I have two boys and two girls, so I never favor one gender over the other, nor do I buy into any gender-biased baloney. But the truth is that my girls are girls and my boys are boys. They were different from the beginning and have remained that way for my 15 years of motherhood. I am blessed because I really have the best of both worlds. I can go from Barbies to Thomas, to Legos, to Justin Bieber in a hot minute and it is fun. Plus, I’m such an awesome mom that all of my kids – boys or girls –can go from Barbies to Thomas, to Legos, to Justin Bieber in a hot minute, too.
When I had my first child, I was in my late 20s – a time of questioning, insecurity, and power. I had the power of womanhood but felt none of the benefits of that power. I had married, birthed and nursed a child, but still felt weak and unsure of my place in the world. Many new moms feel their place instantly when they meet their baby face-to-face and nothing matters more than being a mother to that child. I felt that way for a very long time, but as the old me started to creep back into existence, and reality set in, I knew that my place and my best performance of me, was to be out in the world. My kids have been home with me, but have also benefited from the care of their father, a loving nanny, and great preschools. I am a woman who has had it all. I am a successful working mother who has never been displaced in the workforce for electing to stay home with my kids. I’ve never missed a school conference and have often been the last person leaving the office, with the CEO shooing me out as he wrapped up for the day. I lived having it all and I loved it.
Now years later, I have experienced Hilary and her career detouring “stay at home and bake cookies” comment; survived Carly and her corporate culture wrecking ways; and watched Martha, the epitome of the domestic goodness, carted off in prison stripes. With all of this, I was still a woman and you could still hear me roar. But over time, I started to notice something: When I needed answers, support or buy-in, my go-to list was filled with men. After my mother, the people who have supported me most in my career and my life have been men. The professionals who have taken the time to mentor, push, support and offer help were men. All the while, I slowly lost touch with my sisters. And I lost touch because they were not there for me and I had to surround myself with people I could depend on to be professional, honest, and fair.
When I look back to the few professional hurts, the buses I was thrown under and the rugs that were pulled out from under me came at the hands of women. I have always tried to be a support to the sisterhood, but when I called on the sisters in the workplace, all I got was crickets.
When I talk to other women I hear their sad stories. Women are bullied in the workplace, put down by other women, and made to feel inadequate when they succeed merely to boost up the lacking confidence of another woman. When I started asking questions, here’s what I heard:
- At 55 years old, I’d wish we were further down this road…woman to woman.
- With women, I am sad to know that petty jealousy has in effect kept the same score.
- Women can, in fact, be VERY tough…I sat on a Board that looked at gender issues and ‘relational aggression’ which is seen in very young girls now….so sad as I have always looked at women as allies…essentially, I have seen it more than actually experienced it.
- I think it goes back to emotional intelligence and understanding your own worth so you can welcome the skill set of others.
- The moment I started to share my strengths, not only in dance but with creative and business ideas, I was told I was stepping on toes. Soon I found myself in strained relationships. One gal said she’d never work with me again. I just wanted to be a part of a group, be myself, inspire others, be the best we could be, share my strengths. I watched this happen to others as well.
Now, let me be clear. I am a handful. I will grind you to the ground in the board room or during an interview or when you are attacking one of my clients. I can dish it and I am not afraid to give as good as I get. I have dealt with some real creepers in my life and I have no problem telling the ass-grabbing CEO exactly what I think of his behavior. I won’t act dumb to keep you in your comfort zone. I won’t dress unattractively to make you feel better about yourself. I won’t stop competing because we are friends.
But there is another list of things that I won’t do: I will not disclose personal information about you to your co-workers in an effort to undermine your credibility. I will not say that you got that job/promotion/client because you are engaging in a sexual relationship with them. I won’t tell your potential boss not to hire you because you’re too tall, too pretty, or your legs are too long. I won’t throw you under the bus. I won’t pull the rug out from under you. If you suck, then I will tell you that you suck. I won’t make you guess where you stand with me. I won’t judge my failures through the lens of your success. I won’t forget that we are sisters. And I will lean in.
These days everyone is in a tizzy about Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and some even suggest that she blames women for the problems of women in the workforce. Well, let’s not beat around the bush, people: I blame women for the problems women face in the workforce. Women can be horrible to other women and Rachel McAdams in Mean Girls looks like an angel compared to some of the women that I have encountered.
Stop the madness, ladies! This is not why our grandmother’s burned their bras. This is not why our mothers wore bad suits, missed PTA meetings and cut their hair short. This is not what we want for our daughters, or for our sons. The previous generations of women fought for our rights, and we have completely failed to live up to their hopes, dreams, and potential. So, it stops now. Now we form a true sisterhood. Now we become the women that the men in our lives think we are. Now we pay it forward, even though we didn’t have to do a thing to get where we are. Now we make a difference.
This is how I will make a difference.
I tell my kid’s not to complain at me if they don’t have a solution. It’s one of the few things that I both preach and practice. As always, I rely on my gut and when I received the note from Jessica Passman the last year about Femfessionals, I knew something was changing for me. My personal life calmed down, my business life resolved an important issue, and my inner life said, “No, I’m not going to stay stuffed up inside you anymore!” I knew that for me to move forward, I had to do it with all of me – mind, body, and soul. Life’s too short and we have too much to do to minimize ourselves in order to fit into the different compartments that others have determined for us. So I said yes. Well, first I said no twice, but after getting to know Jessica and Violette Sproul, I said yes, because their hearts feel what millions of women know and these two had the courage to make it a reality. And I love women with courage. I want to surround myself with women who are smart, sassy, fun, passionate and above all, true supporters of the sisterhood. (Posers, I know who you are! You’re secret is safe with me, until the next time you dare to undercut another woman. Then the gloves come out, missy!)
I work in PR because, although I love the heat coming off the spotlight, I prefer that it is strongly focused on my companies and clients. I can promote you until my last breath, but I will shy away from standing up in front of 10 people to talk about myself. I am the introvert who loves to learn and watch and teach, but under the radar, where only a few close people can see me shine. But that behavior is only making things worse for my daughters and inequitable for my sons. I need my daughters to grow up to be smart, realistic, fun, strong women who do not bring added drama and misery into their lives, and I need my sons to marry women like that.
So it starts now and for me, it starts with Femfessionals: The mother of all women’s networking groups. They did not start the trend, but they have probably perfected it! Innovative women supporting smart, ambitious women: It’s a dream come true!
So today I say proudly, with my entire heart and my entire mind: I am a female. I am a professional. And now I am President of FemCity Boise. I will create a place where women are free to be fierce and competitive and never have that held against them. I will create a place where women are supported and promoted because they do good work and are capable and deserve to be promoted. I will lean in and I will be the woman who pushes, and asks, and speaks, and moves forward. I will do all of that, without ever once undercutting another woman to get ahead. I will formally, publicly and professionally support the sisterhood.
I was given a gift. I can grow children and nurse children and manage a household and love a man and give back to my community and run a company – all at the same time. I was given a gift and now it is time to pay it forward, without ever taking away from another woman who was given the same gifts.
Men, what do you think about all of this? The guys I have talked to are shrugging their shoulders and shaking their heads: Problem, what problem? It is not denial, it’s that they don’t have a problem. It’s us. Ladies, what gifts do you have? What can you do to pay forward? And what women can you support along the way? How can you lean in?
Thanks for being here today. Mother’s Day is special and I hope that the love and respect that we all feel for our moms can be shared with all women, today and every day.