Leaning in to Leadership Takes Practice - Women's Foundation California

Three Daughters

By Fabiola DeCaratachea, Program Officer

The recent article by Nick Kristof titled “She’s (Rarely) the Boss” has a lot of my friends commenting. Reviewing the article and their comments got me to thinking about what it takes for women to be leaders in a world in which women are still woefully underrepresented in corporate boardrooms.

It’s true; girls are socialized to be pleasant. Parents typically shake their heads at me when I suggest their “bossy” daughters are actually exhibiting leadership. And balance, for the family, for the human spirit, is woefully disrespected.

Kristof quotes Sheryl Sandberg, the chief financial officer of Facebook, who provides a disappointing answer to why women aren’t better represented in corporate boardrooms.

“We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in,” Sandberg writes in her book, “Lean In.”

For me, a woman of color, her comment hit a nerve. It made me think of people who suggest one of the reasons racism continues is because people of color perpetuate racism!

Kristof also gives his personal example of what happens when he lectures. When he points to someone in a crowd to ask a question, he says the women look at each other hesitantly, while any man in the vicinity jumps up and asks a question.

For the sake of argument, I have to ask you, is it best to be the person who leaps forward to take the stage, heedless of manners or fairness? Or is it good to be person who cedes to others and lets politeness be the first arbiter of action?

You can make a case for or against either style, although I think our American society rewards the first. Ours is also a society where thoughtfulness and consideration are hindered by the need for speed and instant gratification. But is that the society we want?

As women, we have been socialized to think and act in a certain way but in order to change these deeply imbedded social norms, we have to do MORE than just talk about it.  As a mother of three girls, this challenge is palpable in my home every day.

Inspired by women in leadership roles and who share their lessons learned, I take small steps every day to attempt to strengthen and celebrate my daughters’ leadership.

One of the things that I’ve tried to do is look at women in varying leadership roles – not limited to positional leadership roles. I have read and seen interviews with people like Hillary Clinton and Maya Angelou with the intention of learning from them what helped them to become leaders. I take that learning and apply it to how I treat my daughters. I want to instill in them a sense of confidence that they can be leaders in whatever form it takes – whether they decide to become artists or CEO’s.

I once saw an interview with Condoleezza Rice. She was asked how she, a young Black women growing up in the south, came to believe that she could ever be the secretary of state. She explained that when she was little, in her household, they had a rotating president position. That meant that she could make decisions on things like household activities and household meals. She said that she felt very empowered.

So for the last two years, we’ve been doing that in our household. We have a rotating ‘president’ position offered to all of our children – our three daughters and our son – on the weekends.  During that time, we all follow that child’s lead in terms of our food choices, outings and family activities.  It’s a small step, but I watch them and smile when my girls lean in.

One of the things that I’ve noticed with our rotating presidency is that the children eagerly anticipate what they will do when it’s their turn to be president. It’s also nice to hear my son say, “Citlali is my favorite president because she always does things outdoors.”

While I want to raise my daughters to be leaders, I also want them to understand the balance between valuing the inclusion of different voices, while valuing their own voice. In other words, yes, I want a society in which my daughters raise their hands and ask their questions, but I also want them to be able to invite other people to raise their hands and add their voices.

I want a society in which leaders value and make space for both the self and each other.

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