We’ve come a long way – or have we?

Last week I had the opportunity to do another presentation on Women and Leadership. And although I have done this presentation several times over the past eight years, every time is different and every time I come away with a different perspective.

I have crafted the presentation to cover the history of barriers that women have faced on the pathways to leadership – from not having the right to vote or hold public office by law (repealed in 1920) to not having access to prestigious universities: Harvard (1963), Princeton and Stanford (1969) to the US military academy (1975). I also cover the barrier of the right to equal pay (granted in 1963 as part of the Civil Rights Amendment) and other less overt barriers such as how innate sexual characteristics equate to leadership expectations and the delicate balancing act for women leaders.

I am always amazed at how most of the women I present to are not aware that these barriers existed and were removed less than 100 years ago. I guess when you grow up with access to certain rights and privileges, it is easy to assume that they always existed. And although many barriers have been removed, women still average 80 cents on the dollar to what a man makes, spend on average 1.7 hours doing house work to a every one hour spent by a man, spend 2.1 hours in childcare to every one hour spent by a man and often assume the primary responsibility of caring for her aging parents and quite often her spouse’s parents as well. In a world that still quite often defines success as giving your time primarily to your job, this presents quite a conundrum for a woman trying to achieve her leadership goals.

And although this may sound hopeless, all you have to do is have one young woman sit in on your presentation and get it. I had that last week. She was the room host for my presentation and at the end of it she told the whole room that she had no idea of the barriers women had to overcome and the challenges that still exist in both the domestic and economic realms of their lives. She also did not know that the rules of the game were different for women leaders than for men and she felt energized to know that she was going to go into the working world with information that would help her navigate the personal labyrinth she will face on the road to achieving her leadership goals. She said felt better prepared to work with both men and women.

I had tears in my eyes to say the least. That is what it is all about. It’s not about radicalism or men bashing – its about understanding where you’ve come from, where you’re going, the challenges that still exist and how in your own unique situation you can overcome them. And when you feel like you are helping those just coming of age, that is such a gift. God, I love the education process!

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