Who's the little voice inside your head?
As far as I can tell, all of us have at least one voice inside our heads. For me, the loudest and most important is and always has been my dad. If you've explored Men@Work, you might remember one of the earlier chapters called "Dads and Daughters." I included it because writing the book precipitated a great deal of reflection about my career and life more broadly, which kept taking me back to my dad and the central role he's played in all of it.
Starting early, he pushed and pulled me—pushing me to do and be my best and pulling me along as his shadow to see how all of this work stuff "worked" and experience first-hand what greatness (him ☺) looked like. I've always appreciated it, but time has underscored a few things:
The dad/daughter dynamic is a powerful one. I was beyond lucky to have such a strong role model and advocate who provided me a solid foundation for a fulfilling career so early in my life. At a women's event a few weeks ago, I had a long-time career woman my age say to me, "I adore my mother, but my father has put an imprint on my soul." That's exactly how I feel but had never found such a perfect way to describe it. Like my dad, hers had served as a superhero to her on every dimension whom she watched, shadowed, emulated, and admired throughout her career and life.
Male role models are absolutely critical for women, especially working women. If you're unable to find this in your father, I hope you'll seek it out from other men in your life. Amazing men who care about your career are everywhere and can be incredible role models who will show you the art of the possible—opening your experiences and perspectives to what's out there, changing the way you think, helping you realize the world that awaits you.
Platonic friendships with great men across age brackets and backgrounds is one of the best gifts of being a working woman. At the same women's event I reference in point #1, my four fellow panelists (all absolutely amazing women!) commented on how important male friends/coaches/mentors/advocates have been to their career success. They noted that the most important people who pulled them through, ensured they were included in the room, and provided frank feedback they needed to hear to achieve the next level were men. The coolest stories came from a young Muslim executive who said two of the most important men in her career had been an older Jewish gentleman who took her under his tutelage and a retired US Army sergeant who mentored her.
Moreover, being able to understand men, forge relationships with them, and ultimately navigate them has played an absolutely critical role for me and every other successful woman I know. That's why I wrote Men@Work (which is how this whole Women@Work thing started about four-ish years ago in a lonely hotel room). Early on after self-publishing, I met with a big publishing house to get feedback and they told me, "The last thing women need right now is a primer for how to get along with men. Instead, it should be the other way around." They might have been right, but I think taking that attitude will lead us to miss a massive opportunity while creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. The best part about mastering this whole Men@Work thing is that it: 1) is something within your control, 2) will impact all types of relationships (the guys who are your bosses, peers, customers, suppliers, subordinates), and 3) makes work infinitely more fun and fulfilling.
A few weeks ago, my dad was visiting me in Boston from Oklahoma. I relished getting to spend time with him, as always, but the highlight was an unprecedented opportunity for him to see me on stage as part of the executive women’s panel discussion I mentioned earlier. In many ways, it felt like the culmination of our journey—that he got to be a fly on the wall and experience first-hand the result of all that pushing and pulling. In just a short hour, he saw many of his lessons and leadership come to life in me but in a way that maybe he never had imagined, in a way that’s completely unique to me. Plus, I got to recognize and thank him directly and publicly, which was a gift for both him and me.
Most interesting is that while he challenged my thinking and pushed me beyond my comfort zone while I was growing up, the event made me realize that I’m now getting the opportunity to do the same for him sometimes—nothing like a good reverse mentoring relationship. J I’m guessing there are other daughters out there who’ve experienced the same evolving dynamic with their dads or perhaps other male mentors in their life. What starts as maybe a one-way coaching engagement surprisingly evolves into a two-way teaching relationship where both sides are challenged to think differently—about themselves and the world around them. I’ve come to realize the best way that happens is through seeing and experiencing passively vs. actively trying convince someone that you were right.
What I’m referring to is that while dad is a fairly enlightened guy, he’s still a relatively conservative man from an older, less progressive generation, and so I sometimes still hear some engrained old-school opinions emerge from him every now and then. I’d like to think that him getting to see me with the four amazingly strong, compelling, and accomplished women on stage talking about our own success and the state of the workplace broadened his perspective. Nothing better than an event like this to help him see how much the world has changed for the better in a way he otherwise wouldn’t.
Afterward, he told me that there were only eight women in his law school class in the late 60s. He started taking stock of how much things have improved for women and things he’d done to be a part of that advancement (including getting the NCAA rules in Oklahoma changed for women’s basketball from one of the last two states that mandated 6-on-6 half court to 5-on-5 full court so that girls had a chance of playing in college and receiving scholarships as part of Title IX). His story about driving to the state capital and arguing for the change with my uncle who was the high school principal at the time is one of my all-time favorites. He had made the argument, “Well, if 6-on-6 is so great (after the NCAA rep touted the advantages of it), then we should have the men and boys switch over to it as well!” Needless to say, it chapped the officials, but he won and changed women’s sports in our great state forever.
On behalf of all girls hoops fans, thank you Dad! ☺