Currently, we are surrounded by exciting signs of a strong global movement toward gender support and activism. #MeToo and #TimesUp have brought a resounding call for transparency and an impetus to action the U.S. has never seen. An increasing number of reports (McKinsey & Co) highlight that better decisions and business outcomes result from women being part of the process. This is notable progress as we jet toward gender parity.
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #PressforProgress and is a galvanizing rally cry to continue momentum around issues important to women - issues like healthcare, education, wage equity and gun control. These issues, in turn, benefit everyone, and this growing energy and enthusiasm is exciting and motivating, propelling us forward on our journey to action.
So, in this year of unique accomplishments and raised voices, and in celebration of International Women’s Day, I’m encouraging you to do something that may seem a bit counterintuitive. I want you to take a moment during this day and STOP.
“What?!” you may say.
I repeat: Yes, stop and reflect. Yes, stop and take stock.
Why? It’s related to the concept of going slow to go fast. We know this is going to be a long flight. Prudent preparation is key. From my perspective, several issues are critical to maintaining momentum over the long haul:
Your oxygen mask and hers
If you’ve ever flown on an airplane, you’ve heard the instructions: Put on your own oxygen mask first, before helping those traveling with you. This guidance is particularly pertinent as we #PressforProgress. Many of us are actively working on our own development. But what about those traveling with us? Stop and think about one woman who you have helped—I mean really helped-- in the last month, a woman you encouraged to grow her leadership capabilities, expand her scope of influence, or stretch to achieve a goal. Did you remove an obstacle, coordinate a connection, lend an ear or an encouraging word?
In 2006, while speaking to the Women’s National Basketball Association, Madeline Albright, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
While a bit strong, she’s got a point.
All of us have both the opportunity and the ability to lift up another woman every day. As you reflect, think about someone who helped you in a meaningful way. For me, this person is Lois Ford, the first woman I ever worked for over two decades ago. Lois gave me “oxygen” by caring enough about me to give me candid, timely feedback in a way that left an impression rather than a scar. I came to understand that Lois “tidbits” had real value. While I haven’t seen Lois in many years, her impact on the overall journey of women in leadership continues. How? I shared one of those Lois “tidbits” with a female colleague just this week. I’m passing on the breath of fresh air that Lois so selflessly gave me.
I ask whose leadership are you giving “oxygen” to? Ask yourself: Who will be writing about you in 20 years, saying that you were an integral part of making her the best leader she could be?
Not a pilot? Not a problem
While there is only one lead pilot flying an airplane, every single person on board the aircraft impacts the flight.
Studies show that women tend to underestimate their skills and performance, implying that they need to feel 100% ready--and in control--before tackling a challenge, like a new job, stretch assignment, or mentoring a protege. You may not be in a traditional leadership position at work, but it is likely you have applicable leadership skills packed in your “life suitcase” that others could and should benefit from. Often, women are at the heart of work/family juggling and community and civic service. Women in the 21st century have garnered a lifetime of wisdom, insights, and experiences. These things have value, so why undervalue them when it comes to leadership at work?
One of the best leaders I’ve ever known is a single mother who worked as a production operator on third shift. She raised and educated four sons, who not only respect, but are deeply devoted to her. This accomplishment required her to cast a compelling future vision, repeatedly set clear expectations, give timely and specific feedback, have quality conversations, serve as a role model for success, display financial acumen, drive accountability, appreciate differences, and build lasting two-way relationships. Isn’t that what leadership is all about?
Now it’s your turn: What hard-won life experiences are in your “life suitcase”? How can you use them to make a real difference for someone else? Challenge yourself to unpack and amplify your leadership from wherever you are within the organization.
RTI’s work creates tailwinds
Of the almost 5,000 RTI employees working to bring about positive change in the world, over half of them are women. Globally, we are committed to improving the human condition, and our work on gender-related issues is a cornerstone of our mission. For example, since 2007, the RTI Global Gender Center has worked in over 75 countries to implement gender-related projects. Some areas where RTI is turbocharging gender impact include working to prevent deaths from cervical cancer in India, reducing HIV in Africa, highlighting the issue of sexual assault on college campuses, and creating equal education opportunities by promoting gender-inclusive programming and safe learning environments.This work is truly heartfelt.
International Women’s day gives all of us—regardless of our respective gender identities-- a chance to celebrate the instances in which we’ve been able to challenge ourselves to fly faster and higher. Consider past accomplishments fuel for the journey.
I am particularly proud of all the work that RTI does around the globe to address areas of gender disparity. And although the trip to gender parity may be a longer flight than we’d like, thanks to the smart and mission-minded RTI colleagues with whom I travel, I’m hopeful about the future.