More women than ever are entering and excelling in leadership positions across several industries. However, the number of male leaders is still much higher than that of female leaders.
Some reasons for this imbalance include negative gender biases that reinforce ideas of women as being too weak or emotional to efficiently lead others. Further, many boys’ leadership traits are cultivated from an early age while girls’ are not. It’s entirely possible that, by keeping certain ideals in mind when raising our daughters, we can help girls overcome these obstacles and rule the world.
Check your own biases.
Despite our best intentions, almost everyone carries deep-seated biases based on gender that can hinder girls’ leadership abilities. This isn’t necessarily a parent’s fault; we develop these biases based on the hundreds of daily messages we receive about what is expected of men and women. However, it’s important to become aware of your biases in order to counteract them and help your daughter’s leadership development.
Be honest with yourself. Pay attention to any assumptions you make about men and women, and how those assumptions influence your words and actions. Examine the conclusions you reach about how boys and girls should act, think, or feel.
Many people hold biases that suggest girls are weak, emotional, and can’t handle the tough stuff. By keeping these biases in check, you’ve made the first step in fostering your potential future leader.
Help her speak up.
It can be tough for a girl – or grown woman – to raise her voice and speak her mind. Although girls are provided more opportunities for leadership than ever before, society still labels outspoken girls and women with demeaning labels like “bossy.”
In fact, the Girl Scout Research Institute found that 33% of surveyed girls rejected leadership roles because they were afraid of being disliked and coming across as bossy. This is evident among women in the workforce, as studies show that female professionals speak less in meetings as an act of self-protection from judgment.
Since being outspoken is a trait of a strong leader, discouraging our daughters from voicing their opinions can greatly damage their leadership potential. To avoid this, it’s important to encourage girls to express their opinions in productive ways.
For instance, make sure that your home is a safe place for your daughters to speak up. Praise them for advocating for themselves, resolving conflicts, and sharing opinions productively. Avoid using gendered terms like “bossy” when describing outspoken women, and talk through gender bias with your family. By unpacking the issues related to society attacking opinionated women, you can encourage your daughter to question those biases, reject them, and choose people – like romantic partners – who will support her.
Get her into competitive activities.
Becoming a powerful leader often involves a dose of competition. You can foster healthy competitiveness early by encouraging your daughters to get involved in activities that foster initiative and leadership. Girl Scouts, organized sports, and other activities can all foster this sense of competition.
First, discuss the different types of leadership out there, and have them figure out how their interests might align with these types. At that point, you can help them get involved in the activities that they both care about and can see themselves excelling in. Some great leadership-building activities include guided public speaking, working in teams, and making change in society.
Help her build a strong community.
Most powerful women have strong support systems to lift them up. We can help our daughters with this by encouraging them to bond with other girls, accept kids who are different from them, and look up to strong women so they can learn from them.
A sadly frequent downfall of many female relationships is the competition that can brew between girls. Encourage your daughter to talk about her friends’ strengths, and make sure to praise her on her hard work – not on being the best. This will allow her to see other girls as partners in success, not competitors.
Encouraging girls to play with children different from them – including boys – will also prepare them for leadership in the real world. Playing with kids who have a diverse set of cultural, gender, mental, and other characteristics will help our daughters to get used to associating with diverse groups of people – a necessary skill in the real world.
Finally, providing our daughters with strong, female role models will make it clear that not only is it healthy to admire women rather than compete with them, but also that being a powerful woman is completely possible and desirable.
Although there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to raising strong daughters, taking into account gender biases and actively working to cultivate leadership skills will certainly help. By providing our daughters with opportunities to grow, we will support future female leadership in profound ways.