Say it loud! I am a feminist and proud! Feminism became part of my leadership philosophy while attending college. As I reflect on this concept the idea of being feminist is as relevant today as ever. There is great debate regarding the role feminism plays in the lives of contemporary women. However issues such as equal pay for equal work, voting rights, reproductive rights, and more are as prominent today as they were when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her girlfriends gathered for tea in Seneca Falls to discuss issues of their day.
I was among the first group of students at SUNY Potsdam to formally study women’s history. In this class I learned the definition of feminism and decided to identify as a feminist. Reading the success stories of my historical sisters taught me I could be successful too.
Much of my 37 year career has been devoted to the positive development of girls and women. Throughout this amazing journey I learned many lessons that serve as a frame work for how I lead today. So In the spirit of celebrating Women’s History Month, this seasoned feminist shares four of her most important leadership lessons.
Women leaders must define themselves. It is imperative to define yourself on your own terms. If an inappropriate definition of who you are is spoken, dispense of it quickly and publicly. Always remember it is not what you are called, but what you answer to. Never allow anyone to call you something that does not fit your definition of who you are.
“Powerful women don’t explain why they want respect. They simply don’t engage those who don’t give it to them.”* This quote speaks to a major lesson for women leaders. Never allow anyone to intentionally disrespect you. Ever! Each woman has her own understanding of what disrespect means. It is important to communicate this clearly to those you lead. It is additionally important to be clear about what you will do when acts of disrespect are committed against you. Be fearless about drawing this line in the sand. The most distressed women leaders I know are those who have no boundaries when it comes to the issue of respect. Compassionately detach from those who disrespect you. These people add no value to your life.
Find your voice and use it courageously. It remains quite common for women leaders to sit silently in meetings. This takes me back to my women’s history class. Our professor required us to speak publicly on a weekly basis. She vowed when she became an educator one of her priorities would be to help smart young women find their voices. It serves no good for smart women leaders to sit silently in meetings. I guarantee your ideas are as valuable as all others in the room. I promise you on many occasions you will be the smartest person in the room, but no one will know this if you don’t speak up. When our voices are absent from important conversations at home, in our companies and in the community we do a disservice to ourselves and to those who can benefit from our good ideas.
Finally turn off every self judging voice in your head. We brutalize ourselves with the lies we allow to reside in our heads. We must be gentle on ourselves as we learn to lead. Fear based thoughts about not being smart enough or good enough are deterrents to stepping into your greatness. Successful women throughout history had moments of self doubt, however these women fought self doubt by filling their heads with positive affirmations and thoughts. We must believe in ourselves. You have everything inside of you to be a successful woman leader. Believe this universal truth and you will be just fine. History is on your side. You are the contemporary sisters of generations of feminists who broke through self doubt by believing in themselves and changed the world.
Some say feminism is dead. I don’t see any evidence of this in my life. It thrills me to see a new generation of feminists taking the world by storm. I am committed to their success. I will do all I can to ensure these powerful dynamic young women take their rightful places leading organizations and companies across the country. I hope these lessons from a seasoned feminist inspire them to new levels of leadership. Happy Women’s History Month.
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