Why are Young Women Shying Away From Leadership Roles?

When I read a blog post recently that speaks about why young women are shying away from leadership there were many valid points that I found myself agreeing with. I myself being a “millennial”, am not shying away from leadership and in fact welcome it and hope to keep growing into it as I progress in my career. However, I have definitely noticed that this isn’t the same for a lot of the younger women I’ve come in touch with through high school, and college.

There was one point in particular in the blog post I read that really resonated with me personally. From Courtney E. Martin in her book Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, “we are a generation of young women who were told we could do anything and instead heard that we had to be everything.” The post later goes on to say “We need to define leadership not as perfection but as intelligence, honesty and doing the right thing. It is also essential that we question and change a society that sets the standard for achievement impossibly high for women and upsettingly low for men.”

These points struck a chord with me as I read through this because I started to really think back to my childhood in grade school, then middle school, then high school and then college. When doing this I realized that I had great confidence in myself during grade school, had no hesitation at all to be the first to raise my hand to answer the teacher’s questions to the class, volunteer to go first, etc. It wasn’t until the end of my 6th grade year/beginning of middle school when I began to really pay attention to what messages the media was sending out via TV, papers, magazines and of course the internet, that I started doubting myself, started to hold back on answering questions first and bringing up new ideas or questions in front of the class….and this was all for the wrong reasons.

It wasn’t because I had started slacking off in school, as this has never been the case for me, but it was due to the lack of self-confidence that I had started to experience…and not because of lack of confidence in my smarts but in my appearance. Now, why in the world should a young girl hold back from wanting to take leadership in her classes, not due to insecurities about her academic abilities–quite the opposite, full confidence in her academic abilities…but holding back because of her self image insecurities. Of course looking back now I can’t believe I did this and am quite at ends with myself for not keeping that self-belief and confidence I had so much of when I was much younger, and for giving in to the pressures of body image issues, the worry about my fashion style being wrong and not wanting to draw attention to myself because my hair, body and clothes weren’t like the other girls I saw in magazines or on TV or heard the media raving about.

So when I read the blog post and really thought about this is it applied to me personally, I couldn’t agree more with the line I quoted above. If it wasn’t for my amazing mom who happened to be a high school business teacher and the faculty advisor for a student organization (Future Business Leaders of America), that I attribute much of my self-confidence recovery to, who knows what I would have ended up doing after high school as I entered college and started to think about what I wanted my future to be. I do know though, that if young girls were more exposed to how leadership really should be looked at and not what they associate it to be from what they have heard or seen from the media adds, movie stars, models and public scrutiny of those few top female executives that we are foturnate to have…if we focused more around delivering the message to them that it is OK to not look, act, and be perfect but attribute it to intelligence, integrity, honesty, and self-respect I full heartedly believe we would see a rise in the millennial women wanting to lead.

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