It occurred to me recently that most of the people I've been gathering wisdom and inspiration from are women. In the past, I've often read quotes from my favorite guys -- you know, Winston Churchill, Gandhi, FDR, Teddy Roosevelt, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Jon Stewart.
Lately, I've found myself so inspired by women and the work that they are doing in the world -- especially in light of the fact that the statistics about women are often bleak:
- Of 195 independent countries in the world, only 17 are led by women.
- Women hold 20% of seats in Parliaments globally.
- In 2010, U.S. women earned 77 cents for every dollar that men earn
- 21 of the Fortune 500 CEO's are women.
- Women hold only 3% of the positions of power in the mainstream media; entertainment, telecommunications, publishing and advertising.
- Women hold about 14% of executive officer positions, 17% of board seats and 18% of our elected congressional officials.
- The gap is even worse for women of color. They hold 4% of top corporate jobs, 3% of board seats and 5% of congressional seats.
Despite these rather dismal figures, women are leading the way in so many areas, both on a world-wide stage and as community leaders. Here is a short list of list of women who are accomplishing great things:
"I think that if you live long enough, you realize that so much of what happens in life is out of your control, but how you respond to it is in your control. That's what I try to remember."
I always knew that Hillary Clinton was smart and talented, but for a long time I saw her as a victim. As soon as she ran for the Senate in 2001, all of that changed and the real Hillary came out of the shadows. Each year, she has grown in stature and become a powerful stateswoman, a role model for women. Whether or not she runs for President, she has proven to us that our true natures may sometimes be buried under the challenges of life, but eventually, they shine through.
Hillary Clinton has learned how to handle her critics and prove just how smart she really is. For decades, she has been a true advocate for women and families and she understands the challenges we are facing in this country and around the world. She just announced that she is going to be writing a book on foreign policy. I love that at 65, she is not slowing down.
"You can tell people of the need to struggle, but when the powerless start to see that they really can make a difference, nothing can quench the fire."
If I had to say who my hero is right now, the person I most admire, I would probably choose Leymah Gbowee, at one time a "homeless, angry, desperate 25-year-old mother of four," who 15 years later, went on to win the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for her work in ending a brutal civil war in Liberia. In fact, Leymah shared that prize with two other women as it was awarded jointly to her, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (the President of Liberia) and Tawakkol Karman (known as the "Mother of the Revolution" in Yemen). They were honored "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work."
Gbowee continues her work as a peace activist and her story is truly a miracle. If you want to know more about this remarkable woman, watch the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell and read her memoir, Mighty Be Our Powers.
"Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It's just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy."
Pema Chodron has been writing about Buddhism for over twenty years and I find her clarity and wisdom always brings me comfort. She discovered Buddhism after her husband left her for another woman and she could not recover from the betrayal. She started studying Buddhism and then became a Buddhist nun and began writing about it in the most accessible and beautiful way. I carry her writings with me all the time and in the darkest of times in my life, I found tremendous comfort in her words.
"Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy -- the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light."
Leading a whole-hearted life requires vulnerability and taking risks. Brown refers to herself as a storyteller, but as a result of over ten years of studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame, this professor and researcher has collected groundbreaking information about how vulnerability opens us up to joy, how shame is a common and debilitating factor in so many lives. Her books, like The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly, should be on everyone's nightstand.
"Good is towing the line, being behaved, being quiet, being passive, fitting in, being liked, and great is being messy, having a belly, speaking your mind, standing up for what you believe in, fighting for another paradigm, not letting people talk you out of what you know to be true."
I have admired Eve Ensler since I first saw her perform "The Vagina Monologues," but her life and her work inspires me more each year. She is a true artist and a true activist and we don't see that combination often enough. She has written numerous plays and articles highlighting her mission is to end violence against women. With funds from her organization, she opened the City of Joy, a special facility for survivors of violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She is an international treasure for all the dedication and hard work she does each day for the benefit of women and children all over the world.
"We've got to get women to sit at the table."
What I've learned from Sheryl Sandberg is to own my power, be proud of my accomplishments, be a strong negotiator (women tend to accept the first offer, men go back to the table many times), to be authentic in the workplace and express feelings because "emotion drives both men and women and influences every decision we make." Also, "a sense of humor is the phrase most frequently used to describe the most effective leaders." And similar to the research that Brené Brown has done, taking risks, being vulnerable and being open are all as important in the business world as they are in our personal lives.
These women are just a handful of amazingly brilliant and talented women who are leading the way. And we are seeing a growing number of women who are world leaders too, like Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany and head of the European Union, and Sonia Gandhi, President of the Indian National Congress, and other very well-known and respected women: Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren, Oprah Winfrey, Christiane Amanpour, Sonia Sotomayor, Isabel Allende, Aung San Suu Kyi and Rachel Maddow, to name a few.
I truly believe that within the next ten years, women who are working in business, politics, the arts and in the poorest communities are going to make a significant difference in the world and improve the lives of everyone -- women, children and men. Here is a list of women to keep an eye on. You can add more names in the comments section below: