After dinner last night, as they were cleaning the dishes, Ashley surprised her family by proclaiming her plans to become president of the United States. A bold statement for a seven-year old. When asked why she wants one of the hardest jobs with so much responsibility, she said, “because when I go to dance lessons I see those people who don’t have beds and sleep on the sidewalk. That’s not okay. And I think we should go to school to learn and play and not be scared that someone’s gonna shoot us.” Then she paused, and added, “I think I could fix some stuff.” Indeed.
When Ashley runs for president around 2043, we want to believe that her gender will no longer be an issue in the discussion, but rather her ability and commitment to solving problems of the day. Today, however, considering gender when considering placement in power is still a norm, and many are more than ready for that to change.
Suffragettes and Legal Right to Vote
In the early 20th century, women had few rights and the women activists of the time, the suffragettes, fought hard against that norm and at great loss and pain. But their efforts paid off. The 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920 giving women the legal right to vote. We have come far in many ways concerning women’s rights and equality. Yet the #metoo movement has more than blown the lid off of the pervasive undercurrent of inequality, harassment and abuse that continues to be tolerated in our society. Most would agree there is a problem here, but there is less agreement on how to solve it.
Ashley is not aware, yet, of how things work. It has not occurred to her that her passion, insight and the abilities that she will groom to run the country as president are not all that will be under the spotlight when she runs for office. Should we tell her that her gender will be an issue? Or should we rather roll up our sleeves and assure that she only reads in her American history books about archaic distractions such as basing a person’s value and ability to serve on characteristics like gender? (Or skin color, sexual preference, or age for that matter.)
Lilly Ledbetter Equal Pay Act
We talk a lot about equality and how our legal system can and should establish it. In 1979 Lilly Ledbetter sued Goodyear Tire and Rubber for having been paid significantly less than her male counterparts for equal work for the 18 years of her employment with the company. The case reached the Supreme Court, but was overturned as the case had not been filed within 180 days of her initial discriminatory paycheck in 1979. Unfortunately it was years after that first paycheck that she became aware, thanks to an anonymous letter informing her, that there was a pay discrepancy between her and her male colleagues. So she filed suit, but did not win the case due to the 180-day rule.
In 2009, however, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Equal Pay Act that restarts that 180-day clock every time a discriminatory check is issued, and not only after the first one. That was a major victory for equal pay and for women in the workforce. It honored Ms. Ledbetter’s efforts. The point remains, though, that a law was necessary at all to demand equal pay for equal work.
Inequality vs. Distinction
The roots of inequality are entangled and deep, but in the end it is quite simple. We mistake differences for inequality. If someone is taller, smarter, older, or faster, for example, we judge those differences to be of use, or not, to be good or bad for us or our cause. The problem stems from the act of judging itself. When we realize that differences are not a factor of inequality but one of distinction, then the discussion shifts.
“Gleichwertig” is a German word that works well for equality. It has two parts: “gleich” meaning equal or same, and “wertig” meaning of value. So, if things are “gleichwertig,” they are of equal value but not identical in characteristics. This is the shift in thinking and acting that we need, as individuals and as a society.
One facet of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s brilliant and transformative leadership in the Civil Rights Movement was that he made available a paradigm shift that had not existed before. He illustrated that if anybody needs to stand in a position of superiority for any reason, to keep others down or believe they are better humans in some way, that is a clear indicator that they do not feel valuable themselves. If they did, such repression and abuse would not be necessary because their own sense of worth would be enough to help and support and contribute to others. Discrimination is based on the belief that one has to keep another down in order to feel good. So the abuse of power in its entirety is based on a false premise. That paradigm shift helped a majority of African-Americans understand that they have a right to be treated as equal because they are equal.
Women are Already Equal
Today’s paradigm shift must begin with women. We must grasp that we do not need to fight for equality, because we already are equal. We do not have to fight for something that is. You do not have to fight for sunshine. You do not have to fight for air or trees or the ground beneath you. It is all there. Women need to understand that they are innately of equal value. It is not something we have to fight for.
Coming from that stance, though, we do have to diligently work for the practical and tangible expressions of that equality in all aspects of our lives – family, economy, and society as a whole – and to do so with passion and strength, and without resentment and anger. It will take us to where we want to go.
Ashley will tell you that she is just as good as her friends, male or female, but some are better at math, some at running, others at singing, and she herself excels in English. She knows that no one is better than anyone else in their value. They are all ‘gleichwertig’.
How is this insight, understanding our intrinsic value, useful? How does it help us grapple with the #metoo movement’s spotlight that has exposed injustices and painful harassment taking place today behind the scenes – and amazingly often in the open – in our businesses, organizations and families? Do we work to change the legal system? Or perhaps education? Maybe family life? Yes, yes and yes!
