How to Think Big

How to Think Big

by Marsha Bailey, WEV CEO & Founder

Thank you to everyone who attended WEV’s Empowerment is Priceless event this morning at the Ventura Crowne Plaza.  Several people asked for a copy of my speech, so here it is:

Today,  I’m going to talk about how to think big.  Specifically, how women can think big because most men don’t need advice in this area.  I don’t profess to have all the answers, but those of you who know me, know that I have plenty of theories.

Early in my career, people often asked me why I chose to work in the non-profit sector.  I answered – earnestly – because I wanted to change the world.

People would smile indulgently – the equivalent of a pat on the head – but I didn’t care.   I thought, if you’re going to dedicate your life to something, shouldn’t it be something big?  Because what does thinking small get you?  But I didn’t always think that way.

Anyone who’s watched Mad Men knows that the middle of the twentieth century was not a time when girls were encouraged to think big.

In fact, we weren’t encouraged to think much at all.  “Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.” Glasses, were not a fashion statement, they were a metaphor for intelligence.  In other words, boys don’t like smart girls.

Magazines like Seventeen and Glamour, were filled with advice about how to reel in a boyfriend.  Advice like:  learn about their interests, never beat them at sports.  Throughout High School, I made the same New Years Resolution every January: BE NICE.  I figured that the only thing guys liked less than smart girls was smart-mouthed girls.

When I was young, the things I liked best were reading, writing, and drawing.  So naturally, my mother thought I should be a dental hygienist.   It didn’t take long for me to learn to keep my own counsel.  Because, believe me, the advice I got at school wasn’t much better. Take typing!  Take shorthand!

While boys were encouraged to be all they could be, girls were advised to be less than they could be so they wouldn’t upset the boys.  And to all the wonderful men in the room today,  I just don’t believe your egos are that fragile.

Women are rewarded for being small, petite, quiet.  The little woman.  Women who self-promote are considered – shall we say “difficult?”  But, without self-promotion, their work often goes unnoticed and unrewarded.

Think about how men and women occupy their physical space.  Men sprawl out and take up as much space as humanly possible.  And how do women sit?  We cross our legs, we fold our hands in our laps.  We are the embodiment of the incredible shrinking woman.

When the US Women’s Soccer team won the World Cup, I was so proud and moved by those strong, powerful young women, I cried.  And then Brandi Chastain, who kicked the winning goal, ripped off her jersey in a spontaneous act of joy and was criticized for revealing – horrors – a sports bra.

It’s okay to bare your cleavage at Hooters but not your abs on the athletic field.

So is it any wonder that women have a hard time thinking big?  When you hear the same negative messages over and over, it’s hard not to believe them.  At WEV, we have just one message:  You can do it.

But some people think women are doing just fine.  After all, women have overtaken men in academic performance and college graduation rates.  If women earn less than men, it must be because of the “choices” they make, right?

Wouldn’t it be great if a woman could say to her husband, “honey, my career is going so great, I think you should have the kids.”  Just because women birth the children doesn’t mean they’re they only ones who can pack their lunches.

So here’s the reality check.

  • Women still earn 77% of what a male earns for comparable work, which translates to $11,084 less per year.  Women of color earn even less.
  • Two out of three minimum wage earners are women
  • A third of all single mothers and almost half of those with children under five are poor.
  • Women hold only 18% of U.S. Congressional Seats
  • And how well are those female soccer stars paid?  Average pay for our women’s team is $25,000 per year, while their male counterparts earn over $115,000.  The Women’s team is ranked number one in the world, has won two World Cups and four Olympic gold medals.  The men’s team is ranked 13, has never won a World Cup and hasn’t won an Olympic medal since 1906.
  • And finally, despite the fact that women are starting businesses at one and a half times the rate of men and that women now own 30% of all businesses, those businesses tend to be much smaller, generating only 25% of the annual sales revenues as male-owned businesses.  Less than 2% of all woman-owned businesses reach one million dollars in annual sales while three times as many men achieve that important benchmark.

Why is that?  Is it because women are less capable or competent than men? Research shows that girls outperform boys on tests requiring preparation but not on those measuring aptitude – in other words, we do our homework.  Women excel in non-cognitive skills such as time management, writing ability, structuring self-directed tasks and working in teams.  All qualities we say are critical to success in the workplace.

But laboratory experiments show that men do better than women in competitive environments, largely because men are more confident – even over-confident – than women.  And men are more comfortable with risk.  This is one of those “duh” moments.  If a man is more confident, of course he is more likely to take risks.  And conversely, less confident women take fewer risks.

So how can women close the confidence gap?  I never felt smart or capable until someone told me I was smart and capable.  Too many girls and women never hear that message. That’s why at WEV, we believe we have to do more than teach women how to read a financial statement and write a business plan.

Here are some other fundamental lessons:

  1. Practice what the airlines preach: “put your own oxygen mask on first, and then help those around you.”  Don’t volunteer to be a martyr. The best way to help yourself and your family is to invest in yourself. Never doubt that you are worth it.
  2. Don’t be afraid to be afraid.  We are all afraid.  It’s part of our DNA, if we didn’t have healthy amounts of fear, the tigers would have eaten us long ago.  The goal is to tame the tiger.  You don’t have to stick your head in its mouth. (That’s called over-confidence.)  Every time you do something that scares you, it makes you stronger.  When you have the opportunity, step up and speak up.
  3. Shed the emotional vampires.  The people who suck all your confidence away.  Surround yourself with positive, supportive and honest people who want you to succeed.  The kind of people you find at WEV.
  4. Don’t talk yourself out of it before you even try.  Somebody has to be a Rock Star, why not you?  And if your friends are honest, they’ll tell you if you’re tone deaf. Then they’ll encourage you to do something you’re really good at, so be flexible.
  5. Never doubt that you can do it.  Dream big, believe in yourself, work hard to master the things you thought you couldn’t do and never, ever stop learning.  Because every time a woman thinks big and succeeds, she makes the path a little smoother and a little wider for the women who follow.

The most important thing I’ve learned in the last 30 years is that changing the world is not something you do alone.  Empowerment is priceless because it gives women a voice.  And when we lift up our voices together, we can TRULY change the world.

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