Invite a Woman to Lead

Several months ago, I attended a women business leaders networking/happy hour event. A friend had forwarded me the invite, and I figured, hey, why not? It was actually a bit comic as the event was being thrown by an internal group at Target corporate, and I’m 99% sure I was the only non-Target employee present. I crashed a Target party, you guys. Luckily everyone was LOVELY and didn’t make fun of me. At least, not to my face.

The networking event was a follow-up to a lunchtime presentation by the president of theĀ White House Project, Tiffany Dufu. I wasn’t aware of the luncheon and therefore couldn’t crash it, which bums me out as the White House Project is utterly amazing and I would’ve loved to hear Dufu’s speech. Luckily, she attended the networking event and although she only said about four sentences, one of them is still resonating within me.

She said that whenever she speaks to or with a gathering of women, she asks them to consider inviting other women to lead.

It’s an imperfect concept, of course. Imbued with privilege and the underlying assumption that all women can and want to lead. It also implies that, without invitation, women might not be brave enough to step up and lead on their own. But I still loved it. Because sometimes all it takes is one person reaching out and saying, “I’ve noticed that you’re smart and creative and amazing, and I think you could be great at X.” And because, all too often, we forget to talk about those things, praise each other, suggest growth opportunities, nudge. I remember all of the moments in my life when people reached out to me with words of encouragement and suggestions for new challenges. I’ve built my life on those moments. And Dufu gently reminded me to pay that forward.

Inviting a woman to lead can mean a thousand things because leadership can take a thousand forms. The traditional ones – politics, business, academics – are incredibly important and women’s voices are often underrepresented in these realms. But leading within a household or neighborhood, leading through creating bold works of art, leading by taking on more responsibility at the lab or on the farm or at the homeless shelter … all of these will have impact. All of these will empower individuals and have the potential to inspire other women. If you know a woman who has untapped potential, or a woman who seems frustrated by her lack of opportunities, or a woman who could make a real difference, reach out to her. Tell her what you see. If you don’t know her interests and skills, start a discussion. If you do, gently suggest how she might begin to build. You could transform her life’s path in the space of a single conversation.

I hope to live to see a world that invites more women to lead, a world in which women leaders help shape our collective future. And I plan to help make that world more possible by inviting other women to lead as often as I can.

Originally posted 2013-03-29 06:13:10.

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5 Responses to “Invite a Woman to Lead”

  1. Pam@over50feeling40

    I do this every day with my female high school students. It is so important to focus young women early. I find so many still do not see themselves as capable to run companies or governments. I try to esteem one of them every single day of school so they see their potential.

  2. Aunt Vixen

    Related (and even better?): Beginning with “If you know a woman with untapped potential”, and reading from there to the end, substitute “girl”. More opportunities, *and sooner*, and think what that could accomplish.

  3. Leah

    Sal, have you read Lean In? Its central thesis is very similar to what you wrote above, although focused on the corporate business world, and asking women to ask THEMSELVES to lead. That we should remind ourselves that we’re smart and capable and creative and amazing, and reach for opportunities for growth and leadership. It’s not a long book and it’s well worth the read.

    • Sally

      Not yet, Leah. I have, though, read about 20 bajillion analyses of the book … it is definitely in the press spotlight right now! I’m on the board of a women’s leadership program now, and I think we may all read it and discuss as a summer project.

    • alice

      I loved Sandberg’s TED talk and really enjoyed her book as well. After reading it, I felt that a lot of the people who were writing negative things about her book had not actually read it. Personally, I found it inspiring and there were good tips for me even though I’m in the academic world, not the corporate one. I’ve also watched several of the videos on her leanin.org website and found them useful as well (especially the ones on negotiation and teamwork).