Last weekend, my 10-year-old daughter and I snuggled on the couch and watched Hidden Figures. If you’re the one person left in the country who hasn’t seen it, the movie, based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, tells the story of the critical role female African American mathematicians played in the nation’s space program in the early 1960’s. In segregated Virginia, these women faced overwhelming discrimination—and yet they overcame relentless obstacles to advocate for themselves and their work. They took risks to make their voices heard. They had the foresight to think ten steps ahead of the white men in charge. And they had the loyalty to bring their colleagues and friends along in their journey.
My eyes welled up as the opening credits rolled (at which point my daughter grabbed my hand) and I’ve been wearing my emotions outside of my skin ever since. The beautiful storytelling struck me at my core and reminded me—I’m exactly where I need to be in my career—supporting women to find their voices and their confidence, to become the leaders they want to be. And as the mother of two daughters, I’m driven to figure out a way to spark this confidence, determination and leadership in my girls early and often.
As with any parent, I don’t always get it right, but here’s where I focus my energy when I feel like I’m killing it as Mom and Chief.
1. Understand your past
I wouldn’t be where I am now, a business owner, a woman with a voice and the belief that gender equality will be a reality in my lifetime—without the millions of women who fought to get here. From the Suffragettes, to Coretta Scott King, to Gloria Steinem, to Margaret Sanger to Bell Hooks to Malala Yousafzai to countless others. We are standing on the shoulders of these powerful women and must deeply understand what they fought against and the successful tactics they used because these fights are not over. While we have made tremendous progress, these battles are in front of us yet again. For my daughters, that means I must provide their feminist education with inspiring and exciting books about our foremothers. It means, that both my husband and I plant seeds in conversations about how far we’ve come and the pride we have in that journey.
2. Dream big
I’m grateful to have had parents and an extended family that told me I could be whatever I wanted to be. As a child of the 70’s, I danced around my room to Marlo Thomas’, "Free To Be You and Me" and man, did I take it seriously! And while I was unsuccessful in getting my girls interested in the classic album (sigh), they’ve internalized Marlo’s message because it’s in my DNA and in my every move in creating a business and forging my own path. We take our dreaming to the next level by visualizing what it looks like to actually achieve those goals, breaking them down into small steps. "Ok, you want to be a singer. Let’s sign you up for singing lessons or a chorus so you can see if it’s something you enjoy doing. People who become singers do both of these things." Even if my daughter doesn’t become a singer, she’s learning at 10-years old that you can break your big dreams into small steps and in taking those small steps, you can learn if this goal is the right one for you.
3. Challenge the status quo
Our girls who are following all the rules and achieving high honors in school aren’t succeeding at the same rate in their professional lives. In her Huffington Post piece, "The Dark Side of Girls Success In School", Tara Mohr suggests that our "good girl", rule-following approach to girls’ school achievement is not the necessary skillset needed for career success. Mohr writes, "To blaze a trail, women and men need to know how to experiment with their ideas when they are messy and imperfect. They need an ability to take considered risks, challenge authority and respond to criticism with a thick skin." In parenting practice, you can imagine this approach can create quite a conundrum! If we teach our kids to challenge the rules, will they ever do what we ask them to do? And the answer is, maybe. You can begin to spark this conversation around hot parenting topics like bullying, peer pressure, honesty and doing what you believe is right even when people in authority are not. Yes, this may come back to you when you’re laying down the law—but parenting need not be a democracy. When homework needs to be finished and school must be attended to on time, opinions can be voiced and validated, but the parenting loophole of, "this must be done" can supersede all else. The trick is to provide your kids with the flexibility to practice taking risks in an environment where you can support them in the face of fears that arise.
4. Be you and only you
Your daughter has a unique perspective and filter through which she sees the world. By helping her tap into her intuition, find her authentic voice and create ways to express it often even in the face of fears—she will continue to develop the type of confidence she needs to excel in her career. I began to understand this only about six years ago. After one of the larger presentations I gave to senior leaders as a digital marketer, I received the following feedback from my supervisor, "Your unscripted moments were far better than your scripted moments." In other words, when I was myself, trusting in what I knew—I was stronger and more confident in my work. While I often wish I’d learned this lesson earlier (which is why I incorporate it into my parenting), I’m glad I know it now and can bring that nugget into my preparation for any coaching session, workshop, keynote speech and relationship.
While I have the same challenges of other working parents--getting the kids out the door in the morning for school, teaching my girls to choose kindness with each other instead of deploying an elbow—the moments when I see my 7-year-old use her brilliant comic timing to put a smile on our faces after a tough day or when my fourth grader turned business coach tells me not to offer my services for free—no matter what—I know something’s working.