The Sheryl Sandberg TED Talk, “Why we have too few women leaders” was both inspiring and incredibly important. If you haven’t watched yet, the video is above. This talk reminded me of all the progress women have accomplished yet the lengths that we, men and women, must still go for real gender equality. Ms. Sandberg’s talk really opens up the conversation about what gender equality means and some possible solutions to achieve it. The example of “Heidi” and “Howard” seems particularly important when considering what equality really means. While both Heidi and Howard were considered equally competent, perhaps something inconceivable just 50 years ago, Heidi and Howard were not equally liked for their competency. Personal experience suggests that this example is all too common. Women with strong leadership skills and initiative are bossy and over-achieving while men with the same skills are strong-willed and go-getters. It seems nearly impossible for a woman to be in power without being called a Bitch, just ask Hilary Clinton.
There are many women in my graduating class who I feel could begin to break down these stereotypes. These women are strong, competent, likeable, funny, assertive and smart. With Ms. Sandberg’s advice we can go far. Ms. Sandberg offers tangible and manageable advice for combating the problem of women not making it to the top. Many of these suggestions are ones we can accomplish on an individual level and hopefully these small actions will translate into greater social change. Ms. Sandberg’s first suggestion, sitting at the table rings true for my fellow female classmates and myself. As we all soldier through the difficult and sometimes demoralizing process of applying for jobs it can be easy to forget that we are qualified for many opportunities. We write that even though we do not yet have experience we are willing to learn by starting at the bottom. Even as I write this post I am finding it difficult to boast about my skills or suggest that starting at the bottom isn’t the most suitable place to be. However, I recently met with a young Tufts alumna who now manages a successful non-profit advocating for women in government. She told me that the best thing I should do for myself in applying for jobs is to consider how my experience on something seemingly menial can easily translate to a significant and employable quality. Even though I might not have 2-3 years work experience in a specific field just yet, my experience playing team sports, for example, would lend itself well to working in groups with many personalities. Women today need to learn to better self-advocate. How can we expect to be taken seriously without taking ourselves seriously?
Learning to trust your skills and advocate for yourself is a skill many women need to learn and starting at a young age can begin the process of creating true gender equality. This leads me to consider how SWSG girls are learning to advocate for themselves at a young age, when it is so important. Every girl speaks in program at least once. Every girl’s opinion is heard or read in her journal. This is laying an important foundation for who these girls will become. As Ms. Sandberg said, it is too late for her generation to dramatically increase the number of women in power, but maybe the next generation. Maybe the girls of SWSG will leave program with the skills to self-advocate and the motivation to sit at the table with their male counterparts starting in elementary school and moving all the way up through college and hopefully the boardroom. I look forward to seeing a pink SWSG t-shirt on the Senate floor someday.