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Raising Girls for Success

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What should we be doing, right now, to raise girls for success? 

Work Her Way expert Ivy Cohen recently posed this question to me. It has all of us at Work Her Way thinking about what we wish we could say to our younger selves.

Ivy’s own answer has its roots in her upbringing, and the edge it gave her later as she navigated a career path that included a few male-dominated environments. She says,

“I was fortunate to be raised by enlightened parents who taught me that leadership, academic achievement, and competition were characteristics of girls as well as boys. While I’ve always surrounded myself with both female and male friends and colleagues, I found myself in many situations since childhood where I was one of the few—if not the only—female.

Early on, I noticed that many girls lacked certain socialization skills relevant to our ability to have a fully array of choices and be positioned for success. So, I’ve honed my skills in collaboration and competition. I’ve also made it a habit to reach out and make special efforts to help other capable girls experience and integrate these life shaping lessons.”

We decided to pose this question elsewhere, and the answers came forth with such a depth and richness, it was quickly obvious that Ivy’s question resonated with a number of working women.

I think that the reason this struck such a chord is many of us remember a time in our young lives when we allowed the world to shape our identities just a little too much.

Our Creative Director (a man, by the way) said that he believes we can change the world if we can just get through to those girls between the ages of eleven and thirteen.

I knew exactly what he meant—it’s a time when girls sometimes “lose their voices” as they strive to fit in and be accepted. I’ve been there, and so have many of you. All of a sudden, all we wanted was to be liked, and to be non-confrontational. We wanted to be seen as attractive, sweet, and easy to get along with. Somehow all of our sentences now began with phrases like, “Well, if it’s all right with everyone else …”

For some of these girls, now women, it can be years before they get their voices back and re-connect with the bold person they once were.

We started by asking our team of experts. The answers were rich and interesting. One of my favorites came from children’s book author Renata Bowers, who wrote her first book, Frieda B. Herself, to encourage children to dream their dreams big. Her answer:

“You are extraordinary. And you can’t be extraordinary and be a crowd follower at the same time.”

A few more:

“I have a fifteen-year-old daughter (and twin son), so this question strikes home. For me, I recognize that everything I do and say is an example to her. So, I strive to treat others with kindness and compassion, be honest, stay grateful, try new things, and laugh at and learn from my mistakes. I encourage her to do the same.”—Work Her Way Expert Tricia Molloy

“If I had a chance to sit down with my twenty-five-year old self I would tell myself to enjoy this age of discovery, trust my instincts, define success for myself, and do what I love. I spent a lot of time pursuing a version of success that ultimately was not fulfilling to me. Define success in your own terms, do what you love, and the rest will follow.”—LifestyleMom.com founder Dana Hilmer

“Don’t stop yourself from trying to make waves. Striving to please everyone will eventually kill you.”—Author, Speaker, and Work Her Way Expert Lynn Taylor

We plan to share others, but first we would like to hear your answer. I hope that you’ll find the time to help us build a treasure trove of wisdom for the next generation of working women. Please stop by and add your wisdom by clicking here to add to our series.

By Carolyn Kepcher, the founder of Work Her Way


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