This post is courtesy of guest blogger Dr. Nancy O’Reilly.
“You have to see it to be it.” – Billie Jean King
This famous quote by Billie Jean King has inspired many modern movements to help girls see beyond the limitations of the stereotypes in our culture and follow their own path to achieve their goals. While these stereotypes keep order in our society and provide shortcuts for identifying who does what, they also limit young girls’ exposure to women in several fields, including leadership.
As I wrote in my latest book, In This Together – How Successful Women Support Each Other in Work and Life, gender stereotypes don’t just describe how men and women do behave; they prescribe how we should behave within the dominant culture. In our culture, men still mostly lead and take care of business while women follow and take care of the home. Seeing women lead in their communities, or on the national or international stage is still novel, which is why we need to focus the lens on their accomplishments as role models for our girls.
Girls naturally look to the women in their lives for cues. Seeing women actively pursue their goals helps them believe that they can do the same. Whether it’s exposure to women in STEM, guidance from women in corporate or community leadership, or witnessing a woman being elected to county commission or running for the highest office in the land, there are plenty of opportunities for girls to see women leading and chart their course accordingly.
Representation matters, and as girls see women with confidence, motivation and passion excelling in their fields, it’s easier for them to imagine themselves with those same qualities. There’s also a strong correlation between women with role models and women with leadership goals. In 2013, a study by The Glass Hammer and Accenture found that: “The vast majority (83.3 percent) of women in tech who said they wanted a C-Suite job also said they had a role model.”
Keeping in mind that it’s hard to imagine becoming something you’ve never seen, it’s important to help girls find positive role models that will help them gain the confidence and skills they need to succeed. According to Ellevate, “A female role model does not have to be a celebrity. She is ANY woman you look up to. She is a woman who makes a difference, whether it is in the little things she does in her everyday life or the grand gestures made in the public eye.”
While we point girls towards the strong women in their lives and the stories of female leaders in every sector, we can also all lead by example and support our younger counterparts by helping them aim high and pursue the futures they deserve. We need to encourage them to own their success. LeanIn recently shared a report by the Girl Scout Research Institute that said when girls are confident in their abilities, they are more likely to take the lead. Likewise, we need to model owning our accomplishments and say “thank you” when we receive compliments rather than deflecting them. We also need to look for ways to celebrate girls’ successes and acknowledge their strengths.
We need to also show them how important it is to reach out and help one another. Women know the significance of a helping hand, mutual support and mentorship. Think about your own path: who has helped you get ahead at work? Who has been a cheerleader who encouraged you make a big move? Where did you find a strong shoulder and willing ear when you needed it most? What friend or family member believed in your dreams? Be that person for others and by doing so, you will encourage girls to do the same.
Ultimately, we need to show girls how to go after their goals. According to LeanIn, girls often struggle with confidence and have a fear of making mistakes. In fact, “Some girls don’t speak up in class unless they’re 100 percent sure they have the right answer, while others shy away from trying new subjects or activities. This same reluctance also holds women back.” Rather than shying away from high profile projects or hesitating to apply for the top job, we need to go after our goals, step out of our comfort zones, and encourage girls to do the same.
While women are still underrepresented and working to close the gender gap and claim their fair share of leadership positions, the is an abundance of women who are starting businesses, rising in companies and communities, and even leading whole countries. Find them, support them, and help them share their stories with the young women who will follow their lead. We need to make sure that girls can see their potential wherever they look and support them as they work to be whatever they can imagine, learning new skills along the way.
While we point girls towards the strong women in their lives and the stories of female leaders in every sector, we can also all lead by example and support our younger counterparts by helping them aim high and pursue the futures they deserve. We need to encourage them to own their success.
Nancy D. O’Reilly, PsyD, founder of Women Connect4Good, Inc., is an international philanthropist, licensed psychologist, speaker and author of In This Together: How Successful Women Support Each Other in Work and Life [Simon & Schuster/Adams Media, January 2019]. She urges women to define themselves and each other as leaders to hasten their advance to equality. Stay up-to-date on thoughts, practices, and solutions from today’s leading women on Facebook, Twitter, and at DrNancyOreilly.com.