This year’s women’s history month theme is “Visionary Women: Champions of Peace & Nonviolence.” I haven’t ended a war or social injustice, nor do I have the answers to the complex diversity issues that we face. Being a woman doesn’t make me an expert in women’s history either. Much the same as being the Chief People Officer doesn’t mean I have all the answers to people’s issues in the workplace.
But what I am is a woman with a history. And since I lead people initiatives at Jack, I do have a unique perspective on how personal history can shape our agency’s future, fostering growth and change. It boils down to something pretty basic: Respect.
What gender roles?
I grew up in a divorced family with a working mother. I was a proverbial latch key kid. I would come home from school and take care of my sister until my mom got home. When my mom worked nights, I got my sister ready for school and onto the bus. I grew up faster than other kids – mainly because I had bigger responsibilities at an early age. It’s one of the many things that has shaped me.
As a young girl, I thought women could do everything that men do. I watched a woman support her family and raise children by herself. She didn’t talk to me about women’s issues or gender inequities. Rather, she showed me how to balance a checkbook and taught me how to make a pretty terrible meatloaf.
The reality is, women have always worked. Next to the cave men, there were cave women. Men went to war and women took over the businesses. Women entered the workforce in droves. They balanced jobs and carpools. They hired help or relied on their families. And over time, more and more men stayed home with the children while their wives went to work. My husband is one of them. He does the laundry, grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning. He makes lunches and drives our boys to soccer practice and swimming lessons. Though there are many families like mine these days, it’s not the norm. It is different than what many people are used to and it can make some uncomfortable. I get that.
The unfamiliar often feels uncomfortable. At the same time, the unfamiliar challenges us to grow and to learn. Each of us has our own history and our own stories. The things in our lives that have shaped us. And we bring all of this to our workplace and our communities.
So what’s the lesson? It’s simple. You are you, and I am me. Your life has been shaped differently than mine. The beautiful thing is this creates opportunity. It’s this diversity that allows us to learn and grow from one another.
With growth comes change
Today I am part of an executive team that is 33% female. In an agency where men have been leading the business for 80 years, this is huge. It means that things are truly changing.
With change comes the unfamiliar, which is both invigorating and scary. It presents us with opportunity and challenges; new, unknown things. How do we navigate these changing tides? With respect.
We must respect each other’s differences. Respect our own stories. Respect the diversity of how we think. Respect what has shaped us, what drives us, what scares us, and what enables us to get back up when life throws us a curve ball.
Starting today, I challenge you to do as we like to say in my house: You be you and I’ll be me. Continue to work together, accept one another’s differences, celebrate individual stories, and learn from each another.
Together, we will forge ahead in this new reality and continue to shape women’s history.