by Nancy D. O’Reilly, PsyD
On post-Inauguration Saturday, women definitely went big. Even those who stayed home watched as more than 4.6 million marched for women’s rights as human rights in 642 cities on every continent on the globe. As you know my mission is to promote women supporting other women, which includes women recognizing and accepting their responsibility and their talents as leaders. And even though there were 500,000 marchers in Washington, DC Saturday, the U.S. remains 75th in the world in leadership parity, and still has yet to elect a woman for President or enact the ERA. In fact, the reason for an outpouring of so many marchers was a very real fear that our rights will shrink and undo the few gains we’ve made in recent years.
In 2015, I attended my first World Economic Forum in India and was inspired by the 107 countries that attended. I came back with even more resolve to make sure that we continue to work on women’s leadership in our country. Some of the countries who were represented have had women leaders 50 years or more. Although we are considered to be the top country in many ways our track record with regard to women’s leadership is pretty pathetic.
Another thing I brought home from India is that all these women are accustomed to supporting one another. They have been doing it for a long time. We have so much to learn from this. Women giving support to one another is key to women becoming leaders. The way women have behaved since the election has been astounding. They have signed up to learn how to enter politics, networked to become involved and finally realized that if they want to change things, they have to step up and go big.
Recently, I interviewed Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, who had just run her first race for a national seat in Congress. Helene said that her entry into politics happened during a speech she made to the City Council. In one ah-ha moment she realized that she shouldn’t be telling people what needed to be done; she should do what needed to be done. And she did. She ran for and achieved a seat on City Council in 2003. Helene talked about how women are held to the perfection standard and many other double-standards that makes it tough for them to succeed. Instead of people taking the female candidate as a whole, they pick at mistakes she might have made in the past. People need to step up and support women for executive posts and public office. Their diversity of gender, ideas and talents matter.
Though Helene didn’t win her race for Congress, she’s glad that she ran. Women bring a different viewpoint to the public forum. As the only woman among the nine candidates running, she brought issues to the forefront that became part of the conversation. One of these was the issue of being successful in higher education, which has to do in part with student debt as students graduate from colleges. Helene also brought up sexual assault on our campuses and what we can do on a national level to address this very important issue. It wasn’t until she brought it up that others began talking about it. You need to bring up these issues and talk about them. They are not women’s issues; they are American issues that everyone needs to talk about, so they can be resolved.
If you look at the placards of the marchers on Saturday, there are hundreds of issues among them. Though most headlines spoke to a core issue of “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights,” the messages were as diverse as the marchers. The challenge for us now is to find ways to support one-another and to work together on issues that we can affect in a positive way and maybe even solve through our collaborations of special talents. Women are very good at seeing what the issues truly are and what needs to happen to make the world a better place. That is what women bring to the table. The hand that rocks the cradle rocks the world.
At the March in Springfield, Missouri, Crystal Quade talked about her own decision-making process to run for the state House of Representatives. At the end, she encouraged everyone there to find the best candidate and support them. That candidate, Crystal asserted is probably standing next to you, so ask her. And she encouraged the women who were asked, to say yes. Now, I reach out to you to become the leader we need and to help the woman next to you to create a much healthier community environment, where women and men don’t have to march in protest, but celebrate our successes and our value for lives well-lived, in peace, safety, abundance and love for our sisters and brothers.