I was in high school when Nike launched it’s ‘Play Like a Girl‘ campaign. The campaign played a pivotal role in changing the narrative of women in sports. More than 15 years later, playing like a girl is no longer an insult, but a warrior cry. To play like a girl means playing tennis like the Williams’ sisters, scoring like members of the USA Olympic Hockey Team, or running like Tiki Gelana.
Any great spin doctor knows that changing the narrative is the key to creating your own story. That’s what Sheryl Sandberg is aiming to do by encouraging women to Lean In. The campaign is inspiring and has empowered women to tell their stories about how they achieved a seat in the boardroom. Slowly, the story of what an executive looks like is changing.
Much of the story, in my opinion, centers around the gender narrative. Often, the words used to prove ourselves as leaders, hurt more than they help. I’ve heard female CEOs proudly exclaim “I never played with any girlie.” And I’ve witnessed male CEOs admit that they’ll never wear pink — all in an effort to assert themselves as a strong, powerful leader. But who says liking pink isn’t a leadership trait? Why is girlie a bad thing? Who even determines what being ‘girlie’ is?
When I see and hear others ascribe to the gender narrative written by someone else I wonder what they have given up in an effort to achieve someone else’s definition of success. When someone feels compelled to gleefully abandon attributes that do nothing more than humanize them — whether it’s denying your femininity, masculinity, or over-compensating for a characteristic you think you need to have — it’s inauthentic.
Recent surveys have shown that both men and women prefer to work for men, saying that women are too bossy, too chatty, too soft. And yet, those just happen to be the reasons I enjoy working with and learning from women, among others. For too long, society has chosen the adjectives that we thought we needed to have in order to be successful leaders. It’s time to change the narrative.
Own your story. Redefine the words you’re afraid to embrace. Yes, you did play with girlie toys — they are called Legos, blocks, cars and trucks, as well as dolls — because you’re a girl and those are toys. Yes, you play like a girl — because you’re a champion.