A few weeks ago, I took my two young daughters to the time-honored tradition of a birthday party at the roller rink. While my girls enjoyed the party, I sat off on the sidelines observing the children at play. I was struck watching two girls in particular – one slightly older, teaching her younger friend how to roller skate. The younger girl, clearly anxious of her tenuous newfound skill, clung to the wall for dear life as she went around. As she approached the 10-foot gap in the rink where there was no wall to hold onto, the girl, fearful of falling, told her friend she couldn’t do it. In reply, the older girl cheered the younger one on, encouraged her, told her she could do it…and finally said, “I’ve got you, you’ll be great!” The younger girl took a deep breath and went for it. My ears quickly were pierced by the shriek of joy only a nine-year old girl can make, as she celebrated her friend’s success for clearing the 10-foot divide.
As I watched this innocent scene play out in front of me, all I could think of was how genuine her excitement was for her friend, and when as women – as people – did we stop cheering each other on? When did we lose this sense of comradery and compassion and start seeing each other as competition? When did we lose the ability to take a chance, and aim high, even if it scared us? When did we stop encouraging others to do the same?
March 8 is recognized as International Women’s Day around the world, with this year’s theme dedicated to making a “Pledge for Parity.” So in that spirit, as you step up to pledge for greater gender parity across the world, I also encourage you to make a more personal commitment — a pledge to care for one another. As women, we can invest our energy in elevating each other, or tearing each other down. I hope we opt for elevation. To help get started, here are just a few simple ways to ensure we are supporting each other and pushing ourselves to achieve our goals:
- Say “yes” when your comfort zone is telling you to say “no” – Just like the young girl at the roller skating rink, you need to push yourself out of your comfort zone to succeed. Challenge yourself to try for the role or opportunity that seems like a stretch; push yourself to take on new projects that will force you to engage with new people. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results. You also need to believe in others abilities, and encourage the “yes.”
- Embrace your inner child– Remember the support you received as a kid – as a member of a team, on the playground or in the classroom? There was nothing you and your girlfriends could not accomplish! Bring that feeling back – support your colleagues, encourage them, cheer them on – and they’ll start to do the same in return.
- Don’t forget to disconnect to connect– In today’s tech-savvy world, we can communicate anywhere, anytime – but are we truly communicating? Don’t forget the value of personal connections when trying to build professional relationships – the ability to read body language, be empathetic and connect one-on-one is invaluable. These connections help you recognize when someone needs your support, or when you need theirs.
- Pay it forward – Always be grateful for those who helped you in your journey and remember to pay it forward. You did not get here alone. Do you recall the mentor that shaped your career and gave you the lay of the land? Perhaps the friend that thought you could do anything, or the team member that welcomed you when you were the “new kid?” Become that person for someone else.
Hopefully, you’ll find some useful advice here to share with your colleagues and peers. And just maybe, you’ll help “roller rink girls” everywhere become the strong, caring and encouraging leaders we know they deserve to be.