I grew up being told I could be whatever I wanted to be. I think most of us older Millennials did — we had parents who had witnessed firsthand just how far a good work ethic and determination could get them, and they truly believed the sky was the limit. So they passed it on to us.
It didn’t matter if you were a woman or a man. In fact, I was so sheltered from understanding just how one’s sex, race, religion, etc. can be perceived, that I kind of dismissed people who made a fuss about inequality, because it just seemed so 1985.
Well, a few recent societal happenings, coupled with my own personal experiences, have led me to believe that it all comes full circle. Women may not have as secure of a leadership spot in our country, our corporations and our communities as we all assumed. And maybe the equality we grew up believing in so confidently, is really more frail than we ever thought.
I know what you’re thinking. I’m about to blame Donald Trump. While you’re not totally wrong, I don’t think he’s to blame — one man cannot change our society’s perceptions overnight. (I believe he can worsen them over time, but that’s another conversation.) However, his views and the example he gave us as a male business tycoon has brought forth a scary reality that’s more prevalent than we think.
You see, there’s this kind of man. He’s wildly successful on paper — a company leader, a ruthless profit seeker. But he carries with him the dated perceptions of just how far women can really go. You’ll know him by his lifestyle — he has a family, but never sees them, and work always comes first. No exceptions.
I’m lucky, because I work at a company filled with strong female leaders. In fact, my CEO is a woman — the one swiftly responsible for making my agency one of the fastest growing in the industry. I’m incredibly proud of that.
But just because you don’t work for this kind of man, doesn’t mean you won’t meet him. I’ve met him more recently than I ever have — in partner companies, vendors and others I interact with. The first few times — it caught me off-guard. Being talked down to, dismissed, overlooked in meetings. Once, after a particularly heated conference call with one of these men, I even had a male colleague say to me, “Wow, I can’t believe he talked to you like that. Was that guy sexist or what?”
Yep, they’re still out there. And while it scares me, it also fires me up.
It fires me up because I work my ass off. Because I’m smart. Because I deserve to be where I am.
I will be a working mom that sets a great example for the women below me. Not because I de-prioritize my family. Because I value both.
I will be a great leader and mentor for my teams. Because I care about people, and believe collaborative environments drive success.
And I will hold the people in my life accountable — professionally and personally. Because if I’m giving it my all, why should someone else get to give 50%?
On the brink of the first female president, I hope that driven, successful women everywhere help remind the Donald Trumps of the world that this is happening. We’re not just some box checked by company leadership. The world needs women. And I think our generation — the next wave of corporate, political and community leaders (and moms!) — has an opportunity to make that more real than ever.
Go get ’em.
Update: This post was obviously written prior to Trump winning the election, which to me, seemed utterly impossible at the time. When he won, I found myself going back and re-reading this post to remind myself of my convictions — which have not (and should not) change. Just because our nation’s leader — and those that have crawled out from under a rock to support him — still believe in outdated mantras about women and diversity doesn’t mean we can let it undo the societal progress we’ve made. I’m ashamed that this man is our president, but proud of the way it’s rallied Americans together in unity. We can’t let up.