By Patricia and Barbara Moser, authors of 1 Piece of Advice: Exceptional Women from Around the Globe Inspire You to Unlock Your Potential
The dialogue needs to change.
Women are constantly inundated with studies and anecdotal commentary that show how women haven't achieved a presence in the upper echelons of corporations or in other career pursuits. Many discussions have taken place and many rationales have been offered up as to why this is, and there are numerous suggestions on how to alter this trend.
As long as the focus is on "haven't" or "can't," this will continue to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. You've probably read:
• Research by Catalyst that suggests that at the current rate of change, it will take women 73 and 47 years respectively to reach parity with men in the boardroom and as corporate officers in Fortune 500 companies.
• The article in Harvard Business Review titled "Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership" detailing the barriers women face in climbing the corporate ladder.
• That female doctors are paid less than male counterparts, according to a joint study by University of Michigan Health System and Duke University.
An antidote to this negativism needs to be found, as after reading articles and statistics like those mentioned above, it is easy for women to determine that it is not worth trying -- the future is already in the cards.
This is not to say that there are an overwhelming number of women who have "made it" and that the barriers for women to achieve success are illusionary. Women will face obstacles on the pathway to success that are simply not present for men. Yet the reality is that women have achieved the extraordinary in many different fields of endeavor across the globe. Unfortunately, most of us haven't heard about them. Why? Because women are often quite satisfied in making a positive difference in the world with little or no fanfare. As Virginia Woolf once famously said, "throughout history, anonymous was a woman." So what is the difference between those women who have achieved significance and success and those who haven't? There are several traits that these women possess such as persistence, resilience, confidence and passion, and seeing obstacles as opportunities waiting to happen.
How many times have we driven too fast, focused on large highway signs and missed the desired off-ramp because we missed the less obvious arrow at the side of the road? Unfortunately, the road to success is often marked in the small print, not with a neon sign.
"The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up," says astronaut, engineer, physician, dancer and entrepreneur, Dr. Mae Jemison, who has found success in many different arenas. Her amazing journey from the south side of Chicago to becoming the first woman of color in space reveals that she created her own pathway to success. She allowed herself to take advantage of every opportunity offered to her and refused to let obstacles block her in her pursuits.
Never Take a Job for the Pay or Title
Southwest Airlines is the most profitable airline in the U.S. with the fewest number of customer complaints. This is in no small part due to Colleen Barrett, President Emeritus, who guided Southwest for over 30 years, and was considered the "beating heart" of the company. Her devotion to the welfare of her employees and their well being is what ensured that Southwest could continue to operate profitably and without diminishing the customer experience, whilst other airlines floundered. To ensure success, Colleen advises:
Never take a job for the pay or title -- take it only because you have a passion for the cause to which the company or organization is dedicated. Then it just doesn't feel like work and you will find that success is easily attained because you are completely committed to what you are doing.
Everything is Possible
Most of us do not have to worry when we pursue our career that we may be killed because of it. However, this is the reality for Dr. Sima Samar, the Chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. She fled Afghanistan for Pakistan during the Russian invasion after her husband was rounded up and arrested with over 500 other educated people. He was never heard from again.
Dr. Samar is the founder of the Shuhada Organization, which ran the only high schools that girls were able to attend in the country during the Taliban's regime. The organization also ran underground home school classes for girls in Kabul. Her advice to women is as follows: "Build our capacity and self confidence -- everything is possible. It might be difficult, but not impossible."
From a woman who has paid a heavy price for her commitment on a personal level, this is advice that truly resonates. Dr. Samar has said that her work may only be a drop in the ocean, but at least she feels that that drop is something positive.
Avoid the Naysayers
How often have we stopped before we've even begun? "Chicken Littles" abound and warn us of potential dire consequences. Others are quick to raise an eyebrow at an idea or concept, making us doubt our ideas, our dreams and following the well-worn path instead of that which is less or has never been travelled.
"Believe in yourself and your aspirations. Don't let doubts or naysayers stop you from achieving your dreams" says Heather Reisman, CEO of the largest book retailer in Canada and one of its most successful entrepreneurs. She knows about naysayers, yet at each turn in the road she recognized her own best route to success. As she says, "The only difference between those who do, and those who don't, is that those who do-do!"
A lot of our doubts and so-called naysayers are coming from report upon report from researchers and the media. Women still face obstacles to attaining significance and success, but we need to start focusing on those who have achieved the pinnacle and what it is that allowed them to do so. There is no question that there is still a long way to go and that we need to continue to do research to understand the gaps. However, let's start tempering the "can'ts" and "haven'ts" with "haves" and "can."
Let's change the dialogue.