What Younger Women Taught Me: Words From A Gen Zer

Nestled in the corner of a cafe somewhere in Bangkok, I had my nose buried in a coffee-table book that I had no intention of reading. It was called, “If I Could Tell You Just One thing,” by Richard Reed. The rain had trapped me inside and eventually my aimless flipping through the pages turned into undivided attention.

Reed spent a few years gathering pieces of life advice from people he labeled as “remarkable.” In Reed’s life these were mainly politicians and celebrities and nobel peace prize winners — people that he deemed to be at the top of their game. I don’t happen to know any nobel peace prize winners personally, but his experiment led me to examine the remarkable (yes, ordinary, in Reed’s eyes) people that make up the fabric of my own life. I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by women who have taught me the tricks of the trade. Many of these women are older than me, but a group that often goes unnoticed is the young women (adolescents) who have accumulated their own tips and tricks for navigating entering adulthood and the working world as a woman today. These young women have infused in me an entrepreneurial spirit and desire to embrace my own vulnerability — even when doing so terrifies me. Today, I want to showcase the words of the young women who raised me. This isn’t meant to be anything life-coachy or self-helpy, but hopefully a celebration of the words that we carry with us in our “women in 2021” toolbox.

Little Sister, Emily

“Be a woman who wants to see other women smile.”

Sometimes we talk about giving advice as something designated for those who are older than us. But, I find that many of my most treasured pieces of advice have come from young women — some of them far younger than me.

One of the hot topics at our dinner table happens to be badass women. My little sister is especially well versed in this particular subject. My mom — bless her heart — made a comment about the tendency of women to compete with one another. My little sister just about leapt out of her chair upon hearing this. She told the table that Gen Zers and Millennials report having largely healthy relationships with the other women in their life. The notion of the “catfight” is a sexist misconception that has been infused in the media. She was right. Forbes Council Member Dr. Shawn Andrews reports that especially today, the vast majority of women claim that they benefit from positive relationships with other women in their life.

But, where does this age-old notion of competition between women come from?

Although there are many explanations, historically, women have grown up with what is called the “dead-even” relationship with other women where self-esteem and power between both parties is equal. If the power dynamic between two women gets thrown out of balance, a feeling of ostracization can arise, creating competition. This response is subconscious and points towards systemic roadblocks that existed for women, and in some cases continue to exist. For example, this imbalance between women could complicate the search for a marriage partner or securing a job that offered limited spots in leadership to women.

Competition that stems from these systemic roadblocks is becoming obsolete as greater opportunities are becoming available to women of all ages.

As an intern at ila for the past few months, I have learned a great deal about the power of a strong team of women. The joy and creativity that can come out of these relationships is truly remarkable and something that has changed me for the better.

The words of my little sister remind me to be purposeful about how I interact with the women in my life. I want to be the woman I would want to have on my team to those around me.

Cousin, Emma

“Don’t be afraid to demand change.”

The word demand has always scared me. When I was little I was acutely aware that demanding something could make me seem bossy. And in Little Kid world, being bossy was probably the worst thing you could be.

Somehow, I can vividly remember all of the details of sitting in Discussion Circle in first grade, and rattling on and on about something or another. It might have been something related to animal testing in cosmetics. Once I had finished speaking, the little boy next to me whipped around and proclaimed: “you talk way too much. You kind of sound bossy.” Although these words seem inconsequential and almost laughable to me now, they had profound effects on me as a young girl learning how to navigate standing up for my beliefs. This was one of many little comments that prompted me to retreat into my shell in fear that I would be called names. My cousin and I were exchanging these childhood anecdotes when she reminded me of the need to demand change as a woman.

When I was little, I didn’t realize that demanding something for my male counterparts could be seen as being decisive or strong. Words with distinctly positive connotations. How is it that the same behaviors that earn men respect can plunder the efforts of women? The very structure of the English language has the ability to constrain us to certain positions and lead us to self-impose glass ceilings. The process of rewiring the way we use and perceive language is a long and winding road, but in the meantime we can learn to redefine these words for ourselves.

