Women will change the world. I firmly believe this. I spent the last three years on the National Board of Directors for the American Business Women's Association and specifically the last year as the ABWA National President. I had the opportunity to travel all over the country and connect with women of all ages, backgrounds and careers. Each woman had a unique story, but all of their journeys of success had one common theme: the empowerment of a support system. A sisterhood. In a time where we see women making strides in business, education, sports, career and leadership, women are still lagging behind our male counterparts.
Recently, Always "Like a Girl" Campaign struck a chord with many of my friends and colleagues. To quote Always, "When did 'like a girl' become an insult?" What are we teaching our young girls, who will be the leaders of tomorrow, about their value to the world and their self-worth? It's up to us to reshape the conversation and here are five ways we, as women, can make this the year of female empowerment:
1. Choose a mentor. This may be a formal relationship where you have regular one on one conversations or it can just be choosing a woman who you admire, either a public figure or someone in your life. Think about it. Who do you admire? Then think about what life experiences has she overcome. What are the characteristics she embodies? I'd be willing to bet she is not someone who has had success come easily. I bet she is someone who is kind, respectful and supportive of others. I bet she is someone who stands up for herself, knows who she is and isn't afraid to be her true self. Whatever those characteristics are, write them down, and aspire to be them every day. And like your mentor, your life will not always be smooth sailing and you will not always be perfect or get it right every time. But if you stay focused on the woman you want to be, the change you wish to see, then you will one day find yourself being a mentor to others, just as those who inspire you.
2. Be a mentor. Just as you have those you admire and wish to emulate, strive to be that example to others, especially young women. Whatever you do, show them that you do it "like a girl" and that is awesome! My friend and CEO of ExecuPrep, Dethra Giles, says to "Make them imitate you. For so long we have been told to 'lead like men.' STOP IT. This year make them recognize the strength in how we, women, lead and make them imitate our leadership style."
3. Be authentic. The strongest way to set an example and to be a mentor is to be your authentic self. I spent way too much of my life feeling different and inferior. As a result, I would hold back, worried more about how others perceived me rather than being true to myself. It was through the support of other women in my professional and personal life that I gained the courage to step out and be proud of who I am. I found that those who I worried about judging me fell silent in the overwhelming sound of those who needed me to be a role model for them.
Aya Fubara Eneli, certified life coach and author, shared with me that
Our empowerment must find its roots in discovering and appreciating who we are, as we are. So much of the Women's Movement has been defined by trying to disprove our inferiority or to prove that we are equal to men, thereby automatically setting up men and the status quo as the standard to emulate... The empowered woman must be willing to look within and to use her skills and talents to create a life that fulfills who she really is at her core.
4. Get involved. Be part of something bigger than yourself. There are many professional and volunteer organizations that are dedicated to providing women opportunities to advance by providing education, mentorship, leadership experience and business/life skills. I originally joined the American Business Women's Association (ABWA) to network my law practice, but my membership became so much more as I got involved. I found a support system that saw potential in me as a leader and mentor that I would have never imagined. As a result, I am a more confident and happier woman both personally and professionally. And now I am committed to helping other women and young girls find that confidence so that they can achieve their biggest dreams. My favorite annual theme for ABWA is "equality through responsibility." If we truly wish to see equal opportunities for all women in business, education, and leadership, it is our shared responsibility to get involved and contribute.
5. Have a voice. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that "our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." We can get so wrapped up in our day to day lives that we can often lose sight of the bigger impact we can have in the world around us. Or we believe, as women, that having a strong opinion or speaking up is some-how not polite or "lady-like." But, ladies, we cannot be silent. Our daughters, sisters, nieces, aunts, mothers are watching us... they are counting on us. It takes a great deal of courage to speak up for what you believe in. I know. I recently was featured on the local news speaking to my city council supporting an equal rights ordinance in my hometown. In the face of opposition, I always am strengthened by the tremendous support of family and friends. But what meant the most was the text from my 14 year old niece: "Saw you on the news! You go Aunt Lorie!" She probably has no idea how much it means to me. And so I will continue to speak up...and I hope I have inspired her to do the same. As women, we are never too young or too old to inspire one another.
Women will change the world. Dethra Giles says to "change the game!"
There are enough of us to change the game. You want to see more women in charge, support your sister, you want to see gaps closed, fill them, you want to see a difference made, make it. But whatever you do, in 2015, don't do business as usual: Change the game.
When one woman succeeds, we all succeed. I have seen it. So take action today, whatever it may be, because when you empower others, you empower yourself... you change lives, including your own. And that's how you change the world. It's up to us, ladies. We can do it... together!
Let's change the world #LikeAGirl.