Opportunities for women to step into leadership present themselves less often as invitations and more often as acts of courage. No one asked Crystal Quade to run for State Representative of Missouri’s 132nd district, but when a local non-discrimination ordinance that provided protections for many underrepresented members of her community was repealed in 2015, her convictions told her that it was time to lead. On the night of the repeal, she began to consider how running for office might affect her career as a young professional working for a nonprofit organization in addition to how it might affect her young family. She recounts a conversation with her husband where she asked questions like “What will I miss out on with my family?” “Do I have the experience to do this?” and “Am I even good enough?” She also noted, “These are the questions women ask themselves every time we are presented with opportunities for leadership.”
Every opportunity for leadership demands a certain amount of courage, but because women are more rarely considered for these opportunities than men, a woman’s decision to assume a position of leadership may be more thoroughly defined by her courage. In Leading Women, my co-author Sandra Ford Walston says, “Acting with courage is about acting from the heart, from the center of your innermost being.” She goes on to say, “The bull’s-eye that we women must learn to hit consistently is the true self… By focusing on the bull’s-eye of our true self, we access the empowering virtue of courage.”
As she weighed the decision of running for office, Quade could have easily given in to her doubts and hesitations, but she chose to follow the instincts of her true self—the path of courage. Quade had been preparing for this moment her entire life. She was a first-generation high school graduate who went on to earn a degree in social work. While in college, she discovered an interest in government through a course on policy, and she accepted an internship in the state capital her senior year. After college, she spent two years working for the United States Senate and has since devoted herself to non-profit work empowering her local community. Her doubts about her experience and qualifications were easily reconciled simply by observing the ways that she aligned with her true self to find and fulfill her passions.
When Quade spoke at the recent Women’s March in her hometown of Springfield, Missouri, she talked about the bevy of issues that are decidedly important to women being debated and even threatened in the current political cycle. She reminded those gathered for the march, “Our voice is not only needed. It is being demanded.” Recognizing the need for more women in leadership at every level of government, she said, “Look to the woman next to you. Ask her to run. Ask her to lead.” Quade punctuated her remarks by saying, “And damn it, when you get asked, say yes!”
The way to increase invitations to leadership among women is for women to extend them. However, at this moment in time, women can no longer afford to simply wait for invitations to lead. They must continue to do as Quade did and lead from a place of courage. When women see opportunities to lead that align with their own sense of their true selves, they must step up with courage and conviction and do the work that must be done. When it comes to leadership, women’s voices are not only needed. They are being demanded.