2020 is a special reminder for women to keep marching forward. This year we celebrate a century of women’s suffrage in the United States, and also the life of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as her casket departs the U.S. Capitol.
In her advocacy for women, Justice Ginsburg said, “my objective was to take the Court step by step to the realization, in Justice Brennan’s words (in 1973), that the pedestal on which some thought women were standing all too often turned out to be a cage.” She was referring to the laws that made employers hesitant to hire women, that mandated paid maternity leaves, or that left women vulnerable by relegating them to the traditional role of homemakers and “man as woman’s protector and defender.”
Ruth Ginsburg and the champions of women’s suffrage smoothed the path for future generations of women.
We now need to inspire women to be what they want to be by being who they are.
More young women need to believe that they too can excel in the professional world, allow their aspirations to swell from within, and feel fulfilled independently of their partner. They too have the power, the intellect, and strength to learn any discipline they choose to.
There is no magic in achieving professional success. I earned two US patents in technology, based on ideas that evolved from projects that I was working on. I also had a hard time with English grammar and spelling (and still do), but the Huffington Post accepted me as a writer. I failed an art class in seventh grade, but now I am proud of my painting skills. I did not think I had a mind for business but I was able to start my own company and take it public.
To me, excelling turned out to be about perseverance, and trusting my own intellect and thinking — without depending on others. If we put our minds to something, we are likely to surprise ourselves.
This does not mean women do not feel intimidated or nervous entering a man’s world. When I meet successful women, some are incredibly smart, some are super hard workers, and others who are very tough, but most of them look like everyone else; not always confident, but not pushovers either.
At my first job, I was assigned to a group that made specialized hybrid circuits for other engineering groups. Jim, the manager of another group, wanted his job done first and started throwing his weight around. I resented his attitude, but he became even more insistent. Finally I blurted out, “Jim, you will have to wait. I will do your job in the order received.” This was risky for me to do. I was a new employee, an immigrant and the only woman engineer in a 1500-person company. Jim had seniority and was twice my age.
I was happily surprised when Jim later invited me to speak to his daughter’s 8th-grade class to encourage girls to consider entering non-traditional professions.
Boldness is sometimes rewarded. I re-privatized my public company at the peak of the dot.com carze. Two years later when the internet bubble burst, I had to shut down the company that I had invested 20 years building. Since then I learned to play competitive bridge and to write — both new venture to me — and so far they have worked out.
When we graduate from college we know we still have much to learn to succeed in our professions. When I started playing in bridge competitions I was playing against champions with decades of experience. It was given that I would lose more competitions than I won, which was discouraging. I had to learn to enjoy learning again. It was the only way to succeed.
The process of learning is about experimentation and failing. Arianna Huffington’s saying “failure is a stepping stone to success” is my favorite.
Being who we are is another important factor for success, especially for women. Many women lack role models in their fields. Men’s mannerism does not work for us. We bring our manners, our authenticity and our uniqueness to the table; that is our strength. Trusting who we are, gets us further ahead, and more easily.
Professional organizations for women in technology often emphasize the importance of women seeking mentors. It implies that women need help to get ahead. Yet, young men are advised to network to build connections. Women need to get away from mental scaffoldings of dependencies. I would argue that leaning on others can slow our march forward.
Having reflected on women’s issues all my adult life did not make it any easier to write this article. However, penning my thoughts has helped me clarify my own thinking. I would also encourage women to write down how they want to learn and grow. Writing helps flesh out ideas better.
To me, the advancement of women is about not holding ourselves back. Women can no longer be an afterthought but as RBG said, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.” Women are still making painfully slow progress towards high positions in traditionally male-dominated fields — where money and power reside.
This is a very well-written piece and makes many good points, for example, the one about building connections vs. seeking mentors. But like most articles on this topic, it also does not address the elephant in the room.
One of the few women who have addressed the elephant is Indra Nooyi, former CEO of Pepsico. An excerpt from one of her conversations: “My observation…is that the biological clock and the career clock are in total conflict with each other. Total, complete conflict. When you have to have kids you have to build your career. Just as you’re rising to middle management your kids need you because they’re teenagers….”
But even Indra Nooyi has not offered any good practical advice for other women. She was able to raise her own daughters with a lot of help from family and others, the kind of help that most women (and even men) cannot get or afford. In fact, as a society, we are at a crossroad. As we continue to devalue a mother’s (and father’s) contribution to the creation of a good society, all this talk about making America great again will remain just talk.
Excellent article. Female empowerment will make for a better society.
Great ideas, Mentoring vs Networking. Another factor which is key to a successful woman is a supporting partner. Person you marry will be important in determining your success. As it was said in Alpha Girls.
I’ve come across successful woman whose partner/ spouse was very supportive ( in taking care of house chores/ taking care of kids) vs frustrated women who have the talent but husband is not supportive.
Vinita, I had forgotten how much I miss you. THIS IS YOUR NICHE & YOUR STRENGTH. You are a feminist & an enabler.This is an essay that is one of my fave writing pieces. Thank you & look forward to many more.
I am an entrepreneur founding with my wife MSI – now still private company with revenue $1.6B
My Wife’s words
I do not believe in equality – There are areas where women are superior and should be recognized –
Take example of colors – When Men sees Pink – most women will see rose, punch, watermelon, flamingo, salmon, coral, peach, strawberry, rosewood, magenta and few more
In fact most men cannot go beyond 11 colors plus black – while women can easily identify over 141 colors and hence HTML code in computer screen has at least 141 colors.
What about women smell ability?
No wonder man gives Flowers to woman!
What about hearing ability particularly at night – all that different sounds – crying baby to tiptoeing husband coming late at night?
For every age group pass 60 – twice many men have hearing loss as women!
All sensatory perceptions is tied to X Chromosomes –
Women have two X chromosomes where men have one X and one Y chromosomes –
So men have more physical strength – let them do the hardwork!
Women are also better at handling stress! Men on the other hand tend to curb under pressure. Whereas women- they just come up stronger. No wonder men have more cardiac- heart related problems!
When it comes to driving and directions – woman let husband do it – keep man happy as if they are in control!
Life expectancy – 5-7 years more in Women to men in almost all civilization around the world.
That extra Sixth sense in women!
Their ability to sense something good to occur or bad possibility!
Man cannot be pregnant and hence will never understands the pain as woman.
Why We keep fighting for Money?
Power is it worth it?
Rika Shah Founder of M S International, Inc
What an empowering, beautiful article that we all can relate to. Thanks for sharing.
I agree with Manu and his wife. Women are superior to men in many areas, sometimes because of their upbringing, sometimes because of their lifestyle, and sometimes because of their genes. The problem is that it is politically incorrect to say such things. Why? Because if women start saying that they are better at certain things (colors, smells, stress management, longevity, etc.), some people might counter by saying that men are better at certain other things (tennis, auto repairs, fighting fires, etc.). And some might even suggest, heaven forbid, that men are better at chess or math.
But men are not allowed to say such things. So women also have to play down their unique strengths. But striving for gender equality is a lame strategy for women. It is somewhat analogous to seeking mentors. Instead women should develop and grow their strengths by building connections. Eventually, they should strive to create a world that appreciates and rewards their unique strengths better.
Vijay, you make some good points.
Mothers’ Careers Are at Extraordinary Risk Right Now
It is no wonder that birthrates are falling sharply, especially among the well-educated and career-oriented women. As a society, we must create an environment where mothers (and fathers too) are recognized and valued for their unique contribution to the survival and perpetuation of our civilization and our species.
Demography is destiny. Under the current paradigm of capitalism/job/career, the children of meek women will inherit the earth.