You are not being selfish by doing #1. You are being a brave pioneer. You are finding your way to a position of power so you can create opportunities for other fearless women.
3. If you want to be remembered and valued for your brains, then use them. Leave your cleavage and high heels at home.
4. Go ahead, be the only girl in the room. Who cares? Don’t give it a second thought (except for the cleavage and the heels thing). When the boys realize you are dead serious and you are confident in your position, they will forget that you are actually a girl.
5. If they resent you or make your life difficult, see #1.
6. Take risk. If you don’t like the way you are being treated or the opportunities that are being made available to you, then change something (this applies to work and to home).
7. Don’t spend all of your time in “womens groups”. I know I will catch flack for this but I have to say it. Women’s groups tend to polarize men and women further by drawing attention to the gap that divides rather than the bridge that connects. If you want to make an impact, join more male dominated groups and start building the bridge.
The statistics don’t lie. Gender inequality is still as present as ever. Women have all sorts of agonizing choices to make about work and family balance, etc. etc. But it is not completely an external factor, it is, IMHO, very much internal. If you don’t like inequalities and unfairness, then you absolutely have the opportunity and the right to not let it be so.
So, go ahead and be the change you want to see. You’ll be amazed at what you can actually accomplish. Your success or failure will have very little to do with the fact that you are a woman. Trust me.
In closing, I want to point out that I am incredibly grateful for the freedom I have as an American to have the opinions and experiences expressed in this post. My heart goes out to the millions of less fortunate women around the world who are truly oppressed and still struggling for basic rights and privileges. Let us continue to hope and pray for change in their worlds.