Celebrating International Women's Day & Why There Are No "Female Leaders" OR "Male Leaders" -- There Are Just Leaders.

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In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.
— Sheryl Sandberg
 

I never considered myself to be a feminist. 

And if I’m being totally honest, for years, I never even witnessed any sort of gender inequality in my world.

Go ahead, pick your jaw up off the ground.
Unfurrow that eyebrow.

Before you go judging me as being one of those naïve archaic women who turns a blind eye or refuses to support other women,
allow me to share my story as I recall my observations from the first almost 30 years of my life.  

You see, I grew up in a household that was run by a woman who was a badass leader and a mom.

She practically wrote the book on being a successful working-mom way before Sheryl Sandberg was a household name.
She was the bread winner, the leader at her company, and the full-time caregiver of two (not so easy) daughters who had a full schedule of their own.
In between meetings, conference calls, and running a business, she was sewing dance costumes or taking care of her sick mom or
battling the local education system to ensure my sister’s special needs were met – and probably thousands of other things that we never even realized.  
It was easy for me to grow up thinking that women ran the world, I had a mother who was the original girl boss. #OGgirlboss

Fast forward to my first two jobs out of college, both in the fashion world – first at VF and then Victoria’s Secret.
I was working in New York City, the mecca of bad ass women, AND at the corporate offices for two of the largest retailers in the country. 

I was surrounded by women running the show. Again, I considered this the norm.

My first boss was one of the most powerful, righteous, and hardworking women I have ever met.
I owe her full credit for laying the foundation of what I call my “Beautiful Mind” skill-set:
Understanding the big picture, identifying themes, discovering opportunities for improvement, and implementing simple processes to drive greater results.
She believes that individuals don’t succeed unless the entire team succeeds. 
She is one of the rare leaders that you can guarantee is right there in the trenches with her people.

I then had the privilege of working for the President of VF Sportswear as her executive assistant, which I still jokingly refer to as “The Devil Wears Prada” year.
And while there were definitely days that involved me running out for coffee in the middle of the pouring rain or planning her wedding (totally loved that!),
I took full advantage of the opportunity that stood in front of me:
Full insight into everything happening in the company, constant communication with the leadership team, and the chance to learn from one of the greatest leaders in the industry.
Not only did I learn what it takes to run a multimillion dollar company, I once again got to witness a powerful woman running a business and being a mom.
I was amazed by her ability to do it all.
An average day could consist of going from the boardroom to running a gala event raising millions of dollars for the charity of the disease her son was diagnosed with.
She did it all with grace, confidence, and perfectly coifed hair.
She never turned down my requests to ask her questions or learn from her and I consistently got to witness people looking at her with deep admiration.
The same admiration I continue to have for her today.

These are just 3 of the women that directly impacted my life, but there are dozens of others.
This environment of “powerful women running the show” was the only one I knew for the majority of my life.
Sure, I had heard about inequality in the workplace on TV or from friends,
but I always assumed it existed because those women weren’t standing up for themselves.  

But as the saying goes, you know what happens with you assume….

I guess you can say I was fortunate that I didn’t experience gender inequality in the workplace
until just a few years ago.  

Up until that point, I didn’t see “female leaders” and “male leaders.” I just saw leaders.
But then I moved to Chicago and stepped into a more formal leadership position, no longer working in an industry dominated by women. 
And there it was: the gender gap.

I was confused at first, almost in denial.
But once inequality shows its ugly head, you couldn’t unsee it.

At first, I thought I could mediate the situation.
If a female colleague brought an issue to my attention, rather than raise red flags or cause conflict,
I would just quietly try to solve it until it seemed to disappear.
But it never did.
That’s the thing with inequality, or anything unjust, you can’t cover it up.

So when I eventually experienced gender inequality in the workplace,
I knew I wasn’t going to quietly cover it up.
I was going to speak up.
And my first 30 years being surrounded by powerful women set me up to kick some ass.

Today, as someone who has personally fought my way into the “Boys Club”
to demand equality in the corporate world, I now know firsthand
the struggle of being a woman and the assiduous effort required to earn a seat at the table.

It definitely wasn’t easy but throughout it all I persevered.
I refused to take no for an answer.
I refused to accept being called “condescending” (what I believe to be the PC version of “bitch”) by a male leader who disagreed with what I knew to be ethically right.
And I definitely didn’t quit when a fellow female leader told me to minimize my voice because I’d get further in my career by just being quiet and agreeing with the men.

I pushed forward, kept my voice strong, and I stood up for what I believed in.
I earned my seat at the table and I did it with my pride intact by remaining true to myself – because as a woman, that’s just what we do.

And then I #micdropped my way out of the corporate world, determined to make a bigger impact.  

Today, I am a leadership coach dedicated to empowering my clients to discover and demand what they deserve.

I use my experience from the corporate world to help other women navigate some of the same challenges that I have been through.  
More importantly, I use the valuable lessons that I learned from all the powerful women that have influenced my life.
I can only hope to impact future female leaders as much as they’ve impacted me.  

This International Women’s Day, I celebrate by sharing my story with you.

I celebrate by continuing to fight to close the gender gap. #BeBoldForChange

Most importantly, I celebrate the women who first showed me that there are no female leaders, there are just leaders:
Janis Swindlehurst, Dinorah Fiallo, Karen Murray, Electa Varnish, and Karin Williams.
Thank you for guiding me, for mentoring me, and for showing me that being a woman means being powerful enough to successfully take on anything and everything.

 

If you want to have a greater impact in your career and need guidance on how to earn a seat at the table, I'd love to work with you! 
Email me at kelly@kellyannkeegan.com to schedule your discovery call.