Activist Monday: Expressions of Female Awesomeness
Posted March 9, 2015on:
“There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” — Madeleine Albright
Good afternoon, Widdershins! I hope you had a wonderful weekend.
As we have no doubt read on Teh Google and all over the Interwebz, yesterday was International Women’s Day. There were a lot of events and discussions to celebrate it, including one in which yours truly was a panelist.
Now, I generally agree that one day, or even one month, of awareness and activism is not nearly enough to elevate women to equal status in the world. However, I do think that a small stone can cause a large ripple…and just because the patriarchy isn’t giving us a lot to work with, doesn’t mean we can’t use it to do the unexpected and awesome, in the true sense of the word.
Today I’d like to showcase one woman who has gone through a singular journey of self-discovery. First she embraced corporate America and bought into its vision of success; then, she rejected it, and created her own reality to express her female awesomeness – and help others express theirs. Her name is Katharine Zaleski.
At first, Ms. Zaleski was one of those women who belong in that “special hell” described by Madeleine Albright. In particular, she cringes when she thinks about the way she used to treat working mothers. She describes several incidents she remembers in particular, one of which I’ll quote:
4. I scheduled last minute meetings at 4:30pm all of the time. It didn’t dawn on me that parents might need to pick up their kids at daycare. I was obsessed with the idea of showing my commitment to the job by staying in the office “late” even though I wouldn’t start working until 10:30 am while parents would come in at 8:30 am.
What changed her mind? As you might suspect, she continued to avoid the “dawn” until she had a child of her own – a daughter – and realized just how high that corporate ladder had suddenly become.
I read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, thinking it would motivate me. It only depressed me more. To me, the message was clear: put up with the choices made by a male-dominated work culture if you want to succeed. I reread Anne Marie Slaughter’s piece on “Why Women Can’t Have It All.” It just painted another reality that I had contributed to until it became my own problem.
Here’s where Katharine stepped out of the role the patriarchy had dictated for her, and became truly awesome.
While I was on maternity leave from NowThis News (a startup funded by members of The Huffington Post team), still wrestling with these thoughts, I was approached by my now co-founder, Milena Berry. She told me she had an idea to launch a company that would match women in technical positions they could do from home. I decided to quit my job and leave journalism, realizing this startup had enormous potential for the one billion women entering the workforce over the next ten years.
Ms. Zaleski went from stigmatizing working mothers, to creating a company, called PowertoFly, that caters to their needs and appreciates the unique contributions they make. With the matchups they make between employers and female employees, they create opportunities for remote work, leading to flexible hours, child care at home, and more wealth for the women they place. (For those who are not aware: 2nd earner laws in many states add a huge tax burden on a couple, and sometimes the costs of day care and commuting are so high that women elect not to work, in order to make more money for the family.)
Katharine is excited about how things are going so far, and who can blame her? Since the birth of PowertoFly, the company has so far processed over $1 million in paychecks, and has empowered women all over the world to earn more money on their terms. Katharine and her team are changing corporate culture, one hiring manager at a time…even the female ones, who often exhibit the same exclusionary behavior she did when she was in her twenties.
These women can help pave the path for their future selves if they start acting like allies rather than deniers. Instead of just smiling and saying you’re sorry that a mom can’t join for office drinks, ask her if she’d rather do lunch. If there’s a comment you over hear that disparages a mother because she wasn’t at her desk at 7pm, then speak up and point out that she was there at 8:30am, or completely available on Skype or Slack at 7 pm.
There are so many ways we can support each other as women, but it starts with the [sic] just recognizing that we’re all in different positions at different times in our lives.
I couldn’t agree more. For my part, I have seen that some of the small stones I throw (some during last Friday’s IWD panel) are rippling through my company’s culture even now. I will continue to do my part to support the advancement of women, on International Women’s Day, during Women’s History Month, and always. I hope the other women and men who read TW will continue do the same, in whatever way seems best to them.
This is an open thread.
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