In preparing for this evening’s speaking engagement on Powerful Female Leadership, I’ve been reading all sorts of histories and stories about women in the workplace. It’s funny, the struggle for equality was at first a struggle to become men and claim a public role when for centuries (aeons!) we had been relegated to the background.
But the reality is that women don’t want to be men it seems. The shoulder pads and ties we wore in the ’80s just didn’t feel right. And we learned it’s ok – it’s great, in fact – to be feminine while also exhibiting strength.
The most interesting part of my research has shown me that while women have, theoretically, access to all board rooms and executive suites, most women don’t actually want to be there. They want the option; but in the end, it’s not the choice.
What we were fighting for all these years (and I can’t really say we, as women before me paved this path so I could walk it), was the CHOICE to be in the public eye or hang back and live a quieter life. And what so many of my contemporaries are realizing is that the 60-hour kill-yourself-to-get-ahead work week is not so appetizing.
In a way, I feel bad that men are expected to walk that route. Women aren’t. We can choose to, sure, but then of course we judge each other for deciding not to focus entirely on kids or deciding to focus on the kids. We just can’t win and our worst enemies come from within the sisterhood.
Or from the voices in our heads.
The struggle has always been for choices. How many people argued and fought for the right to vote? And how many people don’t even exercise their right to vote nowadays? (Research shows that voter turnout in America is steadily decreasing; in the 2008 presidential election, only 64% of eligible Americans exercised their right to vote.)
What the early women’s movement didn’t take into account was the natural tendency of many women to be creative, to multi-task, to juggle responsibilities and focuses. That might mean that the cut-and-dried air of the executive suite doesn’t mesh with the more creative leanings many women have.
So what exactly will I say to the women in my audience tonight?
That powerful doesn’t mean bitchy. That leading by example is the best way to lead.
That story and relationship and self-worth and knowing your value are key to powerful leadership.
That being female shouldn’t change the way we lead, but it does. That there is still a double-standard and it’s not always set by men; sometimes we are our own worst enemies – and so we should work toward being our best champions.
That’s what I’ll say. Because ultimately, it’s about knowing yourself well enough to lead others. Having confidence and self-worth are essential if you want to model effective leadership.
I hope I do it. And I’d like to see a sisterhood emerge of many of us who walk alongside one another and never feel alone on our life paths.