How to Accelerate Feminism in the Millennial Era

July 31st, 2017 EDT | General Business
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As evidenced by the millions of women around the world marching on January 21, 2017, the transfer of political power in the United States inspired a moment of pause and reflection for women worldwide.

As a female executive, entrepreneur, lecturer and mother of two little girls, recent historical events have led me to think more deeply about my leadership style and desired impact. It leaves me hopeful of the change and leadership us female entrepreneurs are uniquely capable of driving in the world.

Nevertheless, we as women have not yet completed the last 6.2 miles required of our feminist marathon. We assumed that being a “great team player” was enough. But it’s not. We teach our daughters to be bold competitors, but professionally and politically, society is not yet ready for us to grab the brass ring we deserve. We are still living under a glass ceiling.

We have an extraordinary amount of work to do to ensure that the feminist movement of the last 70 years doesn’t rockslide backward in a matter of moments.

Alexis Krivkovich, author of the study, “Women in the Workplace,” distilled this state of the nation to me when summarizing the study’s key takeaways:

  • Women fall behind early. If we don’t support women being promoted earlier in their careers, the reality will remain that very few women will be in roles that position them to become CEOs further down the line.
  • Women are at a disadvantage in their daily interactions because they see fewer women around them.
  • The paradigm is not necessarily shifting dramatically enough to impact the millennial generation as much as we would like to believe otherwise.

Are we hearing this? That even for our millennial generation, it will be more status quo, more glass ceilings and fewer women in leadership. What can we do to accelerate a crucial shift?

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and founder of Lean In, wisely calls on women in leadership positions and blooming careers to “lean in” to opportunities for growth and advancement. The wildfire-like global growth of her movement clearly demonstrates that this approach is a key solution.

Perhaps given the state of today, we need to start leaping versus leaning. But how do we start?

1. Find someone to make you his or her protégé.

We professional women can build relationships via our university alma mater, at our offices, on our boards, and through formal and informal gatherings and organizations. Heck, we can even do so at children’s birthday parties. Like the “consciousness raising” gatherings of the 1960s, we need to be conscious of the need to explicitly support our female peers, friends and colleagues.

The most obvious way to do is to let someone turn you into his or her protégé. Such a “coach” will inspire, guide, and support you by teeing up the proverbial springboards throughout your career. By providing introductions and opportunities that help you leap into your next venture, a great coach or mentor can help you soar to new heights that you might not have achieved without his or her catapult.

2. Support flexible work environments.

The Women in the Workplace study states that “employees need the flexibility to fit work into their lives.” As a Silicon Valley CEO who dealt with four pregnant team members out of 10 in a 12-month period (one being myself), I understand firsthand that providing flexibility can be a major challenge to an organization, particularly a small one.

However, I have found that women who are given flexibility are just as driven, resourceful, dependable, and if anything, overshoot that required “mark” in gratitude for the flexibility you provided. So provide one or two days a week of remote time for your trustworthy team members who are suffering from a grueling commute, or allow flexible hours to those with young children who need to take the early morning or mid-afternoon shuttle each day.

3. Do your absolute best to eradicate sexism in America’s business environment.

According to Ann Grimes, associate director of Stanford’s Brown Institute for Media Innovation and former faculty fellow at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research , the good news is that we may have arrived at a “perfect storm” moment in the feminist movement as it relates to the millennial generation. When sitting down with Ann recently, she reflected:

“Something has shifted at Stanford. Young women are now willing to call themselves ‘feminists,’ whereas when I arrived on campus 12 years ago, they weren’t… There appears to be a coalescing today similar to the women’s movement of the 1970s. It commenced with Title IX, which laid a foundation for a generation of girls — now young women — to compete on an even playing field as boys, especially in sports. Those young women now expect the same equality and equanimity in the workplace. It now seems we have a generation of women going into the workforce who would call themselves feminists.”

If you agree with Grimes and you consider yourself a feminist, what next? Spring to action. Whether you’re marching, writing, speaking to a colleague who is demonstrating sexist behavior, call it out — clearly and succinctly. To quote Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

It is incumbent upon women in leadership positions to capitalize on this “perfect storm” moment in the feminist movement. We have to embrace the “feminists” within, support ourselves, support each other, leap versus lean, and play to win.

Author
Alyssa Rapp is the managing partner of AJR Ventutres, a lecturer-in-management at Stanford's Graduate School of Business, a wife, and a mom.

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