Because you’re only three, this may be a lesson that’s difficult to understand. I was incredibly disappointed with the outcome of Tuesday’s election, but a large part of being an adult is gauging how you respond to disappointment. We thankfully live in a democracy but that means sometimes trusting that people with opinions other than our own know as much about what’s best for us as we do.
I’m writing you this, though, because I want you to grow up in a world where it’s familiar and accepted to see women in positions of leadership. Hillary Clinton didn’t win this week but I’m so grateful you were alive to see a female major party nominee and it’s my sincere hope that, when it’s time for you to vote, no matter how you vote, it will be natural that a woman or women are in the conversation among all levels of government. Who knows, by the time you vote for president in 2032, we may be on our second female president.
Since before you were born, this was important to me. I just didn’t realize it. I had no idea when I started my company that I was a “woman” starting a company. Seriously. The biggest misconception I had about starting should have been the fact that I thought my time was going to get more flexible (lol). It should have been that simple. As it turned out though, one of the biggest misconceptions I had was that I would be treated as an equal all the time ― no questions asked.
“A competitor once told me “it’s cute” what my business has done in the last five years. I’m so thrilled our accomplishments are adorable.”
Soon after I started Happy Medium, I started to realize a woman with the title CEO wasn’t always seen as a positive. It meant that now I was prone to being called and identified as things like “firecracker, bossy, [earmuffs, Brig] bitch, ball buster.” A competitor once called me and told me “it’s cute” what my business has done in the last five years. I’m so thrilled our accomplishments are adorable.
Then, when I decided to hire employees, I also decided to treat them the way I would want to be treated at a workplace. So I did things like offering 100 percent paid parental leave, flexible office hours and unlimited PTO to promote a culture that reduces the stress of trying to attain the very unattainable perfect “work/life balance” and promotes only overall happiness. I am often told I do this because I’m a woman, too. Because the male version of me wouldn’t be kind and good and right? I see you exhibit those qualities every day, Brig, so it’s hard for me to believe that those things are inherently female.
In April 2015, I was asked to sit at a round table with Hillary Clinton to discuss what our country can do for truly small businesses. It was an incredible opportunity, and I couldn’t have been more excited to speak on such a fantastic national platform for all small business owners.
During that experience, I was incredibly humbled at how genuine Hillary was. It was then I realized even I have been trained to succumb to the anticipated stereotypes surrounding women in power. She was an incredibly influential woman and my instinct was to assume she was going to be a “firecracker, bossy, [again, earmuffs] bitch, ballbuster.” And you know what? She wasn’t AT ALL. Not in the slightest.
She could have at least been a bit high and mighty if she wanted to. After all, I was benefiting much more than her in this scenario, honestly. My small business got to be on a global platform for 24 hours, and people everywhere had the opportunity to hear about Happy Medium because of it. Still, today you can Google “Happy Medium” and a picture of me with the first female major party candidate for president of the United States comes up. Honestly, amazing. But after it all, she was completely approachable. She came up before it started, she shook my hand and she said, “Thank you for giving your time today. Small business owners are some of the busiest people in the world and you took time out of that for me, and I appreciate it.” And I felt like she was someone I wanted to hang out with and could talk business and life with for days, and that she would actually help me if I ever needed it. She was so genuine. Period.
Then during our conversation, she listened and talked about real issues. At one point she said to me, “Boy, you are right on my wavelength,” [I die] about paid parental leave.
A few weeks after this experience, Brig, your dad decided he wanted a divorce. We also made sure that you understood that we still loved you even if we no longer loved each other and I spent the next year and a half of my life going through an experience only a Lifetime movie could relate to. The worst of which included strangers telling me because I am the CEO of a company, I am likely not the best primary caretaker for you, then only 1.5-years-old. I had to go through rigorous questioning for months, proving I could be a good mother and a CEO.
Since the day you were born, I’ve been a mom who has been involved and leading every decision about the things around you, including the food you eat, activities you do, the safety of the diapers you have on your skin and reading books to always be better for you (trust me, you’ll thank me later). One quick glance at my social media over the past now three years can tell anyone that I am overly obsessed with you, my sweet peanut.
You are my life, and I had multiple people, including “experts” in our legal system, telling me a good mom isn’t also a CEO. It was devastating. And while I am happy to say now we are finalized with custody and I have equal rights with you, there were so very many dark moments during that process where I questioned everything I had done. I was so worried starting a company really did mean I didn’t have the space to be a good mother.
During this time, Hillary Clinton was still fighting to be the first woman president of the United States. The inspiration of how she would handle unfair criticism and biased opinions based on things she can’t change was not lost on me. I often considered “what would Hillary do?” and it always helped me to find an answer, or at minimum gave me the strength to take a deep breath and take the next step.
“It’s the choice to raise our sons and daughters in a world in which we can tell them they can be president and mean it.”
I tried to remember, too, that Hillary (and, on a smaller scale, me) are the beneficiaries of generations of women who gave up their easy and unexamined lives to make the next group of young women more able, more prepared and more free. Your grandmother worked her entire life in an environment where her options were limited. In my grandmother’s day, the concept of a female president was laughable (In 1937, a Gallup poll asked “Would you vote for a woman for president if she was qualified in every other respect?”, 64 percent answered no.)
My great-grandmother couldn’t vote. These gains take time and women know that they can be taken away at any moment with a different Supreme Court or government. But this fight for equality is good for all of us, you included, Brig, because it means we are moving towards a place where we all are free.
But today is the beginning of the end. I know five years from now when another CEO that is a mother encounters something like I did, the “experts” won’t think she’s some major anomaly and she’s doing something that is impossible. They will think of her as a person, who is a good parent and also has a career. They will think this because Hillary Clinton has helped normalize women in power.
I was at a fundraiser and bidding on a large item, when I leaned over to talk with my friends during it. The auctioneer told the audience I was leaning over to ask permission from my husband to keep bidding. This startled everyone at my table and likely others. A few years ago, we may have all taken that statement in passing. Now we will hear it, and we will not tolerate it. I stopped bidding. I absolutely love the charity and will still give to them, but in that moment it stopped me cold. By the time you’re a little older, that type of talk will be unheard of. It won’t even make sense.
Hillary Clinton’s presence on a national ballot was enough. I am so incredibly thankful for her sacrifices and bravery as a woman in power leading the way. I have zero question that my career and presence as a woman CEO will be bettered because of her leadership.
Brig, the voting is over but we still have a choice. It’s the choice to raise our sons and daughters in a world in which we can tell them they can be president and mean it. The election didn’t go how I would have liked it but my nurturing of you will because I still get to show you all that women can do. The glass ceiling was not shattered, who knows if it ever truly will be, but it was certainly disrupted. To take a lesson from a few years ago when you were first learning to walk, Brig: one step at a time.
A version of this post originally appeared in Happy Medium.