When I was in college my mom sent me a gift; this was a regular occurrence. When she saw something that reminded her of someone, she often bought it and sent it to them with a note. This particular gift was not meant for public disclosure. But two decades later, its message is still relevant, and too poignant for me to not share. It represented the language and word choice of the time. It also reflected her emotions and advice based upon her own lived experiences.
My mom was a successful businesswoman that graduated from college in the late 1960s. She found her path over the next four decades. She vividly retold stories of what it was like graduating from college with the expectation that she would become a teacher, a nurse, or go to work as an administrative assistant in an office setting. She reminisced on the limitations placed on women by society and social norms, not with anger or resentment, but with a recognition of the reality of the times and how she overcame them.
Despite the barrier’s placed in front of her, she persevered. She started out as a teacher, but ended up the President and CEO of a small corporation that she developed and grew into a successful business. She became a role model to me and to many other women that she encountered throughout her life. She had to seek out her own unique tribe of other female trailblazers breaking into traditional all-male fields. She was lucky to find some incredible women for social support and to marry a man (my Dad) that believed in and supported women’s advancement. I was lucky to have her as my mom.
International Women’s Day
Today, March 8th, International Women’s Day, would have been her 75th birthday. I lost her almost 15 years ago, as the result of a distracted driver accident. I miss her every single day. I miss her strength, her resilience and her courage. I miss her unconditional love and support. She embodied the true definition of what a leader should be: kind, confident, and supportive. She empowered those around her. She made hard and difficult decisions, always putting her staff first. She did what was right, not what was easy.
When my mother sent me this particular gift, she included a handwritten note. Two key take-a-ways: she told me not to tell anyone (including my grandmother) that she was the one who sent them to me, and despite the fact that she recognized the crassness of the joke, she wasn’t going to let it stop her from confronting the reality. She always said that to succeed in a world defined by men for men you had to be tough, not back down, but above all else be true to yourself. So, when she saw this box of juggling balls labeled “More Balls than Most,” she had to get it for me. Not because she ever expected me to learn to juggle, but because she knew the biases and barriers that women like us face when we enter the arena and she wanted me to know that I could do it. She was thrilled the balls even matched my alma mater’s colors: Black and Gold. The poignant part of the two-decade old note and gift, that still sits on my bookshelves, is that the message remains every bit as relevant today as it did all those years ago.
When I was an undergraduate studying sociology and business administration at Vanderbilt University, I actually found myself wondering what sociologists were going to study in the future, because I believed we were progressing towards equity and eliminating inequality and injustices in the United States. I believed that things were changing because I had a Mom that was a CEO of her own corporation. More and more women were entering all professions; I had female college friends going to Wall Street in Finance and going on to graduate school at Stanford for Engineering.
Flash forward to today, and in many ways, things have gotten significantly better. Women now represent over 50% of all enrolled college students, medical school students, and law school students. But we are still a long way off from seeing equal representation at all levels of business and democracy. The rungs of the ladder have been broken for many. Biases, barriers, and blind spots still prevent many women from achieving higher-status positions.
As a businesswoman with an advanced degree in sociology, I look at the facts that represent the patterns and trends of the reality that we are surrounded by. The reality of the Second Shift, the Mommy Penalty, lack of mentorship and sponsorship, the “housework” of office work, the disproportionate burden falling on women in this global pandemic, gender bias, affinity bias, and confirmation bias are just a few of the real trends with real consequences.
So, on International Women’s Day, I’d like to reflect on how far we’ve come, but we cannot forget to acknowledge the shyfting tides of changing demographics, and shyfting social dynamics embodied in new attitudes, beliefs, and ideologies. We must build our awareness of the reality that is, so that we can shyft to the possibilities of what can be.
Society is shyfting. New technological innovations are changing the way we live and do business. They are changing expectations and realities. We must not look backwards to determine how to move forward.
I decided a long time ago that I want to live in a world where every human being has the opportunity to reach their full potential. I was inspired by a woman who believed in the possibilities of progress despite challenges. I too believe that we are in a sea change moment that has the potential to change how we think, act, and respond to others at work and at home. As leaders, we have the capacity and capabilities to create environments where everyone can thrive if we choose to embrace them. It is time to build social awareness as a business asset and overcome the biases, barriers, and blind spots that are preventing us from reaching our full potential.
And today, along with every other day, I would like to thank my Mom for being an amazing role model and trailblazer that inspired me to take risks and to remain true to myself despite barriers. I want every woman to know that their contribution matters in whatever form they choose.