In the months and years leading up to the most recent presidential election, you may have heard me say, “There is no question we will have a female president someday, I just hope it’s not her.”
Hilary Clinton didn’t get votes like mine; not because of her gender, because of who I observed her to be.
There is a subtle feeling of hypocrisy that creeps into the ongoing conversation about gender on the national level. Singling a woman out as the first to do something or talking about how great it is to see a woman in a specific position feels like a fail for feminism in my mind.
Yes, women can do anything they set their minds to, but so can men. Equality is the basic tenant of feminism. Yet gender remains front and center in the national debate.
Professionally, I don’t feel disadvantaged because of my gender. In a boardroom, people respect me because I work hard to be engaged, understand the issues and share my opinions. The few people who have shown signs of sexist behavior in my presence quickly learned I don’t tolerate it, and they no longer have the privilege of working with me. That may sound arrogant, but I understand my value and know how others should treat me.
Conversely, it is naïve to think gender never matters. It absolutely does. There are women pioneers who have fought for my current comfort. Women still often have a completely different set of expectations and challenges to face — from the pressures of conforming to stereotypes, to the considerations required to maintain personal safety.
Amid this complex and often uncomfortable conversation surrounding gender, I wonder about my generation’s role. We won’t be like the pioneers of previous generations sacrificing and fighting for the far-off dreams of equality. Our firsts and successes are in some ways only a matter of time.
Recently, I attended an event aimed at helping women in agriculture grow. Surprisingly, there were more adults in attendance than students. These women worked as university professors, highly skilled industry professionals, and farmers and ranchers. Each are excellent role models and wanted to share because they are proud of what they have achieved.
Students at the event were genuinely interested in developing their skills. They were excited to have access to great role models, but I wonder if our efforts where actually counterproductive. We were, in some cases, the ones saying they need to fight to have a chair in the boardroom or they will be treated differently. They already expect a seat at the table.
It’s time to stop acting surprised when a woman does something outstanding. Anyone can find a reason to be an outsider in the group: the only woman, the youngest person, the most rural or any number of other qualifiers. None of that matters if the person brings value to the conversation.
We should be teaching young women and men the same things. If you are a person who brings value by your words and actions, you will earn respect. Focus all your energy on being your best. It will make you stand out, but in the most desirable way.