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Reflecting on International Women’s Day

compassionate leadership international women's day leadership women leaders Mar 09, 2021

Did you read all the inspiring posts about women leaders who have gracefully and effectively changed the world?

When I reflect on all the women that have and continue to change this world, support the growth of others, and are catalysts for change, my heart swelled with compassion and respect.

Women have been such an influence on families, communities, organizations, movements, and the world. From science to social justice, from poverty to technology advancements, the positive impact of women is everywhere.

WOMEN CONTINUE TO EMERGE AS LEADERS DESPITE A HISTORY OF CHALLENGES

Women have accomplished so much while under the "unwritten rules" of society, their mentors, organizations, and even their family and friends. These unwritten rules, coaching, and advice are often based on the belief that you will be rewarded with success. The leaders and the team will respect you. You will be "one of us." You will fit in.

 Among all these elements, women have survived, achieved, and thrived. They have inspired one woman or many women. They have raised families in the most wonderful of conditions and the worst conditions. Those women are there and the foundation of love and compassion.

 "You have to leave that crap at the door."

"There is no crying. Crying gets you off the succession plan."

"She is way too emotional."

"Is it that time of the month for you? You seem cranky."

"Can't these women just wear scarves or something? They dress so plain."

"You better lose some weight now that you are getting divorced. You are going to be taking your clothes off in front of man again."

"I really don't have time to coach women; I mean, they have so many issues as leaders. Men are much easier. Everything is such a big deal for women."

"No, I don't mentor other women. I had to fight my way to the top, and it made me a great leader from all my lessons. They need to learn like I did."

"Did you see her earrings? Who wears things like that? And to work?"

"She is not like us. She is not one of us."

All the above are real statements. Women said all the above while in leadership positions, to other women or about other women.

We have had to come through so much to get to where we are. Remember when women finally made it to the corporate floor in positions other than secretaries?

Women were told to wear blue suits.

White shirts. Simple shoes. Basic and non-descript earrings and maybe a pin or necklace. Pantyhose. The rules for professionalism. Dress like a man, but with a skirt. Step out of line, and you were immediately judged.

And if you are a woman of color, or of a physically identifiable faith, or too ethnic, too short, too tall, too fat, or too thin, or too outspoken, the invisible barriers thickened. Each element has its own barrier intensity depending on who, what, where, when, and their foundational beliefs and culture.

INSIGHTS INTO THE BRILLIANT WOMEN OF STEM

When I interviewed women for my book, The Leadership Tinderbox: Insights into the Brilliant Women of STEM, I was struck by their stories of being heard and being respected. 

In the fields represented in STEM alone, women still face challenges as they look to enter the world of mathematics, science, and technology. Granted, their representation in these fields is improving, yet there are still too many boundaries built around girls and women as they consider STEM as a future. And that is just within STEM.

The stories they shared were of tolerance, creativity, and having to lead in an environment that forced them to face incredible ignorance, demeaning words and actions, and gracefully finding ways to build a coalition of support around themselves.

Microaggression, which could be a comment or action that is knowingly or unknowingly negatively impacts and has harmful effects on marginalized groups, was evident in every story. Yet, with each story holding a difficult message, there were more stories that had instances of love, support, growth, and compassion.

I had no plans on writing this blog today; I had an entirely different topic. But yesterday happened.

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY

Yesterday. International Women's Day grew out of a labor movement in 1908 when 15,000 women who worked in the garment district demanded shorter hours, better pay, and the right to vote.

In 1910, Clara Zetkin, at an International Conference of Working Women who gathered in Copenhagen, suggested that National Women's Day become International Women's Day. With 100 women representing 17 countries, it was unanimously adopted.

But yesterday.

On International Women's Day, the day after the Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's interview with Oprah, the stark reminder of how far we have come or not reared its truthful existence.

There are the supporters of Meghan's and Harry's story and their choices, and there are the non-supporters. And then there are the vile opinions. The contradiction was not lost on me as I watched the opinions unfold throughout the day.

"She knew what she was getting into."

Really? Because entering a 1000-year-old traditional monarchy must be easy, right? I mean, come on. We see all the beautiful images and stories of their lives. It is bliss. You know, just like social media today and the perceptions that are built for others' consumption that our life is grand. Private struggles are kept secret or shared on private social media outlets because "I cannot share this on my public page because I do not want people to know." "I cannot let my family or friends know this, so I am sharing here because I do not want to let them know anything is wrong, or I am having mental health issues, or I am unhappy, or I am struggling."

"Look at the privilege she had. What a baby."

I must be honest; I would never want to be a part of the royal family. The expectations of attending events, engage with people at events on a superficial level, measuring what you say because you know that might be misinterpreted or shared when you do not want something shared. The constant direction and oversight of what can and cannot be shared are no different from any organization. They have PR organizations for a reason.

CONTAINMENT AND IMAGE

Would you want to have someone watch over you closely and nod their head what you can say or not say? To be told what you can answer or cannot answer? Would you want someone to tell you what you can share with your family and friends and what you cannot? Would you like to be considered a risk and, therefore, must be watched closely or contained?

You may say yes, but I give it 30 days before you start getting irritated, followed by helplessness, fighting back, and then justifying your reactions and behavior.

The bottom line is that is we were not there. We do not know what the experience was like for Meghan, for Prince Harry, for the royal family. We do not see all the influences, events, conversations, and interactions that occurred. We cannot fully comprehend the tension, the joy, the hurt, and the pain created by these interactions.

It is like any family. It is like any relationship. It is like any interactions, engagement, family, business, events that all of us experience. The difference is our life is not plastered on the tabloids, judged by others, talked about in the news, or receive death threats.

"Do not respond to any requests for interviews. Do not make any comments. Send all the responses to Bill in Public relations." These types of communications are commonly sent in organizations.

We are taught to share the good stuff and hide the bad things because your reputation, abilities, capabilities, and image all come into question if you share the bad stuff. You lose stature. You may gain some compassion, but most often, you are judged. We measure what we say. We are calculated.

WOMEN HAVE PUT THEMSELVES AT RISK TO SHARE THEIR VOICE 

Women have positively impacted the world by speaking out. They have been tortured, imprisoned, killed, demeaned, rejected, excommunicated, and mentally and psychologically destroyed for their courage. That is the history of women, and it continues today. Maybe not in our backyard, but it is still happening around the world.

If you are a courageous woman and are admired, encouraged, respected, and supported, you are one lucky woman. Luck that you worked for created and also received. It has not always been that way for women. Relish it. Feel the joy. Feel the pride. Admire yourself for all the work, persistence, and resilience in you. I applaud you. Women applaud you.

Back to Meghan and Prince Harry.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

What can we do as women to support other women, reduce microaggression, and be a leader?

  1. Take a moment and consider your response before posting. Do some inner dialogue assessment. What is driving a strong reaction either way? What are your beliefs that are promoting your reaction?
  2. Put on a compassionate lens. If this was my best friend, daughter, or sister, how might you react and respond?
  3. Stop gossiping about other women. Gossip is nothing more than a menial way to create a connection while destroying another person. There are better ways to make connections, like talk about positive things that women do if you are going to talk about others.
  4. Be curious. Any time you find yourself thinking that they should have known better, they should have been smarter, believe they cannot be that stupid, you are entering the essence of judgment. The only way to combat judgment is to be curious.
  5. Support those around you. Postpositive social media commentary or at least be constructive.
  6. And lastly, when it is International Women's Day, maybe pull back on the extreme negativity against other women. And every day after that.

We have opinions. We have our beliefs. We have our right to share and make comments. We rarely have all the facts and know the entire truth, even in our own lives.

In the words of the great Wayne Dyer:

 “Judging a person does not define who they are. It defines who you are.” 

 

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