Maybe I am just in a bad mood today. Have you ever noticed that you can’t shake hands with people who won’t give you their hands? You can reach out, but if the other person rebuffs your reach, your had is left helplessly and awkwardly flailing mid-air while you blush and stammer and the intended recipient tells you why your handshake is meaningless. OK. I’m being coy. Here’s what I really mean to say…
No matter what field you are in, and no matter how open-minded you are, you won’t be able to get some people to even listen to your ideas if they don’t want to consider another point of view. That’s the difference between ignorance and stupidity. Stupidity is innocent. If you don’t know something, you just don’t know. But ignorance means you are smart enough to understand it, but you choose to close your mind to the possibilities. Not shaking hands is ignorant.
Let me state for the record that I am not an important executive with a corner office and expense account. I’m fairly accomplished and proud of what I do, but I have perspective: I’m doing important work, but in general I have spent my career executing other women’s visions. I’ve executed my own successful programs and products that have become cogs in the grand wheel, and I am proud of my achievements. Still, I’m clear that, even at my age, I still have unrealized dreams of becoming “UberExec” in charge of my own vision. Even though I still have a lot of work to do before I realize my goals, I have one source of deep satisfaction, and that is that throughout my career, I have made it my mission to collaborate and help other women, and to “pay it forward” by helping younger women realize their potential. The best part is that this source of satisfaction is portable. I take it with me wherever I go.
One of the things that excites me about my work is knowing that I have the distinct honor of working with other women with incredible potential, unending passion and enthusiasm, drive, emotional intelligence, and IQs to match. Counterpoint: One of the frustrations I have experienced along the way in my career is how infrequently I see other experienced women extend a hand to those who need support, are less experienced, less confident or less aware of their ability. It’s not that exactly survival of the fittest woman in my field, but then again, I don’t see other women even thinking about how they can help each other grow.
Every job I have had over the past 25 years has been in either female-dominated or women-owned/led organizations. Surprisingly, none of these dynamic, successful organizations has built mentoring or leadership development programs for the female employees. As a matter of fact, the entire field (early education and care) has very few leadership programs for middle and upper management.
So what have you done to help a sister out lately? What are you doing to ensure the trail you have blazed is filled with others who can follow behind you? Whatever field you have chosen, do you think it should continue to be enriched by the next generation of women? Is it your responsibility to look around, find potential, and bring someone else along with you? What small steps can you take to make it happen?