I distinctly remember the first time in my life I was told “Stop it! Girls don’t do that!”
I was 8 years old, trying to sit cross legged on the floor in my classroom. At home, my parents never factored my gender into any activities I was encouraged or discouraged from doing. Because of this, I struggled to understand why I, as a woman, couldn’t (in this case) sit crossed legged on the floor. But as much as I argued and fought against my teacher, the rule remained: all the girls in the class had to sit with their legs crossed in chairs, while the guys could sit however they wanted, wherever they wanted. I distinctly remember the anger, the deep feeling of unfairness, and the frustration I felt that day. Unfortunately, as time passed and I grew older, I became more and more accustomed to such situations, such feelings. As a pushy, bossy, very ambitious, “unfeminine” woman, I even came to expect such admonishments – from society, from teachers, from bosses, from friends, and co-workers. Luckily, thanks to my confrontational personality, none of their judgements ever affected any changes in my behavior. If anything, the disapproval of society for being who I am pushed me harder to achieve what I wished to achieve and made me that much less willing to ever compromise or change my behavior to meet any narrow gender stereotypes.
It had always been a dream of mine to start a business and when I was in my late 20s, I found myself in a position to join a founding team. But again, the gender issue: “Look, we all know you’re really talented but we just don’t feel comfortable with a woman on our founding team and the appearance of weakness it signals to investors.” This was the first time I was turned down as a founder. It wouldn’t be the last. This happened several more times before I finally gave up and founded my own company with the only male I could find willing to have a female business partner.
These are just a few examples of why I am so passionate about inclusion and diversity initiatives. All of my life I’ve been told I can’t, that I shouldn’t, that I really ought to just “go have children and find a husband.” The media has denigrated my dreams, told me they are not achievable, and filled the movies and books I’ve read with characters who never looked or thought like me. My entire life I’ve felt broken, like something was somehow wrong with me, for being a woman who didn’t act “feminine.” I’ve struggled to find heroes to look up to or mentors to connect with who even remotely experienced life as I did. All I want for this next generation is the ability for women like me to see ourselves represented in the world, to be supported and celebrated for being ourselves, and even encouraged to pursue our dreams with the same resources and passion with which men are encouraged to do the same. If I can save even one other woman from having to feel the same feelings I’ve felt: isolated, weird, broken, and unwanted – I will feel as if I’ve helped make the world a slightly better place. This is why I passionately support inclusive initiatives and why I will always continue to offer my support.