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Maria Gutzeit: Celebrating Women’s History and Future

Posted: March 27, 2014 11:57 a.m.
Updated: March 27, 2014 11:57 a.m.
 

March is Women’s History Month. Through the years, women have done everything imaginable, from raising children, caring for seniors, to teaching, running businesses and nonprofits, developing vaccines, and going to space.

We marvel at tales of Helen Keller, Madame Curie, Ray Eames, Indira Gandhi and Susan B. Anthony. Ms. Anthony spearheaded an effort that lasted over 70 years and culminated in women’s voting rights.

These women each faced monumental odds, yet persisted. In today’s modern era, one would assume this is all resolved, yet clearly it is not.

In the past year I’ve been interviewed by a woman college student and a girl’s home-school class. Both times it struck me as odd that they asked about how I dealt with the glass ceiling in my career.

My answer to that question was simple — I ignored it and plowed ahead. However, then came the second, quieter voice, the female critic, that qualified it.

Well, maybe I didn’t hit the glass ceiling because I wasn’t high enough in any organization. Or maybe I was held back and didn’t notice it. Or maybe. ...

The B-word was used, by a guy, on my 3 1/2-year-old daughter. Yes, I was told she was bossy.

Like the glass-ceiling interview questions, that — the B-word — was a wake-up call. In the work place, in our charity organizations, at home, and, apparently, even in preschool classes, women are expected to largely not be bossy.

Oh, we go to great efforts to be “polite but firm” or we try to “lead by example,” but what is the resistance to listening to women who perhaps knows what she is doing — and communicating with her on an equal level?

If Bob told you what should be done, and Bob was slightly off base, you would say, “Gee, Bob, do you think we could do XYZ instead?”

Since 1982, U.S. women have earned 9.1 million more college degrees than men (nces.ed.gov) and make up more than half the population, yet hold only 4 percent of Fortune 500 leadership positions.

Across the board, from nonprofit management to law, to government, to science, women are not represented in anywhere near the numbers that they should be, based on population and education.

This does seem to speak to nurture vs. nature. Are women being told they don’t belong, or are they telling themselves they don’t belong?

It would be hard to prove the former. The latter — that women hesitate where less qualified men charge ahead — does seem to be backed up by sage advice through the years.

Clare Booth Luce, the late U.S. ambassador to Italy, said: “Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, ‘She doesn’t have what it takes.’ They will say, ‘Women don’t have what it takes.’”

The late Rosalyn Sussman Yalow went from a secretary to a 1977 Nobel Prize winner in the field of medical physics. She received the coveted prize for the development of radioimmunoassay, used for, among other things, screening blood donors.

She commented, “We still live in a world in which a significant fraction of people, including women, believe that a woman belongs and wants to belong exclusively in the home.”

My favorite quote is from Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead”: “In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.”

Where women are called “bossy,” men are called “decisive.” Women may be labeled emotional or icy, but those types of labels are rarely put on men, regardless of their style.

Did any of this bother the women making history in the past, or women today?

Probably. But here’s the thing about women: we have stuff to do, and most of us just want to keep getting things done.
Women need to find their voices and not listen to labels. To paraphrase Sandberg, “Women are more than half the population. We’re not done until we are in half the leadership positions.”

A lot of our grandmothers couldn’t even vote. What will history say we did to change the world for our daughters?

Santa Clarita resident Maria Gutzeit is a mother to her young daughter, a senior caregiver, a business owner and an elected official.

 

 

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