March 1st wasn’t a remarkable day, it was a Tuesday, not that I remember. I had to go back to check, because while some details of what happened that morning have faded, the feeling I had as I read the email has not. My heart skipped a beat and I felt my shoulders drop and my chest rise.
We are the Co-Chairs of the Girls Take Charge Club at Shaker High School, in Latham, NY. In this student-founded and student-run program, high school girls go to our adjacent Junior High School to mentor the younger girls in subjects focusing on overcoming adversity that women and girls face while striving for leadership.
Each year we host a “Women in Leadership” event featuring prominent women leaders in our community. We will be creating a panel of women in leadership roles from our community to share their experiences and give advice to our members. This program is a great opportunity for both our high school and junior high girls to meet with and learn from women like yourself who are so well respected within the community.
I remember looking around the room wanting to shout, but not too loud. I felt imposterish and wondered how on earth they came to write to me. I wrote back and said there was nothing I’d be more delighted to do.
A month later they sent a list of questions to use in a bio they would read to introduce me, as well as another set of questions I could expect to be asked.
- What does a typical day in your life look like? What kinds of responsibilities does your job entail?
- What were your aspirations as a middle school or high school student? Were your dreams realized or did they change?
- What other jobs or experiences have you had that lead you to where you are today, and what techniques did you learn while in your position, or while getting to your position?
- What has been the most challenging obstacle you’ve overcome on your way to becoming a leader? For example, have you ever been discriminated against in the workplace? How did you overcome these obstacles and what actions did you take that you found were effective?
- What is the best piece of advice that you have ever received?
I remember fretting over what to wear, wanting to send a message of individuality, but not without the reality that how we dress influences what many people think of us. I hoped to sound polished, but not so heavily rehearsed that I didn’t sound real. My goal was for all of us in that room to feel like we are worthy. To have it make a difference for girls who still get treated as property. I wanted to unlock a future with less apologies. Mostly, I wanted to be worth their time.
I decided to follow my gut. I’m better off script. I still trembled a bit as I waited in the library for the students to come in after the bell. One by one the other panelists began arriving, Noël McLaren the weekend anchor from News10, Ashley Miller a sports photographer, reporter, and producer from WNYT and a graduate of Shaker High, Nina Marshall founder of the LYP Project, and Rachel Cassidy a VP in patent licensing related to new technologies for GE. Eventually we made it to the table and listened as different high school students introduces us.
I imagined other libraries across the country, places with Spanish speaking students and bilingual presenters, audiences hearing from panelists in wheelchairs that mirrored their own, or other formulas that make students feel represented. I hope that it is happening and that where it isn’t there are people stepping up to create opportunities.
We need people like my friend Elan Morgan and the work that she is doing to make sure there are women on speaker lists, and Kelly Wickam Hurst who is out there trying to make sure that race is addressed in the school system.
The opportunities we have to be role models or to pull back the curtain on something for young people is incredibly important. I remember a woman I followed in my early blogging years saying that she had no intention of raising her kids to believe that only good things happen. It wasn’t, she said, her job to send them out into the world without a scratch or hurt feeling, it was to send them out ready for the world they’d meet. I carry that with me and try to balance being honest with being optimistic about what we can do to improve the world and carve out the space we want for ourselves in it without apology.
I am sharing a portion of the event here, filmed and edited with genuine respect and care by Kelli Lovdahl, a woman who works at Trampoline. We went off record, pulled no punches, and, I dare say, enjoyed ourselves. The thing I am learning about myself is that when I give of myself, I get something back, maybe it’s insight, maybe it’s confidence.
I am so grateful to have been a part of this event, but more than that, I am grateful for the way it reminded me that we all have something to give and to learn.