It’s time that we start wearing “bossy” as a badge of honor. This word that was flippantly thrown at you by a co-worker or was the subject of a coffee break whisper that you overheard, could mean that you are displaying leadership tendencies.

So, let’s make it official.

bossy (ˈbȯ-sē): Being a boss. You’re a badass.

Perfect.

The same goes for “difficult.” Your challenging questions, strong beliefs, and decisiveness can mean that you are assertive. You have no problem articulating how you are feeling about a given topic or situation.

difficult (ˈbȯ-sē): Being assertive. You know what you want.

Especially in the entrepreneurship and activism space, it’s so important to stand up for not only yourself, but the social change that your work represents.

The words of my cousin remind me to find power in my own voice and abilities even when the voices around me seem louder or the airtime, minimal. As long as you speak from a place of passion and care, what you have to say pulls significant weight.

Best Friend, Fizza

“Realize your self-worth and power. I spent many years telling myself that I couldn’t succeed. So much is temporary, but your self-esteem is forever.”

Now, more than ever, I am beginning to see myself in places that seemed inaccessible because they were largely male-dominated. That’s not to say that we don’t have a long, rocky way to go. There is still an acute lack of confidence that is felt by women in the workplace. I’ve heard some of the most influential women in my life throw around words like “luck” or “shocking” when talking about a fancy new promotion or securing the job they’d always wanted. Of course I call them crazy and rattle off a laundry list of all of their accomplishments, but as someone who has chalked my own successes up to chance or perhaps some sort of lunar alignment, I find myself being a bit of a hypocrite.

An internal report at Hewlett Packard finds that men will apply for a job when they meet about 60% of the qualifications, whereas women will refrain from applying unless they check all of the boxes. Women are more likely to exhibit perfectionist tendencies and measure themselves up to an unreasonably flawless yardstick that sets them up to feel inadequate. The standards are thrown off. We beat ourselves up over moments of weakness and low points instead of going and securing that job we’d always wanted and are more than cut out for. Comparing ourselves to unrealistic standards is incredibly exhausting and frankly, a waste of time.

As a perfectionist myself, I have learned that sometimes lowering the bar will set you up for greater success. It’s okay to say “good enough” and reallocate time to “higher value” tasks like picking up a new skill, networking, or taking time for self-care. Self-care is key!

The words of my best friend remind me that my self-worth is what I make it. Comparing myself to a set of unrealistic, unachievable standards is a waste of time and energy that draws away from my ability to immerse myself in the tasks at hand and the things that I am most passionate about.

So What?

I could write a novel about all of the pieces of advice I’ve collected from the women in my life, but today I have showcased a few from those who don’t yet have a college degree or years of experience under their belts, but an acute awareness of the subtleties of being a young woman in 2021. Gen Zers especially have grown up in a time of great transition, whether that be socially, economically, politically or environmentally. We value the expression of individuality and are inclined to reject labels. We believe strongly in the efficacy of dialogue. We search desperately for representation in all corners of society. The quotes I have collected from these fellow Gen Zers are reflective of this demand for societal growth and self-improvement. These qualities can also be onboarded from a business perspective. Young people have a particular knack for grasping the world by its clothespins and shaking the dust without spending needless hours planning. This impulsivity, coupled with planning as necessary, can prove to be highly effective when trying to launch your own project.

The words of these young women have taught me the importance of supporting other women, demanding change, and being confident in my capabilities. These are some of the tools we need to navigate an ever changing society as women of all ages.

Written by: Madi Mehta, Communications Intern at ila

As a multi-awarded social enterprise, our aim, at ila, is to champion a purpose-driven and socially aware workforce. Our innovative tailored programs and world-class advisory team have extensive experience working with HR professionals, leadership teams and employees to champion a diverse and gender equal culture in the workplace.

Visit ila at https://www.ilageneration.com/home to find out more about us, the work we do and how we can help you in taking the first step towards a new way of working.

An award-winning Social Enterprise unleashing the potential of a purpose-driven generation. Visit us at https://www.ilageneration.com/ to learn more.

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