Women as Leaders

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Given that March is Women’s History Month, and based on recent blog posts on various leadership blogs, I thought it might be interesting this week to reflect upon the female leaders in our lives. One blog in particular, Lip-Sticking, focuses on women’s issues and women’s roles in society, particularly as leaders and businesswomen. I enjoy it because it often makes me reflect upon how I can be a strong, female leader in my generation and an example for younger generations, especially if I am fortunate enough to one day have a daughter.

One question I have for all of you this week is: what woman in your life do you perceive to be a leader? Do they lead out loud, or in a more silent, powerful manner? I fondly recall one of my high school English professors, a woman named Dr. Conway, who lead in a silent but very powerful way. She was quite the feminist and ever the intellectual, and really spurred my passion for literature into action. She left my sophomore English class with many words of wisdom, including the insight to never feel limited by the roles people saw for us. If men or even other women perceived us a certain way, she dared us to break that mold and show that we were more than what they thought. I always appreciate that one of the ways she saw for us to do this was education, and that she lead by example with a Ph.D in English Literature!

Speaking of perceptions, there was an interesting article posted on Lip-Sticking on March 2 entitled “Copping Out of Opting Out.” It addresses the idea that many women choose to “opt out” of the workplace still in favor of raising children and focusing on family, or taking on other ventures, and that other women often opt out of the professional areas they have come to dominate. This latter category includes women such as Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey, both of whom recently chose to break out of their comfortable roles in daytime TV, in which they were prominent leaders, to try something new. The author of the article, Yvonne DiVita, goes against what many critics are saying about them now and asserts that just because “their new endeavors are not yet wildly successful, is not to say they don’t still deserve our admiration.”

These women and other powerhouses like them are enduring struggles just as they first did when they entered their original professions. Just because they chose to break out of the roles in which we are comfortable seeing them does not mean we should write them off as failures. Rather, we (men and women alike) should all be so brave to break outside of the mold and past our comfort zone to become leaders in a new field. Even if we fail, we can still lead by example and pick ourselves up again, learning from our mistakes and becoming better people and leaders for it.

So I pose the following questions to the class this week: what women leaders make or made a difference in your life? What kind of leaders are/were they? And what role, if any, do you think you need to or want to break out of in your personal/professional lives? I still sometimes find myself arguing with my mother and grandmother about the concept of “having it all”–a family and a successful professional life, and I’m working to find a balance of both.

Image courtesy www.oprah.com