Behold the power of social media! Until a few years ago, I didn’t even know that March is Women’s History Month and that there’s an International Women’s Day. This year I was hashtag blessed with learning the history of International Women’s Day. Color me delighted to find out that it began as a demonstration for the working conditions of women textile workers. However, my personal affinity for textile workers of the Gilded Age will have to wait until another post. (Next year, ladies!)
This year, I also had the honor of being sponsored to attend the Power Up! Summit, a women’s leadership conference hosted by Florida International University. In retrospect, I am very pleased that I didn’t hesitate for a single moment to take up the offer. The validation for the path I’ve chosen as well as the kind of leader I want to be was priceless. So much so that I took notes all day long in order to distill what I was taking away from the experience in the moment.
I recently had a conversation with one of my online friends regarding why a non-conformist and self-described leftist with demonstrable issues with authority would enter the corporate world. And while that could also be it’s own blog post, it comes down to my experience with power dynamics as a woman in a society in flux. For the most part, much of the data-driven research on work, economics, and leadership validated my instincts on why paradigms of the past felt so distasteful. However, these archaic paradigms that largely served people who aren’t like me still exist. There are very few models of how new ideas in leadership actually look like and work in real life. Which is what makes conferences like this so powerful: they fill gaps for the sparse practical examples of what people like me want to do. And the following are my key takeaways for how people like me get there.
Make choices for the life you want.
Anyone who knows me personally knows that I walked away from a relationship just short of our sixth anniversary in early 2018. At that moment in time, that relationship was no longer serving the life I am working my ass off for. It was the most equally scared and liberated I have ever felt. I had to come to terms that I needed to be more flexible with how the life I would want could actually look like. This exercise is generally reflected in the ever present, rather empty question of “how can women have it all?” When this question came up at the conference, the resounding response was to define what having it all actually means for you.
In terms of being in a relationship, find a partner you can communicate with and who will work with you. The experience of my last relationship was that I was expected to carry more weight than I could handle and could not get him to compromise with me in any meaningful way. In many respects this is a learned behavior that male partners in hetero-normative relationships have yet to unlearn. However, it is not your responsibility to teach them if they are unwilling to unpack this behavior. So if you haven’t found a partner that can meet the challenges of a modern relationship, it is important to learn for yourself how to be content with being alone.
When it came to children (and in a way, this can apply to childless relationships, too): You don’t have to be there for everything, just be there for the things that matter. In matters of work-life balance, this principle applies both ways. Is that meeting worth missing a big dance recital? Is that soccer practice worth missing an opportunity for a new project?
Build your tribe and support it.
One of the more interesting factoids I got to walk away with was that, in terms of economic and labor, there simply is not enough of us. The opening keynote speaker recommended the following TED Talk that speaks to the data behind this:
The logical conclusion would be that, not only do you belong, industry needs you. And there is plenty of room for all of us. This past weekend I was at WordCamp Miami where Josepha Haden, the Executive Director of WordPress, held a Q&A. More than once she mentioned, as a woman of color who wanted help getting to where she is and not finding any, it was important to her to reach back and help other people like her. While men have had established networks they’ve been leveraging for years, this is an activity that women should be particularly strong in as building supportive social networks is the flip side of how boys and girls are socialized differently.
Ebony Smith captured this by describing her accountability network. Many of the other women also mentioned how their neighbors and coworkers would help each other with juggling around children. More importantly, there were several points in various conversations that emphasized not only mentoring other women, but hitching your wagon sort of speak to rising stars and sponsoring them as well. From personal experience, there is nothing more empowering than supporting your sisters.* There’s a good reason why drunk girls in the bathroom are such powerful encounters and its because women supporting women is a mood enhancing drug.
(*Not just your cis-ters :winky-face:)
Pay your dues, but don’t dull your shine.
Sponsorship came up more than once because research has shown that women are over-mentored and under-sponsored. As far as attracting the sponsors you want you need to work hard and pay your dues. This means giving credit where credit is due, but doing the leg work to promote your successes until that self-promotion attracts a sponsor to do the promotion for you.
A caveat here: any woman who has ever been called “too bossy,” “too opinionated,” or “too much” knows that it can be easy to fall into a trap of discouragement and self-doubt. Take what lessons you can from those moments, but don’t let them dull your shine. You can both remain humble and acknowledge your own contributions. When you get invited to the table, it’s because you have something to say.
You may have noticed that this came off a little as a pep-talk. That’s because it is and it’s a pep-talk I need for myself. My hope is that sharing it will also serve other people.