If you really believe in what you’re doing, work hard, take nothing personally and if something blocks one route, find another. Never give up. – Laurie Notaro
Thank you for all the supporter for this endeavor. Your encouragement and positivity has helped me share these stories. Loudly Imperfect is a forum to share authentically and openly, encouraging us all to share our imperfection. As humans we are perfectly flawed swimming in a society of perfect expectations. This blog is to inspire that we can be successful without being perfect.
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Life is a wild journey… now onto the story.
In the beginning.. there was a dream…
As I shared in my first blog post “I look in the mirror and I see doubt”, I chose the path that focused on developing my mind, instead of being beautiful. I couldn’t achieve the latter, but I could the former.
You see, I had this dream, since I was about four (4) years old, that I was going to go into business. I would hold business meetings with my Barbie and Ken dolls. My best friend was a boy and well of course he played the role of Ken, my assistant. I was totally the boss!!
We flew around the globe and drove in the pink sports car, imagining great adventures. Honestly, I really don’t remember much of this, but my mum still teases me about it today. All these years later, my childhood friend is running his own business and I am an executive in business. Win / win 🙌🙌. I guess bossy girls do grow up to be leaders! 😉
My first obstacle, as a girl
My first real obstacle to fulfilling my dream, happened in my senior year of High School. I went to my assigned guidance councilor to discuss what college and degree I wanted to pursue. To frame this, I was in AP courses, top grades, liked by my teachers and other students, I tutored other students and did all that I needed to, in order to be ready to apply and be accepted into business school. This was my dream, this was my goal.
So imagine my dismay, as that guidance counselor told me emphatically that “Girls don’t go to business school”. They go to secretarial college, hairdresser school or get married and start families (wait, what? 😳). There is nothing wrong with those things, but they were not my dream and I am sure that boys could do those things too.
I have to believe she meant well and this was absolutely her truth. However, it left me crushed, as my dream seemed to be floating away. As tears spontaneously started to slowly leak down my cheeks, I was beginning to boil with anger inside. I felt cheated. I also felt confused because this was the first time gender had ever come up as a limiting factor in anything I every wanted to do! It never was an issue in my classes or in my life period!! It never was a barrier or a reason to not chase my dreams.
Choices and grit…
I went home that day with a slow burning rage and not knowing what I was going to do. Kids didn’t push back on authority in school and I really respected my teachers and those in authority. But I also knew I wasn’t going to accept it. NO FREAKING WAY!!!
So when my mum got home, after her long day of work, I shared what happened. I will never forget the look she gave me of disbelief and stone cold steely eyed determination. Grit was rising up. She brought us to America for opportunity, not this!! She slowly got up, put the kettle on for a cuppa (every issue was solved over a cup of tea) and she said she would go to the school and have a word in the morning.
Well mum sure had a word. She insisted I be assigned to a guidance counselor that would help me. They did reassign me and I did get the help I needed to apply. The new counselor jumped in and helped me prep the application, ensure I knew what to expect in the SAT and what I needed to score. I was shocked by the 180 degree difference. I look back and am shocked that it was the guy who dug in and saw a bright future for me. The woman didn’t see my potential, how could that be? I am still a bit boggled.
So what happened?
I did get into the business school I had been dreaming about. And looking back, a lot of the opportunities I have had in my career, have been from male leaders who saw potential in me. I really didn’t have any female role models, in those days, that I could look to, as all the top spots were held by men. But that said, I never felt there was a glass ceiling that I had to break through, until much, much later in my career. Rising above mid-level leadership was a big push, but a story for another day!
Oh that was long ago and in the past..
Until recently I really haven’t thought about this experience of so long ago. I though this was a thing of the past in schools. A bastion of the late 80’s or 90’s educational system. I thought gender bias was only left to conquer later in life. I was dead wrong. (but hey, cut a girl some slack I don’t have children and my nieces are all grown up).
Recently, I was shocked to find, that these attitudes and biases are still alive and well in schools today. This not only is alarming but more importantly, detrimental to building future female leaders.
Very recently, I was on a Diversity panel at work, discussing the “Confidence Gap” between women and men (I will blog on this in the future) and to my shock and dismay, a male colleague on the panel shared a story about two (2) of his children. They went to the same STEM course, had the same teacher, and the same outcome as to grades. However, the teacher had two (2) very different views on their outcomes.
His sons feedback was well done, he did great and what they would have expected. His daughters feedback was “wow, I am so surprised she did so well”. He was shocked himself. He even said to the teacher, they had the same result.
This teacher, although well meaning, has a gender bias that is quite potentially undermining confidence in her female students. Girls form their self image at an early age and if the encouragement they receive doesn’t support them in chasing after being smart and staying in programs like STEM, they probably won’t stay, even if they really like it and are good at it. What rocked me almost out of my seat was that this teacher was a woman. And just like that, all the flash backs of my struggle to chase my dream came back to me.
I guess I am shocked that this still exists and that attitudes like this are still prevalent. And that women, still have a view, like the above, of what girls and boys can do educationally.
Working together to shift mindsets
Here’s the deal. Until we all get fired up to listen for gender bias, whether it is unconscious or conscious, and devise systems of equity, we will continue to perpetuate a narrative of what girls and boys fundamentally can be good at educationally. This translates into their future career choices and success.
Our brains look the same outside of our shells, they fundamentally work the same.
The place I continue to land is don’t let anyone steal your dreams. Don’t let anyone steal your daughters or sons dreams. I am forever grateful my mum helped me fight back against the well intended dream stealer, all those ages ago. Her grit still inspires me today.
Lean in and help other women and men who are emerging. If you see their dreams being undermined or potentially stolen lean into gender bias and shine a light on it positively. I really do believe much of it is unconscious and engrained based on social norms.
A final thought
Celebrate your daughters for being smart, not just pretty or polite. Show them smart is cool and lasts a lot longer than external beauty (just show them what they will look like in that aging face app 😂😂)
We can all be dream weavers, helping others discover their inner awesomeness. Decide to shine by your intelligence and your heart.