Yet, the most powerful place to begin is within each and every woman first.
How do we assure that all the future Ashleys will be able to share their gifts and goodness with the world and not have an inkling of having to explain or excuse their gender in doing so? How do we women come home to our own power and recognize our innate value, without the anger and resentment of having been treated as less than we are worth? How do we build community, especially amongst women, that thrives on mutual support and sincere encouragement void of any competition or jealousy about our beauty, gifts and accomplishments?
Women should first start by orienting internally, which can be the most difficult since we have been diligently taught to look outside of ourselves to define who we are, to determine what it means to be a woman. If you are an athlete you may have looked to Mia Hamm or Serena Williams. If you are a mother you may turn to your own mom or friends of the family. If you are a politician you may look to the public stage or in business to top CEOs like Marillyn Hewson at Lockheed Martin or Ginni Rometty at IBM. There is nothing wrong with seeking role models and learning from best practices. Yet we cheat ourselves of satisfaction and personal power by using external measurements to define who we are and how we want to be as women.
So, the first step to knowing your own worth is to disengage from the external influences and measurements of who you are as a woman. Look within and ask who am I? What are my values? What do I want, and how do I prefer to operate in the world?
Start with washing your face. Every morning look in the mirror and affirm that you are good, valuable, and important just because you are you. Nothing extra needed. Acknowledge your right to be the sole measure of your worth in this world. Your values, spiritual alignment, thoughts, and choices create the optimal guide to being the most amazing woman you can be. Make this your practice.
Then walk out into the world. Engage with the people and activities in your life knowing your value and taking an active stand. Practice expecting equal treatment and respect in your life.
Empower your children to speak to you respectfully, as you do with them. Be the example you want to be. Tolerate no back talk or sass. State with a calm demeanor, knowing you deserve to be treated well, “I will speak with you when you are ready to speak with me in a tone and words that reflect respect for both of us.”
Encounter your employees, boss or co-workers being acutely aware of your skills and smarts and how you contribute to those around you, engaging not from a place of superiority or tentative expectancy. Anchor yourself in the strength of who you are. Know why you are there and what you want to give and achieve. Speak and act with clarity, power and conviction. The doubts and nay-sayers in your mind, if not your world, will quiet as your voice becomes stronger, resilient, and compelling.
Then move your sights and energies to the wider community. Set an intention and align yourself with other women on the same path of authentic and committed empowerment. Walk together and uplift each other. Start or join a group, speak out, create art, music, and amazing food. Build businesses together that will change our economy to reflect what women stand for in this world – connection, creation, collaboration, and unbound well-being and profit for all.
While widening your claim to equality, demand that your local educational system creates curricula and structures that teach active respectful treatment. Engage with, and expect from, your schools to teach equality of human value to both boys and girls, distinguishing and celebrating our incredible differences. What is true of women’s worth is equally valid for men. The genders must be educated. It need not be “either you or me.” What stands most powerful is “you and me” taking action together.
Support political initiatives and politicians who take an active stand for what you believe to be true. They are on the front lines and often in the line of fire. Senator Diane Allen committed herself and her time in office to assure that there was equal pay for equal work. The state of New Jersey just made history last month by passing the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act that puts into place stronger protection against discrimination and promotes equal pay for women.
First you become clear and convinced of your own intrinsic value as a woman, independently of your role, looks, success or position. Knowing one’s value may not be pawned off as ‘merely’ a soft-skill or personal transformation exercise (although those are powerful indeed). This taking stock and taking a stance in your value is as are streamlined and effective as time management, conflict resolution, and leadership skills.
From that internal foundation, take a stance in the world and be the change you want to see from the inside out and the bite of anger and resentment are no longer necessary. The reach of the emotions of outrage, which are integral to processing pain and oppression, only take us so far in creating change. At some point they must be transmuted into reversing conditions or you become their victim. Committing to change from a foundation of internal value will lead to a universal movement of equality, something that anger and resentment cannot do.
Ashley will make a good president, if she has the chance to run for office solely on her abilities and skills, if her gender is not an issue in the election process, and if we finally make good on our promise to her of “… liberty and justice for all.”
Leeza Carlone Steindorf uses her powerful message and practical tools to help individuals and organizations break through their limitations to create radical permanent change. An inspirational speaker, personal transformation trainer, seasoned business consultant, and award-winning author, Leeza is a Women Undaunted Facilitator, ICF Certified Coach, Canfield Success Trainer, Mastermind Coach, Strategic Planning Facilitator and Mediator. Please visit www.leezasteindorf.com.
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