women’s liberation?

Watch out, I’m about to drop the dirty ‘F’ bomb . . . Feminism.

I recently finished an insightful book by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, titled “Lean In. Women, work and the will to lead.” I couldn’t put it down.

Below are some of the shocking statistics that were revealed – try to read them without dropping your jaw:

  • There are 4.4 million women and girls worldwide still trapped in the sex trade.
  • 30 years after women became 50% of the college graduates in the USA, men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in government and industry.
  • Success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. ie/ When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less.
  • Women still do the vast majority of childcare. As a result, becoming a parent decreases workforce participation for women but not men. 43% of highly qualified women with children are leaving careers.
  • When a husband and wife both are employed full-time, the mother does 40% more child care and about 30% more housework than the father.
  • Gender bias influences how we view performance and typically raises our assessment of men, while lowering our assessment of women.

Let that soak in for a minute. . . Scary huh.

How have we come so far since the women’s rights movement, yet still be so far behind true equality?

I guess I was surprised by these statistics as I have always had strong female role models in my life. I was bought up to believe that I could achieve anything my heart desired, that nothing was out of my reach. My mother worked full-time in law for 30 years, my Nana is independent and determined, I have always had female managers and department heads, plus I have worked in female dominated industries my whole life. Working with lululemon, I am continually surrounded by inspiring, entrepreneurial women who stand for each other’s greatness. So for me, becoming privy to these facts was a major wake up call to the true state of affairs.

The word feminism has received a bad wrap over the years, and now has such a negative connotation. It’s a shame that this term has been muddied and taken away from its true meaning. Feminism needn’t equate to man-hating, bra-burning lesbians anymore.  It’s all about deconstructing and ‘dusting off’ this world to re-define it; a recent study revealed that only 24% of the women in the United States say that they consider themselves feminists. Yet when offered a more specific definition of feminism – “A feminist is someone who believes in social, political, and economic equality of the sexes” – the percentage rises to 65%. Hallelujah, that’s a step in the right direction.

“When the suffragette’s marched in the streets, they envisioned a world where men and women would be truly equal. A century later, we are still squinting, trying to bring that vision into focus.”

– Sheryl Sandberg

10.jpg.CROP_.article920-large   1911-suffragettes

“Women have been subtly striving all our lives to prove that we have picked up the torch that feminism provided. That we haven’t failed the mothers and grandmothers that made our ambitions possible. And yet, in a deep and profound way, we are failing. Because feminism wasn’t supposed to make us feel guilty, or prod us into constant competition over who is raising children better, organising more co-operative marriage, or getting less sleep. It was supposed to make us free – to give us not only choices but the ability to make these choices without constantly feeling that we’d somehow gotten it wrong” – Debora Spar.

So then, how and why has our progress stopped?

Beyoncé says women run the world, however the blunt truth is that it is men. “Out of 195 independent countries in the world, just 17 are led by women. Women hold only 20% of seats in parliaments globally. A meager 21 of the Fortune 500 CEO’s are women. Women hold about 14% of executive positions, 17% of board seats, and constitute 18% of our elected congressional officials. (The gap is even worse for women of colour, who hold just 4%, 3% and 5% respectively.)”

“This means that when it comes to making the decisions that most affect our world, women’s voices are not heard equally.”

Sandberg explains that it is not only society that is holding women back, we are also holding ourselves back – “In addition to the external barriers erected by society, women are hindered by barriers that exist within our selves. We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back (from our career) when we should be leaning in. We internalise the negative messages we get throughout our lives – the messages that say its wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men. We lower our expectations of what we can achieve.”

Communication is the key to change, “We need to disrupt the status quo. Staying quiet and fitting in may have been all the first generations of women could do; in some cases, it might still be the safest path. But this strategy is not paying off for women as a group. Instead, we need to speak out, identify the barriers that are holding women back, and find solutions.”

“Talking can transform minds, which can transform behaviours, which can transform institutions.”

The majority of people I coach are women, so this research has really opened up my eyes to how much more support, encouragement and outright cheer-leading the women of today need. It’s time to amp up this conversation, and for us to champion and promote our fellow women.

As a life coach, I don’t necessarily have power to change our cultural and institutional inequality; the sex trade, the stereo types, gender biases, salary differences, unequal child care policies – but I do get to have a big impact on individuals; the way they see themselves and their place in the world.

My job, more than ever, is about empowering women to live a life they love – to clear self-limiting beliefs, to encourage them to dream big, to jump onto the playing field and achieve their full potential.

I love that Sandberg isn’t advocating that every woman should want to be head of state, or a CEO, but rather – whatever our goals are, to pursue them with gusto. To fulfil our potential.

We all are the hope for an equal world. It begins with finding something you love and doing it with all your heart.

Ask yourself, what would i do if I weren’t afraid? And then go do it.

So am I a feminist? You’re damn right I am.

Social gains are never handed out.

They must be seized.

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Click here to view Sandberg’s inspiring TEDTalk on “Why we have too few women’s leaders”. 

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