Mentoring Women's Leadership

On March 31, 2016, Linda received recognition for her work in the community as an ATHENA Award honoree. Part of that process included writing an essay about the meaning of leadership and why we should inspire women leaders. This comes from that essay.

 
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Women's Voices Improve Our Communities

I believe that empowering and inspiring everyone - men and women - to exercise leadership will improve our communities and the world. By leadership, I do not mean empowering and inspiring people to seek positions of authority - unless they desire to do so - but rather to actively identify the problems around them and work with others to solve those problems regardless of their power position. Women define problems differently than men and seek more collaborative solutions.Therefore, adding women's voices to community conversations improves problem-solving. If we empower and inspire everyone to take an active role in their community and lead in this way, we would live in a much better place where people take responsibility for their actions and work together to improve everyone's lives.

Through our many roles - as professionals, mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, and global citizens, women have a great influence on how both genders react, interact, and lead today and in the future. Encouraging everyone - men and women - to view people as people based on their abilities rather than by their gender labels will empower and inspire leadership among all people. Helping men understand how some of their words and deeds exclude or demote women can work toward this goal as much as directly empowering women themselves.

We've Come A Long Way, Baby ... But Still Have a Long Way to Go

Previous generations made great strides to improve the lives of today's women. My sister faced blatant sexism only seven years ahead of me in the professional world which makes me even more thankful for these trailblazers. But we have all seen the articles that describe how few women occupy legislative chambers, boardrooms, and C-suites even though the research clearly demonstrates that including women in decision-making roles improves the company's performance. Clearly more work needs to occur for the glass ceiling to become a thing of the past. Finally eliminating the glass ceiling will make life better for our daughters and granddaughters. Unfortunately, much work still remain for today's girls. A recent study suggests that young girls still perceive themselves as less smart and knowledgeable than the boys in their classrooms. Because of this, most girls fail to speak up when called upon in class. I was that quiet girl in elementary and middle school who found her voice later in life. Because we have come so far, we cannot get complacent but keep fighting for today's girls.

That said, women face unique challenges. Nothing short of science fiction will change the fact that women incubate fetuses, give birth to babies, and have the biological capacity to nourish their children. Whether by biology or tradition, women often find themselves also taking the lead in many childrearing and household tasks. As recently as 2013, a national survey found that women with children younger than 18 spent nearly twice as much time on household and childrearing chores than their husbands, a vast improvement since 1965 but still too large a gap.

 
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Supporting Women's Journeys

The media often does not help a woman clearly forge a path for herself. Should we lean in or lean out? Can we have it all? Should we want it all? Should "it all" come all at once or only in phases? Because of this, I think that women need to support, encourage, empower, and inspire each other to achieve and lead in all parts of their lives: personal, professional, recreational. Support should help women feel empowered to take whatever path works best for her: working full-time, working part-time, or staying at home with the children. An "us-versus them" mentality where one group of women feels superior to the other because of her life choices does nothing to empower or inspire others. Everyone needs something different. Support means giving her what she needs at that time: a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, a bag to punch, perspective that life will get better, or advice.

Women who have found a path that works for them can help others find theirs. The current "Facebook Culture" puts even more pressure on women to have the "perfect Facebook family" and "perfect Facebook life." We all know that our own family falls far short of the perfection we portray through social media. Didn't everyone cook a perfectly-balanced, five-course dinner AND run 5 miles today? Growing up in a loving, supportive family compels me to empower and inspire other women to achieve their own definitions of success like my family and others did for me along my journey. Empowering and inspiring also means helping other women clearly and honestly see my path with all of its bumps, detours, sorrows, and imperfections.

Cereal for dinner and Scandal marathon anyone?