This past week, the CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, gave birth to a baby boy. But rather than a slew of media stories offering her congratulations, Mayer has been met with criticism for saying she will only take a two week maternity leave, and for using a photo of herself pre-pregnancy, for the cover of Fortune Magazine’s 50 Most Powerful Women issue, in which she is listed at number 14. Yet, this is not the first time she has felt pressure from the media.
A few months ago, when she announced her pregnancy soon after taking her CEO position at Yahoo, Mayer also found herself under scrutiny. If a man found himself in a similar position–becoming a new CEO and a parent in the same year–it wouldn’t make headlines. But for Mayer the combination brought much criticism, questioning if she could handle the pressure. (And we wonder why she’s not taking a longer maternity leave?) We all know there is a double standard for men in our culture–whether they want it or not–in regards to business and having a family. But what makes me most concerned is what stories like this do to us as women in our thoughts on taking roles of leadership.
From the time we are young, we overhear phrases that make us as women out to be “less than” our male counterparts. The most common phrase being “you throw like a girl.” Though revealing some truth that generally men have more upper body strength than women, it makes boys believe that its a negative thing to be like a girl. But it doesn’t just effect the boys, it effects us as girls too. Phrases like this one enter into our psyche, and our view of our abilities begin to diminish slowly, over time. Whether we realize it or not, because of our media and cultural stereotypes, one of our abilities that we begin to doubt the most, is our ability to lead.
In the documentary, Miss Representation, Dr. Caroline Heldman, explains that little girls and boys, when they are seven years of age, equally want to be president of the United States. But she says when you ask the same group of students when they are fifteen, you see a massive gap emerging. Miss Representation powerfully shows how the media is effecting the world’s view of women, and therefore our view of ourselves.
One of the phrases that keeps occurring in the movie is “you can’t be what you can’t see.” Because we have seen so few positive examples of women in visible positions of power, I think you and I, as everyday women, can subconsciously fall into believing that we aren’t leaders where we are, nor could we be leaders in what we do. This line of thinking isn’t just dangerous for our future, it is also dangerous for the young women and our daughters who look up to us.
If they don’t see us leading now, what will inspire them to lead in the future?
One of the things, I believe, that holds us back from taking leadership roles is that we think we don’t have much to offer. But have you ever looked around a business or work meeting and noticed who was doing most of the talking? Are you in a situation where it is usually the men?
When we don’t speak up and share our knowledge or opinions in meetings, it is as if we are saying that a woman’s perspective isn’t needed. We are denying all that we do have inside of us that is important, and forgetting that we are in our positions for a reason.
Now, I am not saying for you to go into work this morning, and totally change who you are. What I am saying is that your voice matters. Your actions matter. Are there ways–as a businesswoman, teacher, mother, student, etc.–that you are leading and you don’t even know it? Areas in which you have been holding back, that your voice and perspective is needed? Ways that you can speak truth? Ways that you can encourage the best out of those around you?
Whether you are being followed by one or by many, you have a lot more to offer than you realize.