Follow the Leader
This post is in response to an article written on Forbes.com by 19-year-old Julie Zeilinger, a Barnard, Columbia University student and founder of the fantastic site F-Bomb.org.
A friend of mine sent me Julie Zeilinger’s “Why Millennial Women Do Not Want to Lead” and I was moved to respond. It’s a provocative piece, definitely worth a read. While Zeilinger cites some shocking statistics—42% of 1st to 3rd grade girls wish they were thinner, 80% of ten-year-old American girls say they’ve been on a diet—her stats conflate the media’s portrayal of women with Millennial women having the ability and desire to lead.
Zeilinger believes Millennial women don’t want to be leaders because:
- High-school and college-aged girls don’t raise their hands first, due to a belief that their opinions are inferior;
- We’re objectified by the media;
- We’ve become crippled by insecurities about the way we look;
- We, as women, define leadership as perfection in a way men don’t – “Men are generally taught that perfection is not a necessary component of success.”
She then concludes that “we” need to change the definition of leadership.
I hear Zeilinger’s points loud and clear, however I’ll only respond to one: changing the definition of leadership.
While I agree that sexism and the incessant (and at times hateful) objectification of women must stop, and that these are leading causes of many women’s insecurities, I disagree that the way “we” define leaders needs to be changed.
Why? Because what does being a leader even mean? I see the words “leader” and “leadership” splashed across every publication. From the Harvard Business Review praising altruistic managers to the Drudge Report hailing the virtues of Paul Ryan, the ubiquity of the word is troubling to me.
Does being a leader mean being the boss? Making the most money? Starting your own company? Being the intellectual giant in the room? Crossing the street first? With each definition, I’d consider a different set of people leaders.
Leadership is subjective. There are many Millennial women in my life I see as leaders. They may not be making buckets of money or running a government agency, but they are taking calculated risks and reaching for the stars.
I’ll use myself as an example—you determine whether or not I fit the “leader” bill.
I moved to Washington, DC without any friends or professional contacts. However, I had the good fortune of having family in town, affording me a place to land when I arrived. That said, I had literally no inroads to working in politics. I knew I wanted a political career, but that’s about it.
In the past three years, I have volunteered with a half dozen organizations; convened Congressional hearings with hundreds in attendance; advocated for successful (and unsuccessful) human rights and national security legislation; directed two nonprofits’ Congressional programs; and currently work with companies on their cause marketing and corporate social responsibility portfolios. In between, I’ve gained a very long list of contacts and friends.
Do I make piles of money? No. Have I started my own company? Not yet. Do I have the highest level of education? Nope. Am I the first to cross the street? Always.
Allison McGuire is the Partnerships Program Associate at Network for Good and a Truman Partner. You can read more of her blog posts at www.CompaniesforGood.org and find her on Twitter @CaliMcG
Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/shoothimifheruns/5681201162/