Words are powerful things, aren’t they? Words can lift you up or crush you into the ground, they can mark you out as belonging or as an outsider. Language has become less formal over time but there are still certain words that can provoke a strong reaction, take for instance the f-word, Feminist. It amazes me the people who are nervous around this word. Not the usual bigoted bunch who believe women are lesser than men, sadly that doesn’t surprise me at all. More the men and women who support gender equality and yet bristle at the idea of being called a Feminist – often because they picture a Feminist as an angry grouch campaigning for the downfall of all men. As a Feminist I want all men to succeed and live full working and family lives as much as I want that for all women, and for anyone wherever they are on the gender spectrum.
They have got one thing right – I am angry. I’m angry when I see science and adventure toys marketed solely at boys. I’m angry when I see the constant sexism in the media and ‘harmless’ sexist jokes. I’m angry whenever I read about the level of violence against women and girls. And I’m angry when I see talented women not make the advances they deserve because they don’t fit their organisation’s corporate mould. If I let myself I could spend my days incandescent with rage at the sexism and inequality I see; fun as that maybe for a while, it wouldn’t change anything. Instead I choose to channel that anger and frustration into positive action. Sometimes this comes in the form of raising awareness of issues, but due to where I am in life I find the most impactful way I can channel this anger is by encouraging and supporting women to succeed and advance their careers – not only in spite of the corporate mould some organisations insist they fit, but by realising they can smash that mould and still succeed.
There are arguments about what difference having more women in the boardroom, or the court or the media makes to the woman working on the checkout or raising her children at home. Advancing and supporting women leaders is not designed as a cure all to the complicated issues of gender inequality and sexism. It is a step in the journey. I believe that business can be a powerful force for good and by increasing the representation of women in senior leadership positions we can have a positive impact on the decisions taken that shape all our lives.
Even if you are reading this on your first day in your first job you can be a leader. You can be the person who asks the question the rest of the group are thinking but are too scared to ask. You can be the one who really listens to her colleagues and supports them in achieving their goals. You can set yourself stretch goals, feel the fear and do it anyway and become a role model to others. And when you do succeed, as you will do, please remember to pay it forward and encourage those climbing behind you. Don’t pull up the ladder. As Madeleine Albright said “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women” and I don’t need anyone else to be angry with!
Guest Blog by Laura Stuart-Berry @Laura_SBerry Leadership/cultural change junkie, feminist & unleasher of potential! Shortlisted for Women in the City Future Leader Award, Chief of Staff to the CEO Grant Thornton (UK) LLP