by Jeffrey L. Boney
Special to the NNPA from the Houston Forward Times
March is Women’s History Month, and the Houston Forward Times would like to both celebrate the many contributions of Black women, as well as highlight the many accomplishments of some of Houston’s own successful Black women during (Black) Women’s History Month.
According to a report, Women of Tomorrow, done by Nielsen, women across generations and from both developed and emerging economies believe their roles are changing and they are changing for the better. Women control the majority of purchasing decisions in a household and their influence is growing. Women across the world are expanding beyond traditional roles to influence decisions in the home, in business and in politics. The bottom line is women have become leaders in every sense of the word.
Leadership can be a very lonely place and a very lonely experience. Nevertheless, those who seek to make their mark in this world must become a leader at some point in their lives; that is if they hope to leave a meaningful legacy. Leaders don’t wait for approval; leaders don’t wait for acceptance; leaders don’t wait for praise; leaders lead….period!
Sadly, when it comes to women and the leadership mantle they undertake, there is a stigma that is often placed on them that several women are seeking to dismantle, one woman at a time.
There is a new campaign that was launched by Facebook COO and “Lean In” author, Sheryl Sandberg. In conjunction with former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice and Girl Scouts USA CEO, Anna Maria Chávez, the “Ban Bossy” campaign was created to deal with the negative stigma attributed to women that they are “bossy” when in fact they are just great leaders and are growing exponentially. There is a website that provides tips for parents, kids, teachers and managers to build young female leaders. Celebrities like Beyonce, Jennifer Garner and Jane Lynch have come on board as well to do a Lifetime PSA to place a major emphasis on banning negative words like “bossy” that keep girls from becoming leaders.
Sandberg says, “When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a “leader.” Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded “bossy.” Words like bossy send a message: don’t raise your hand or speak up. By middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys—a trend that continues into adulthood. Together we can encourage girls to lead.”
In the PSA, Beyonce notes that by middle school, “girls are less interested in leadership than boys,” because they are afraid of being labeled. Beyonce goes on to encourage all young girls by saying, “Be brave, be you. I’m not bossy, I’m the boss.”
Leadership is often a lonely journey, especially for most women; but, no woman will ever become a great leader if they don’t have people following them. Famous management consultant Peter F. Drucker once said, “The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say ‘I’. And that’s not because they have trained themselves not to say ‘I’. They don’t think ‘I’. They think ‘we’; they think ‘team’. They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don’t sidestep it, but ‘we’ gets the credit….This is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done.”
Many times in leadership roles, women are often thrust into situations that require them to go beyond the typical stereotype that women get about being soft or unable to make tough decisions.
“We call girls bossy on the playground,” Sandberg told ABC News. “We call them too aggressive or other B-words in the workplace. They’re bossy as little girls, and then they’re aggressive, political, shrill, too ambitious as women.”
Here locally, several Houston women chimed in on the use of the term “bossy” and what it means to be a leader of people in today’s society.
Houston Forward Times Publisher and CEO Karen Carter Richards believes that it is rewarding to have a team that believes in her vision and are willing to help her accomplish her goals as the boss.
“I was taught to be aggressive in the things you want and to not be afraid to make tough decisions; both good and bad,” said Richards. “I was taught these things by my mother and to be honest, I love being able to build upon a foundation that was set for me long before I fully understood what it meant to be a boss.”
Lane Staffing CEO Carla Lane believes that being a boss is a role that was divinely instilled in all women and a role that she gladly accepts.
“To me, being a boss means that I am in charge of the decisions I make on the Earth, while walking through the doors that God has opened for me,” said Lane. “I’m a boss because I know the world didn’t give me this position and the world can’t take it away from me.”
Ellen Graham, who owns the popular restaurant and catering company, Ellen Ray’s, considers herself an organizer; and even though she has only 8 staff members, she has them serving as a kitchen manager, a floor manager, a bar manager, a facilities manager, and other positions because she wants them to know what leadership and responsibility are all about.
“The “B” word stereotype can be easily gotten rid of if most leaders would empathize with their employees and their job duties,” said Graham. “It’s important that all my staff know that I will push up my sleeves and do whatever it takes to have a successful event. I love service and my staff knows that the only time that I will become more expressive and aggressive is if we’re not giving extraordinary service.”
There are so many powerful stories of African American women who have overcome challenges and have risen in the ranks to become some of the most influential leaders of our time. One such story is that of an African American woman raised by a single mother in a New York city housing project, who broke the glass ceiling to become the Chairwoman and CEO of Xerox in 2009. Ursula Burns is the first African American woman CEO to head a Fortune 500 company and in 2009, Forbes rated Burns the 14th most powerful woman in the world.
There are so many other countless stories like these that are told and some that are never told.
“If you look at the world, women do 66 percent of the work in the world,” said Sandberg. “Women produce 50 percent of the food. Women make 10 percent of the income and women own one percent of the property. We are 50 percent of the population. We are five percent of the Fortune 500 CEOs. We are 17 percent of the board seats. We are 19 percent in Congress. That’s not enough for 50 percent of the population. We live in a world that is overwhelming run and owned by men.”
The confidence gap starts early. Between elementary and high school, girls’ self–esteem drops 3.5 times more than boys’. Bossy holds girls back. Girls are twice as likely as boys to worry that leadership roles will make them seem “bossy.” Girls get less airtime in class. They are called on less and interrupted more.
On top of that, women can no longer be labeled “bossy”, especially when they speak out against the tremendous inequity that takes place against them. For instance, women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes; a pay gap exists even the first year out of college and continues through a woman’s life. The poverty rate for women is 14.5 percent, which is the highest amongst women in two decades. On top of that, the more educational success that a woman achieves, the higher the pay disparity compared to men. Women-owned businesses continue to lag behind men-women business, with the average revenue of women-owned businesses being only 27% of the average revenue of men-owned businesses. These are glaring inequities that need to be addressed. However, in the midst of this inequity, women continue to shine and make tremendous strides.
Women, in many cases, are similar to superheroes. Even in their most challenging moments and lowest times, they are always able to overcome, prevail and save the day. Superheroes are so inspirational because they are almost always faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges and usually have to deal with villainous characters or an arch-enemy, who is seeking to destroy them and others. Superheroes step up to the plate, regardless of whether they’re called upon or whether they see the danger on their own.
Simply put, these superheroes are leaders. Even when they feel like walking away, quitting or giving up, superheroes continue to lead. Even when they are treated unfairly and vilified by the very people they are seeking to protect and save, superheroes continue to lead.
A superhero is a leader, whether they want to accept that role or not; the world would not function the same and others would suffer if they rejected their leadership responsibility and obligation. There is not much difference between a superhero and many of the women of today; with the exception of them not having real super powers, although many would argue that the women of today have to have super powers to be able to do the miraculous things they do.