In a powerful article in the Harvard Business Review called “Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership” authors and researchers Drs. Alice Eagly and Linda Carli explore women, leadership and gender equality, and observe that “signs of a pause in progress toward gender equality have appeared on many fronts.” They speculate about the causes of this slowing of progress, and indicate:
“It may simply be that women are collectively catching their breath before pressing for more change. In the past century, feminist activism arose when women came to view themselves as collectively subjected to illegitimate and unfair treatment. But recent polls show less conviction about the presence of discrimination, and feminism does not have the cultural relevance it once had. The lessening of activism on behalf of all women puts pressure on each woman to find her own way.”
This statement coincides precisely with what I’ve observed in my research with hundreds of working women over these past several years. I’ve noticed that while throngs of women are more than willing to share their stories of traumatic challenge and crisis, they are not at all ready to stand up and fight for what they need and want.
When I speak with executive women at Fortune 100 companies, for instance, the depth of despair is palpable about how challenging and out of control their lives are, but the courageous stand-up-and-fight mentality is not present. They’re still afraid to speak up.
An inspiring friend and colleague of mine, Krista Reiner, who supports authors in expanding their platforms and audiences to the next level, asked me today, “Does there have to be crisis and conflict in order for change to come about?” I say yes, because change is incredibly difficult and frightening to most people. Significant social change comes only after struggle and conflict. Social change is generated when there is a collective commitment to bringing about a dramatic shift away from what is no longer tolerable, fair, or viable.
If you think about yourself and all the women you know, how would you answer these questions?
– By and large, are we fulfilled with our lives and our careers?
– If not, are we taking solid, powerful action to change our lives?
– Do we know what we want, and have a plan to get it?
When I went through my worst heartbreaking and crushing crises in the late 1990s up through 9/11, I’d have to answer the above questions with a resounding “NO!” I was miserable and chronically sick, but despite some feeble efforts here and there, I simply didn’t take enough forward-moving action to create any real change at all.
Why? Because deep down, I didn’t want to do it. I wanted what I had to work for me. I didn’t want to give up all that I thought I’d achieved after years of hard work (money, “security,” self-esteem from being an executive, power, etc.). What I know now is that the very things that held me hostage in a crushing life were the things I was most afraid of giving up.
If this resonates with you, I hope and pray that you’ll take some courageous action today. Let’s activate ourselves toward change – let’s become activists in our own lives. Please don’t wait until you have one of the hidden crises (or all 12 – as I did) that working women face today. Please…take action and make a change and speak up for your life today.
I’d love to hear your views about what holds you back from making change in your life. Are you too stressed to do it, or just catching your breath? Is change just around the corner for you or do you have to fight for it? Please share your thoughts.
I hold onto the belief that a breakthrough movement for women is just one breath away. Let’s take the breath.