Being a princess has to be the best part of being a woman. I love my mornings faffing and preening and choosing exactly the shoes and the blouse and the skirt and the heels I feel calling out to me for the day; and then changing my mind and starting all over again! For all the challenges of corporate life as a woman, at least we can still feel pretty and feminine; albeit in head to toe black.
But being a princess may very well be one of the biggest challenges we face in the workplace – and it’s not because our LBD is de mode! It’s because we still believe the fairy-tale we fell in love with as sparkly eyed preschoolers.
I have a son, and I find myself visibly wincing as I hear myself telling him how brave and strong he is, blissfully ignorant as I encourage the stereotype. We are excellent at telling our boys that they are brave and strong and courageous and wild, but what are we telling our daughters? “Daddy’s little princess, you are so pretty? So helpful? So caring? So kind?”. Daddy my lesson to you today is: yes! she is pretty, and helpful, and caring,and kind; BUT she is sure gonna need to be courageous and strong and brave if she’s going to hold her own in the corporate world one day. The messages we tell our daughters will absolutely influence their behaviors into their 30’s (I say 30’s because they are pretty much going to do exactly the opposite of what we tell them in their 20’s).
I know I am not the only girl out there who is afraid of just about everything. I’m afraid of heights and speed and big waves and bad guys and more to the point I’m afraid that one day someone is going to realize I’m just not as good as I should be at my job. I know I’m really helpful and caring and kind, I’m just not so convinced on some of the other stuff. I see it around me all the time at work, guys will put their hand up for just about any opportunity – “pick me, pick me”, when honestly they are so far away from capable they’ve just about entered an alternate reality. Women however, could be a sniff away from perfect for the role but would not feel brave enough to lift even a little finger.
As leaders we need to recognize the kind and helpful princesses among us. We need to encourage them, and let them know that we have faith in their abilities, that we believe in them, that they can put up their hands and be brave.
As senior women we need to teach those 30-somethings courage, and how to believe in their abilities as well as the incredibly valuable contribution they bring to their team exactly because they are that helpful, caring, kind princess. Women bring these incredibly important dynamics to a team – and yes I am stereotyping but go with me here – we absolutely need more collaboration, empathy and inclusiveness in our businesses.
In Kenneth Branagh’s new movie, Cinderella’s mom’s dying quote is “have courage and be kind”, I really liked that. We can be the old-style fairy-tale princess and the new style corporate princess, it’s just going to take a bit of reprogramming and we all need to play our part. So daddy’s (and moms and granny’s and grandpa’s and uncles and friends – I’m excluding aunties because, lets face it they really are in charge of princess training), remember to encourage your daughters to be helpful and caring and kind; and brave and courageous and strong. Teach her that that she can absolutely have fantasies of living in that fairy-tale sparkly castle; but that she can work hard and buy it for herself.