When you’ve been taught to fight yourself

By: Colleen Rowley

Through my internship, I had been given a research project to see if I could find inspirational leading women figures in business, but what I really found was the cultural voices imbedded in my head.


From the beginning, I was super excited about this project, since it involved using Ted Talks as my search engine and I can honestly say I am hardly ever disappointed in a TED Talk. As I typed in my filter of business and scanned for women speakers, I found myself starting to get bummed out and weighed down. Only 25% of the speakers were female, and yes this is the real percentage – I eventually calculated the percentages of women within this category and its sub-genres.


“Whhhhyy did I have to find just women?” – There were so many more male talkers that looked interesting, and besides “the women are probably going to be boring and preachy.”


Yep, straight out of my brain, and this was the first little voice of culture that spoke up.
Sheryl Sandberg speaking at TED

Sheryl Sandberg speaking at TED

Eventually, after listening to Sheryl Sandberg explain Why we have too few women leaders I began to understand why I was not excited to watch only women speakers. Its pretty simple:  women of success in our culture are not liked. There is a negative correlation to a women’s achievement and her like-ability. From my own personal experience I can say that women are the worst critics of other women. We are taught, or I should rephrase, women are taught to watch, judge, evaluate, criticize, scrutinize, put down, tear apart, make fun of, devalue, and treat all other women as threats.


Now I’m going to cover my bases right here and say: Yes I understand this is not how ALL women everywhere in the whole world think, feel, act, and were raised. But I do think that is important to acknowledge and listen to that voice of culture that has been whispering in your ear since a child. It doesn’t mean that I actually feel that way, but we are influenced by our surroundings and subconsciously act upon them.


And shockingly enough, even after Sheryl speaking about how “women of success” are put down, I still went on to immediately dislike and judge Melinda French Gates. It really had nothing to do with her topic, which by the way is pretty ingenious and an obvious but overlooked concept of What nonprofits can learn from Coca-cola. I had to really ask myself what I didn’t like about her. And what it turned out to be was nothing more than the pure fact that she is a successful woman, out in the public trying to make a difference, and that she is also married to a very successful man. For some reason all of this made me want to belittle and scoff at her and this whole “Coca-cola notion”.


When in fact it is brave, she is asking us to reconsider the mind set we have had on global problems, and at the same time realize how this mindset has hindered our progress towards solutions.


Each speaker brought me more and more insight. And as soon as I let go of the need to judge them for simply being women, I was able to take in what they were saying with relevance, intelligence, and importance.

So my end note is: women stop judging women! We’re all making it a lot harder than it needs to be, and maybe if the odds weren’t 1/4 it wouldn’t seem so strange to actually listen to a woman. Think about the benefit of the doubt that you give so easily to those “know male roles” and try giving some of it to the women out there who are trying to make a difference, small or big. Not to mention what it means to allow yourself the freedom to feel like its OK to stand out and be a woman of success.


Thank you for helping me see how to empower myself through empowering women! For it is one and the same, and thats just fine with me!