This may sound preposterous and awfully old-fashioned, but some professional women today, Gen-X and Millennials, did not grow up with the kind of female role models we needed. Some of us who grew up in the 80s, 90s and Oughties had families that looked a bit like throwbacks from Mad Men (or the Donna Reed show; Google it). Perhaps we did not excel at math, science or team sports. Perhaps mom didn’t work outside the home, or if she did, she hated her job.
Bless our mothers – because whether they were happy in their roles or not, they encouraged us to get a good education and find the fulfillment that eluded them.
So, we get good grades, which leads to a good job. Awesome! Maybe not. We get into our first “good jobs” and walk into a left hook. We who did not have successful professional older woman role models in youth have a deep gaping hole of unconscious uncompetence. School was a breeze, but we suck at getting along in the professional world, and we have no idea why. We feel left out of the boys’ club, and worse, shunned by the mean girls. WTF?
As time passes, we take it on the chin a few times. We make mistakes, and live them down (eventually). We cry to our mothers who don’t really know what to say. We whine to our friends who are sympathetic but don’t understand why we’re so different.
Eventually, we become more resilient. Hopefully, we retain our beautiful doe-eyed sensitivity instead of judging ourselves for being “weak.”
After we dust ourselves off, we have a new homework assignment: choose your own adventure, guided by female role models of your choosing. Nothing against celebrities, performing artists and athletes, as many of them do many wonderful things for humanity with their fame and money, but I challenge you to name a few women in other industries and in other leadership roles.
When you have a challenge in your work or career, go back to your list and ask yourself what any one of them would do. And then do what YOU would do, knowing that you are supported in this day and age to be YOU and excel in your career, business and life.
Even over the course of my 12-year law career, I have watched a shift away from women in law acting “like men to get ahead” (in negative, fear-based ways) toward just being themselves, bringing their inherent feminine perspective and wisdom to the job, and not having any qualms about that. Law is a great profession for women. And if you can’t find a hospitable workplace, you can choose your own adventure and create your own, like I have.
Here are a few for starters. This list is not meant to be exhaustive.
Gloria Steinem, the Second Wave feminist leader, because she had the courage to call out the way our culture did not regard women as full citizens and complete human beings. She had the courage and insight to say what needed to be said. It had influence. I was born in 1978, when the Second Wave of feminism was in full force. I can credit Gloria at least somewhat for my growing up in a world where it is possible for me to enjoy and excel in traditionally masculine work such as practicing law.
What impresses me about Gloria is her ability to let herself evolve over the course of her life. She told Barbara Walters: “I didn't change. Marriage changed. We spent 30 years in the United States changing the marriage laws. If I had married when I was supposed to get married, I would have lost my name, my legal residence, my credit rating, many of my civil rights. That's not true anymore. It's possible to make an equal marriage.”
“I hope this proves what feminists have always said — that feminism is about the ability to choose what’s right at each time of our lives.”
Michelle Obama. An accomplished lawyer in her own right, she was actually Barack’s supervisor when they first met!
Mireille Guiliano, the author of French Women Don’t Get Fat and other books, who has a happy life outside work and has a brilliant career story. She is all about joie de vivre in one’s career and living, proving that you don’t have to neglect life’s joys to get somewhere.
Megyn Kelly. What a transformation in how she’s stood up to the old boys’ club at Fox News. I would like to see her evolve into a centrist voice of reason (but of course, it is completely up to her as to how she wants to evolve).
Do you want to thrive in your profession while still being true to yourself? Feeling like you could use a bit of a morale boost to do it? I’ve walked this path and I can help you on yours. Learn more here.
Image credit: The Graphics Fairy / public domain clip art