I thought that I was done, for the time being, on themes related to International Women’s Day. I’m not. I am deeply troubled by trends I am witnessing in my personal and professional life. Trends in disturbing testimonials given by women navigating their career paths. Trends in tyrannical experiences with female leaders. Trends in the absence of backing by executive women. I am witnessing a dearth of empathy, compassion and support between women, for women, by women. This conduct is evident in business meetings, the media and socially distanced chats.
Decades ago, when I was challenging the glass ceiling, there were two key barriers. The most prevalent was my invisibility as a potential leader. A pat on the head and a little more money to reward me for how well I was doing was the extent of recognition. Followed by incredulity when I said that money wasn’t what I wanted. The second hurdle was the female leaders — there were very few — who rolled up the ladder behind them. Their success was hard-fought. They chose to make sacrifices. They governed over their turf with an imaginary electrified fence. They might pick a favoured underling to mentor. It wasn’t a young woman. The unspoken message was one of competitive advantage not to be shared.
Fast forward 20 years later. I am saddened and perplexed that so little has changed. I speak, write and endeavour to model empowerment and possibility. And I evangelize the creation of communities of females supporting each other. Instead, there seems to be a scarcity of women in leadership willing to silence their egos so they might provide compassion and guidance to aspiring women. Rather than women advocating for each other, trusting and empowering their sisters, there is skepticism and intolerance. The mean girls grew into adults. And bullied their way into positions of power.
Not everywhere, not always. Enough to be alarming. Enough to provoke questions. Enough to reflect. Are the quotas organizations are mandating creating additional pressure on females? Are women being promoted before they are ready? Are they being evaluated for personal readiness to lead? Or are they being rewarded for their revenue generation? Are women being set up to succeed as leaders? Or appointed and challenged?
I am a product of my childhood. I grew up with messaging that my voice wasn’t relevant at the dinner table. Decisions were made by men. Educating women was considered superfluous in a household of brothers, a military father and an unhappy mother. I have worked to heal from the negative messaging and resentment housed within my mother’s own childhood experiences. And showing up in how she parented her daughter. We are a generation that can choose to change the dialogue. Change the belief system and stories we tell ourselves.
For the past eight weeks, I have been part of a women’s writing workshop. It is the brainchild of an award-winning journalist and author. She has willingly left the ladder down, even added a rung for some of us struggling to catch hold of our writing voices. She has generously shared her wisdom, her failures and her current struggles. She has led us with humility, grace and compassion. Under her guidance, we have written and shared with each other. Voices thick and strained, tears spilling, wondering as we read aloud if our work is believable and worthy. The outpouring of spontaneous praise, encouragement, and feedback is the gift of taking the risk. Individual success is ours to share.
I am asking women to leave the ladder down. Provide extra rungs if they are needed. Provide a push from the bottom and a hand down from the top. Provide energy to create a collective of women supporting each other. United in numbers, we can challenge bias, disparity and our own potential.
At least, that is my experience.