It’s an insidious dichotomy how we empower little girls with lessons and platitudes around being ambitious and independent. We are encouraged not to depend on anyone for financial support but when the rubber hits the road we enter a world where these same empowering lessons undermine us. We are penalized for being strong, having a different opinion, being talented, career focused and independent. Men get paid more for the same work and experience – it’s a fact, and the wage gap widens across ethnicities. A man’s experience is valued more than a woman’s experience of the same or even higher caliber.
We’ve gone from empowering young girls and then penalizing their ambitions as women. No longer is being independent, excelling in excellence celebrated, it’s now a perceived liability as an adult. Empowered little girls turn into talented, determined, self-confident, assertive women who are ultimately penalized and questioned for being so. In spite of all of the advances made by women in the US, gender gaps in power, leadership, control of financial assets, and time spent on unpaid tasks continue – preserving the long-standing inequality between men and women. Researchers Robin J Ely and Irene Padavic summarize in their 2020 piece for Harvard Business Review, “Women made remarkable progress accessing positions of power and authority in the 1970s and 1980s, but that progress slowed considerably in the 1990s and has stalled completely in this century.”
Those of us who grew up at the dawn of “girl power” are now nearing middle age, and are still far from the “power” we were promised. Because, as we’ve learned from our own experience, empowering girls doesn’t change anything if that power is not supported for women.
By focusing on “girl power” as the solution to closing gender gaps in pay, leadership, and representation, we’ve now created a world for American women in which there is power in your potential, but not your reality. Young girls can be anything they want as they are growing up – until they grow up.
I want to live in a world where I’m valued for who I am, not who I’m married to or how many children I have. So, let’s get it together. I ask every father of a little girl, every brother to a sister, every uncle to a niece out there, do you want your daughter/sister/niece to enter a workforce where her hard work, determination and excellence is devalued just because she’s a girl? Do you want your daughters/sisters/nieces to reach the highest levels of excellence only to be penalized for being a girl?
I think not! So, let’s get to work and change the dichotomy! Use your privilege to ensure the ambitious little girl you are raising can truly harness and fulfill the power within and win.