I muttered "What the f**k?!" so many times while reading Julie Zeilinger's recent Forbes piece, "Why Millennial Women Don't Want to Lead," that I almost got kicked out of Starbucks.
Julie, a 19-year-old Barnard student, argues that young women of our generation shy away from leadership roles because they don't consider themselves "perfect enough" to lead. She identifies societal pressure for women to be perfect and the supposed subsequent lack of self-esteem it breeds in us as the reasons why Millennial women "choose" not to lead.
The pressure to be perfect certainly exists, and I agree with Julie that women are often more likely to not consider themselves ready for leadership roles because they aren't perfectly qualified. But thinking you're not ready for a position and not wanting it are two entirely different things.
To say that Millennial women don't want to lead is at best wrong -- just look at the comments from other Millennial women on Julie's post -- and at worse, damaging to the cause of equal opportunity. By perpetuating the myth that women on whole prefer to be in the background, playing the supporter or follower role, Julie harms the work that generations of women and men have done to prove that neither gender is homogeneous in its desires -- and neither has a monopoly on leadership ability.
I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by incredible Millennial women who have aggressively pursued and achieved leadership roles. The CEO of Mobilize.org (where I work), Maya Enista Smith, is a powerhouse in the nonprofit community. Then there's the White House Project, which seeks to advance leadership of women in business in politics, led by the incredible Tiffany Dufu. And the story of the week has been Yahoo's appointment of Marrisa Mayer, a 37-year-old pregnant woman, as its new CEO. These women may or may not consider themselves perfect, but they certainly want to lead, and they've worked hard to do so.
The real issue isn't a lack of desire in Millennial women to be leaders -- it's a lack of access to leadership positions. Because it's still a man's world, where men hold the vast majority of leadership positions, breaking in to the upper echelon presents a unique set of challenges for women -- stereotypes to overcome, different societal expectations of work/life balance and a lack of other females as mentors and in-house validators to help bring us up the ladder. Plain and simple, women have to work harder to get to the top.
Instead of blaming each other and ourselves for the dearth of Millennial women at the top of organizations, in Congress or on boards, we should be working hard to mentor each other, fundraising for female candidates, improving the work environment to allow men and women equal opportunities to be active participants in family life and educating our male friends and colleagues on what they can do to make the next generation of leaders more diverse.
As a start, Julie -- you're invited to Mobilize.org's upcoming summit in North Carolina, which will convene Millennial leaders from across the country to ignite a conversation about how to get even more of us engaged as leaders in our communities. I guarantee that you will be overwhelmed and inspired by the number of intrepid women you will meet who are driven to become leaders in their fields and on their campuses. Send me a note at goodwin at mobilize dot org if you're interested.
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