“You throw like a girl.”
“You fight like a girl.”
“You act like a girl.”
Remarks including the words “like a girl” were once usually meant to characterize someone as weaker or more sensitive than one believed that he or she should be, and these phrases usually undermine both children and adults. In recent times, the meaning of these phrases have been flipped on their heads and are now being used in a more positive manner as women have become more confident and more outspoken of their place in today’s society.
However, the one phrase that is not used as much as the others? Lead like a girl. Today, women occupy a number of leadership positions across the country, but because of their gender, their leadership is viewed differently in comparison to the men who hold the same positions. Because of this, many young girls are discouraged from working toward obtaining those positions. How can we, as a society, encourage more women to work toward attaining these leadership positions? Like many other aspects in shaping how a child grows up, it starts with how you, the parent, encourage your daughters to channel the leader within them.
At an early age, certain characteristics begin to present themselves in girls. Some girls may be quieter and more passive in their actions and others may seem more assertive and aggressive in theirs. If your daughter is more like the latter, this could lead you to believe that you are already taking the right steps into encouraging her to be a leader in the future.
However, while young girls may have no trouble expressing these characteristics in the beginning, many of those same girls have trouble keeping their assertive and aggressive attitudes as they grow.
For the past 16 years, Dr. Laura Choate has authored a number of articles and books concerning the wellness of girls and women alike, and with her experience as a Licensed Professional Counselor, Dr. Choate has come across multiple cases where girls have had trouble keeping their assertive and aggressive attitudes. “Around the time of early adolescence (ages 11-12), girls’ self-esteem declines steeply and their levels of depression and anxiety start to skyrocket,” says Dr. Choate.
Therefore, when a young girl does behave more aggressive and assertive in her actions, parents are encouraged to praise these behaviors so their daughters will not experience as much, if any, drop in their self-esteem in their pre-teen years. “Girls who have confidence in themselves during their childhood years, and who believe that their opinions are valid and valued, are less likely to experience these drops in self-esteem at this age, which protects them from negative mental health problems that tend to increase in early adolescence,” says Dr. Choate.
Courage to Speak Up
While encouraging such behavior is just one way you can help your daughter boost her leadership qualities, you should also be aware of how you talk to her and how you treat her in comparison to how you treat your son. “In the past, and unfortunately to some extent today, girls who speak up are viewed as ‘bossy’ and ‘unladylike’,” says Dr. Choate. “While boys were praised for speaking up with their ideas, girls were encouraged to stay quiet and not ‘make any waves.’ Girls should be encouraged to speak up with their beliefs, and to assert their opinions, just like the boys.”
Parents should also teach their daughters what it truly means to be passive and aggressive when it comes to leadership positions, and how to listen to others. “When she is passive, she stifles her own opinions in order to please others,” says Dr. Choate. “When she is aggressive, she tramples on the rights of others in order to get what she wants. Neither of these strategies are effective. As a leader, she learns to be assertive–the ability to get her own needs met, to assert her own opinions and beliefs–without trampling on the rights of others. As a leader, she learns how to respect others’ voices while making sure her own voice is valued as well. It isn’t about who can yell the loudest. It is about believing in yourself, but also caring about others’ views as well.”
Her Authentic Self
And most importantly, when it comes to raising leaders, parents must teach their daughters that in order to lead, they must always be their authentic self. “If a girl sees herself as a leader, she is less likely to start hiding her authentic self in an effort to please others or as a way to
cause others to like her,” says Dr. Choate. “She will believe in herself because she knows her opinions are valued, and she knows how to stand up for what she thinks and believes.” ■