We Are All Wonder Women
It’s 2018, and the need to advance women in the workplace is still ever present. Recent decades have certainly yielded progress, but too many unacceptable issues remain unsolved. From sexual harassment to gender pay gaps and more, the fight continues. As we push for fair and equitable treatment, it’s also important to remember that female support systems should be part of the equation.
Far too many women in the workforce navigate their careers without the benefit of mentors. Mentorships, both formal and informal, provide opportunities to build relationships that help younger or less experienced professionals better navigate the workplace and personal career development. This is by no means the single key to advancement, but it’s one we shouldn’t overlook.
Those of us who can provide guidance and be supportive can make a critical difference in the professional development of others, yet too few of us assume the role of mentor. Some of my most rewarding moments are those spent with mentees because both mentors and mentees benefit from the relationship. Mentees learn, expand their networks, and develop their skills and abilities to navigate the workplace. Mentors learn as well and are fulfilled by using their power to reach back and help a younger professional move forward. Decades later, my mentors are still my champions and my dear friends, and when I pay it forward by mentoring others, I do it in honor of them. Women mentoring women is powerful and rewarding; it’s also critical for preparing women for leadership.
Female leaders in the workforce face similar challenges as our newer counterparts. Some of the challenges are squarely external, like not being treated equally or being ignored or dismissed in non-inclusive environments. Some of the challenges are internalized because of the environments we’ve faced, like being resolute in our confidence as leaders. Let’s face it: women are still getting used to formally being in leadership, and society is still getting used to it, too. We often underestimate our own abilities. Being confident leaders, owning and standing in our own success, and trusting our own voices is often a journey for female leaders; it certainly was for me. Although difficult, the journey was filled with lessons.
For example, having worked with legislatures, I’ve definitely been the only woman in the room more times than I care to count. Not always comfortable, it heightened my awareness and taught me about the need for inclusive leadership and helping everyone in a room feel involved. Because women are sometimes judged for speaking up, it’s important to encourage and create a path for their participation. When I lead group conversations, for example, I focus on providing space to give everyone a voice, especially those women who may hold back because prior experiences have been less than fair. I also find it helpful to emphasize the performance of others, especially the women in the room, so there are no questions about the deep experience and expertise they bring to the table. I’m always hopeful that building respect for their accomplishments also builds respect for what they contribute at the table.
As women, we also don’t often advocate for ourselves. This has been a tough one for me and for many women I know and respect, and not making the case for ourselves doesn’t help advance the issues we care about, like the gender pay gap. We know too well that women are generally paid less than men for the same work. Even in female dominated arenas, like the nonprofit sector, it’s still the case; women are not treated as equals.
Regardless of the challenges, women lifting up other women is essential to moving equal rights forward. Whether we do so as mentors, advocates, or leaders, women in leadership have a special responsibility to support our sisters and create inclusive environments that help them succeed.
My hearty thanks to Americans for the Arts for initiating this blog series in celebration of women. In fact, I’ll close my comments in celebration of women. During the 2018 International Women’s Day, I happened upon artwork online entitled We are all Wonder Women! With permission from its creators, Catherine and Sarah Satrun, I’m pleased to share it with you. It provided fun inspiration here at the NASAA office, and even an impromptu “I’m Every Woman” dance party in my office. I hope it inspires you, too.
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