Gratitude & Grit: Channeling Our Inner Barbie to Forge a Path to Equality

It’s a month to celebrate our progress, but we can’t be complacent when there’s still so much to do.

By Bryn Nettesheim

It’s National Women’s History Month, and I find myself asking a question: How far have we really come? Should I be composed, gracious, and grateful for the progress we’ve made to date?

It reminds me of one of my favorite scenes in “Barbie” (and perhaps of all time, in any movie, with the exception of anything in “Princess Bride”), when America Ferrera vents her frustrations in a soliloquy about the contrary norms imposed on women. We’re told to live amid the impossible contradictions and expectations — and be grateful.

And don’t get me wrong. I am grateful, I’m grateful for the progress we’ve made. I’m grateful not to have grown up in my mother’s world, where a teenage girl couldn’t join a high school basketball team and a woman couldn’t have a credit card or bank account in her own name. (Fortunately, Title IX and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act put those things right in 1972 and 1974, respectively.)

I’m grateful for the crumbs of bread we’ve been thrown. They’re better than no crumbs at all, right? But still, I ask for more. I ask for more for me, for my daughter, and on behalf of all women.

Amid so much technological progress and innovation, I see gender-based norms holding firm. We eagerly accept new ideas and technologies that transform the world in which we live. But when we women ask questions or advocate for equality, the hemming and hawing begins.

So how can swift cultural change occur in one area and not another? Yes, I understand that the fabric of society is complex, woven over so much time and space, yet I feel the need to challenge it. Because what I’ve been seeing is a backslide in women’s rights — human rights.

Here are some examples:

  • During and after COVID-19, many women had to drop out of the workforce because of the lack of childcare in the United States and other countries around the world.
  • Pay rates for women still lag those of men. In fact, it would be almost mathematically impossible to close the gap in the near future. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, it would take about 136 years to close the gender pay gap worldwide given current trends.
  • Around the world, countries are making moves to secure reproductive rights for women; meanwhile, America is reversing them.
  • I’ve seen women fail to support new mothers in the workplace. Case in point: In January, Kyte Baby, a maker of baby clothes, fired one of its employees, new mom Marissa Hughes, when she asked to work remotely to take care of her newborn, who was in the NICU. An outcry ensued, with the company ultimately issuing an apology, but Hughes chose not to go back to the job. What makes the incident even more astonishing is the fact that Kyte Baby has a female CEO who’s a mother herself. Such scenarios raise serious concerns about empathy and fair treatment in the workplace, particularly for working parents facing personal crises.

So, during this month of celebrating women, how do we effectuate change to live an empowered life among other humans — short of burning bras.

Change occurs on many levels and through different actors in our society: parenting, schools, sports, communities, workplaces, and local, state, and federal government, whom we trust to fairly and unbiasedly interpret the law.

It’s also important to respect and collaborate with women who have banded for change. I urge you to find a mentor, sponsor, and/or ally — someone who can guide you in your professional journey. If you already have somebody, consider taking on one or more of those roles yourself. There are women who need your support and expertise.

A Mentor
Senior leaders (and that includes me) have an obligation to pass on our experiential knowledge and wisdom as a mentor. It’s the best way to close the gender gap, particularly in industries where senior female role models aren’t prevalent.

A Sponsor
This is someone in your organization who can help effectuate change on your behalf, advocate for your success, and speak for you when you have no voice. I was in my mid-30s when I discovered the concept of a sponsor. I wish I had known about it sooner.

An Ally
An ally is someone who uses their societal advantages to address gender inequality. I’m sincerely thankful to have a boss who’s a feminist. He’s willing to support me, a working, single mother who went through a year (or three) of hell. Because of his flexibility, empathy, and confidence in me, I’ve been able to navigate life’s recent challenges successfully.

I’m also thankful that my boss has the ability to listen — to truly hear what I have to say. Unfortunately, when women speak, it often comes across at the pitch of a dog whistle: too high to hear. Not so with my boss, who reinforces my role and responsibilities, redirects conversations to me when appropriate, and affirms my competence.

Ultimately, we need to embrace resilience. There’s no magic wand to wave away the patriarchy in which we live. Though change is slow, we must continue to advocate for it, and in times of hardship, we must be strong while understanding what to challenge and what to accept. In other words, we need to choose our battles.

I believe organizational psychologist Adam Grant says it best: “Resilience is not about being invulnerable to hardship. It’s about accepting adversity as part of life. Some struggles are challenges to conquer. Others are weights to carry. Strength doesn’t come from avoiding setbacks. It comes from refusing to be defined by suffering.”

So, ladies and allies, let us not be defined by suffering so that we may find our strength. Even as my “Barbie Pink” nails type these words, I wish for you that you find a path of strength, and the people to help you navigate it well. Let’s not settle for crumbs. Let’s demand more — for ourselves, our daughters, and all women.

VP of Professional Services Bryn Nettesheim heads up the consulting practice at Channelnomics and also acts as a consultant. She provides strategic direction on client projects and creates processes to ensure operational efficiency and a positive client experience.







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