You are going to get hit hard when you start to build anything that threatens others’ land, resources, but most of all their power. POWER! Most people only pay lip service to liking a strong, independent woman. A woman of contradictions with opinions, who refuses to stay in her box or on her pedestal. A woman who knows her power. Initially, you will get lots of propitiative encouragement in starting a business, but once you build something formidable, you will find yourself defending it with more than you think you can muster. Your teeth will chatter, your voice will tremble, your face will flush. But shoulders back, chin up, my love. You will find a fire inside you that knows no bounds. You will find allies. You will be OK. Better than OK. But unlike me, you should go into this new territory eyes wide open, on alert, from the start. So you will not be blindsided when they come for you. Because they will.

Women are born Builders but have been limited in the ways we have been able to demonstrate this ability. My mom, Elinor, was an editor for thirty years at a very well-known magazine where she was told if she had kids she couldn’t be an issue editor. Imagine saying that to someone today? She had us anyway, knowing her career would essentially reach a screeching halt. And that wasn’t too long ago.

In my own case, I stopped building every time I thought I was navigating business wrong. Turns out my XX chromosome was the issue. Most of my favorite stop-start stories seem to involve men (of course, lots of good guys out there, too), but I found that most didn’t respect or take me seriously, let alone fear me. As a very-late-working, recent college grad, I asked for a pay increase. My manager’s response: “You don’t have a family to support, so why do you need this ‘extra’ money?” Leaving after- work drinks with clients, having sipped only one, the chief marketing officer called me a “little c**t.” Being taught by a plumber (mansplained) the proper way to flush a toilet (one finger on the handle) in a home I still managed to buy for myself. Corporate rooms where I was shot down for speaking up. Needing to stuff and repress all that was me back inside me. Or that one time a guy got REALLY ANGRY at my simply saying, “I no longer want to partner with you.” The mental seek-and-destroy terrorism that followed. The list goes on and on: mild put-downs, annoying advances, wealth inequities. Or. Or. Or. Huh? Huh? Huh?

Backlash is a confusing thing. Going from being beloved to hated in a flash just by defying someone or something . . . torn down as a means of control. The anger and blowback can be terrifying. Deafening and disproportionate. No one explains it’s not you. And you don’t dare ask. So you just fumble around in the dark, trying to minimize a negative opinion of you over your doing what is in the best interest of your business. You stop building and get small in an attempt to manage the entitlement.

So instead of wondering what the hell is wrong with YOU and analyzing all your nonexistent missteps, you can play within this system with more authority. You are going to be underestimated, devalued, and dismissed at times. Let’s not let you do that to yourself as well. What an unprecedented time to be a woman. Archaic belief systems, structures, and formal education have socialized us into believing that our ability to build is limited to certain circumstances. This is changing. Slowly. But if you wait for the world to change around you, you will not have your biggest life. Change what you do and the world around you will change. I am not here to get you to join a movement to break down those structures, although many of you may do that directly or indirectly. I am here to help you to take control of your own thinking and story, rather than the one you’ve accepted from someone else, and in doing so, build new structures.

Many days my eyes well up hearing stories about women’s grit, fire, pain, and how they gracefully keep on keepin’ on. Women who, despite fear, still manage to take that step, enter that room, make that leap, steady that pulse, take that seat, channel that energy, raise that hand, wage that ask, defend that “no” . . . and so grow. Becoming daily, breathing, living testaments of strength.

So let’s get smart. Whip smart. Let’s make this OUR time. 

Today’s New-Fashioned Women

In light of all this information, here is a temperature check on how women are truly feeling about themselves, their community, and the world at large. The agency I founded, Grayce & Co, in partnership with the market research firm BeaconInsight, polled two thousand women ages eighteen to thirty-four. While some of this may sound obvious, I believe it is worth covering, so you are reminded you are not alone. I’ve often felt like I’m unique in my habits, thoughts, or struggles, but there are certain shared experiences. Our research revealed five key paradoxes that define us:

1. We are aware of the bleak reality of our country, but less worried about it.

Despite increased awareness of the dire circumstances in the United States in particular, we recognize the power we have to effect change. And in light of chaos and turmoil, we are intensely optimistic when it comes to our own futures and are motivated to take even more agency over our own lives.

2. We want to be sexy but not sexualized.

We do not wish to be sexualized, although we are proud to have a healthy sex life (lots of sex and good sex at that). We seek to define sexuality on our own terms. We are open-minded, sexually liberated, and not ashamed about it.

3. We are fiercely independent but also dependent.

We crave authentic connection but are also more reliant on technology than any other generation, spending 6.5 hours per week on social media alone. And while 100 percent of the women we spoke to said they could not live without family and friends, 80 percent feel misunderstood by others.

4. We feel in charge but also see obstacles outside our control.

We are cognizant of barriers we face, such as sexism and job market challenges, but we remain optimistic. We put our career and/or personal development ahead of marriage. We are inspired by possibility and want to live outside our comfort zone. According to our research, half of the women polled mention that ongoing learning and growth are top priorities, while 100 percent of women polled value career or pursuing a degree and state that being non- conformist and finding their own path is important, but they still want to feel like they belong in society.

5. We value holistic well-being but struggle to stay healthy.

We prioritize exercise as a means of self-care, not as a form of body manipulation. Nine of ten women we interviewed pursue good health so they can be successful in other areas of life. However, while 60 percent state that health and holistic well-being are essential, they struggle to find time and energy to manage their health and well-being.

Overall, our research indicates that we are multidimensional and have a fluid definition of self. We want to be supported and nourished in our complexity. We reject labels, because we cannot be easily defined. We loathe being pigeonholed, judged, or stereotyped. Know you’re not alone.

Excerpted from Build Like a Woman: The Blueprint for Creating a Business and Life You Love. Copyright @ 2024 by Kathleen Griffith. Photography Copyright © 2024  Reproduced by permission of St. Martin’s Essentials, an imprint of St.Martin’s Publishing Group. All rights reserved.