We often hear parents say, “Don’t talk back to me!” And, I sometimes wonder if we subconsciously say this more to our daughters than to our sons. Perhaps this is one reason women are still fighting for things like equal pay and more seniority in corporate America.
In my household, my husband and I let our 15- and 12-year-old daughters talk back and express their opinions. I think this has helped them become stronger, more successful young women. So, in honor of International Women’s Day next week and its 2017 theme of “Be Bold for Change,” I would like to share a story about my daughters. They show me every day they have confidence to embrace diversity and stand up for what’s right, even if it means others may disagree or be uncomfortable.
My husband’s parents live with us for half the week. I affectionately call them the “loud family.” They energetically share their opinions often. At the same time, they’re open to opposing points of view held by me and my daughters. When my girls share their thoughts, we all listen. These healthy, heated conversations help my daughters stand up for what they think is right. They may also help them become more accepting – even if this means others may be critical of their inclusive actions.
Stand Up for What’s Right
Recently, my 15-year-old told me she and her friends invited a new, transgender boy to sit with them at lunch. Coincidentally, around the same time, my 12-year-old and her friends asked a special needs boy to have lunch with them.
Another proud moment was when I read an essay by my 15-year-old. She compared Shakespearean times to today. She said that men like Hamlet always needed to maintain their masculinity for acceptance, but today it’s more acceptable for men to show their feminine side and cry during movies or wear make-up.
These examples struck me. They were simple and natural and showed me my daughters are confident in their views and comfortable in standing behind them.
Ask for What You Want
I recently joined Porter Novelli as managing director of its flagship New York office. I didn’t get to this position by staying quiet about my thoughts and aspirations. Throughout my 27-year-career in public relations, I always asked for new positions and responsibility. I asked for more money when I knew I deserved it and could make a case for it.
How did I become this bold? I credit my father for that. My mother died when I was 11, so my father raised me during my young adult years. One of his favorite expressions was, “He who hesitates is lost, so be aggressive!” He said this almost daily while we washed and dried dishes together.
While I don’t use this exact expression, I’ll often encourage my daughters to ask for what they want. My 12-year-old daughter mentioned that her math teacher incorrectly recorded grades for her homework. I asked her if she wanted me to email the teacher. She said she wanted to handle it herself. She spoke up, let her teacher know about the issue and he made the corrections. In less than 10 years, this scenario could be my daughter asking for a promotion and a raise.
Lead By Example
Leading by example is one of the most powerful ways to mentor young women. My girls have seen me confront others when someone, including myself, is being treated unfairly. I address the issue even if it creates an uncomfortable situation. I think too many women avoid conflict, and as a result, they don’t get as far in their careers as men. I don’t think my 12-year-old daughter will have this problem. She stands up to adults when she feels they’re forcing her to do something she doesn’t want to do.
She also recently shared a story about overhearing a boy talking negatively about one of her friends at a basketball game. She interjected and said, “I know the girl you’re talking about. She’s my friend, and you better stop talking about her.” The boys seemed shocked. Was it because it was a girl talking back to a group of boys? I’m not sure, but they stopped talking about my daughter’s friend.
Be Responsible with Your Voice
One point to make clear is that I don’t encourage my daughters to disrespect authority. When they’re at practice for competitive all-star cheerleading (the type with major stunting and tumbling), they know they can’t talk back to their coaches without getting kicked off the team. This respect will carry over to their future bosses. However, if there was a major issue or injustice, I’m confident they would find a way to solve the problem diplomatically.
You’re Never Too Young to Lead
At their young ages, I already see both daughters leading and motivating their peers. My 15-year-old was chosen by her coaches to be one of three captains of her cheer team. A big part of this responsibility is helping her teammates get psychologically ready to compete. That can be shaking off a bad warm-up or reducing performance anxiety. Some of this requires speaking her mind in a forceful way. And, similarly, my 12-year-old shared that her teammates count on her to cheer them on in a loud, deep, coach-like voice to encourage their best performance. Both daughters are fierce competitors, and I can proudly say they get a lot of that from me. Whether it’s a game at home, a new business pitch or my own personal fitness goals, I love to win. I think that’s rubbed off on them.
My daughters are becoming accepting, bold, diplomatic, competitive leaders, partly because of what they’ve learned at home – that it’s okay to talk back and stand up for personal beliefs. So, in honor of International Women’s Day, let’s encourage our daughters, nieces, sisters, aunts, mothers and grandmothers to be bold, have a voice, and talk back.