Too Many Women Think They Suffer Personal Issues Alone Until They Speak Out; It's Time to Change That

The following is an excerpt from the new book This Is How We Rise: Reach Your Highest Potential, Empower Women, Lead Change in the World Claudia Chan (Da Capo Lifelong Books, October 2017), available for purchase from Amazon and IndieBound:

Many of us think the personal problems we deal with are just that: personal. In reality the issues you confront in your everyday life are also political issues, and you’re probably not the only one suffering from them. If you’re a working parent, you or your partner may have had to take unpaid leave when the baby arrived because of paltry maternity leave policies. If you are a member of the LGBTQIA community, you didn’t have the right to legally marry your same-sex partner until 2015, and it’s still unclear which public bathroom you should use if you’re transgender. Maybe you or a friend has been sexually assaulted at some point, and that has deeply affected your self-esteem and ability to form healthy relationships. You might suffer from a chronic health condition like lupus but can’t get healthcare coverage, or you developed asthma as a child because of exposure to pollution. Perhaps you are racially profiled by the police on a regular basis simply because of the way you look. Someone in your family might be struggling with mental illness or an addiction of some sort, but they’re afraid to seek help out of shame. Maybe you were raised by a single parent or are a single working parent yourself who is struggling to make ends meet. Do any of these scenarios sound familiar to you? Each one of these challenges represents a social issue (childcare, LGBTQIA rights, healthcare, racism, unconscious bias, mental illness, job creation), or what I like to call movements, that needs fueling. Working to achieve gender equality and address women’s issues has implications for each of these movements.

Because my career is centered in women’s empowerment, let’s focus on women’s issues for a moment. Historically women were meant to be seen but not heard, and the problems and concerns that affected them were often kept hush-hush and considered inappropriate for polite conversation. The taboos around many female difficulties—menstruation, miscarriage, postpartum depression, fertility issues, body image, domestic abuse, sexual assault—are still pervasive in the twenty-first century. We all know women continue to experience gender discrimination and inequality in all spheres of society, but what we may not know is how much of this you or your close friends are unconsciously experiencing and affected by.

For example, if you’re killing yourself to impress your boss and get a promotion, guess what? The men at your company already get paid more to do the same amount of work. If you’re a woman who wants to start a business and raise capital, guess what? From 2010 to 2015 only 10 percent of venture dollars globally went to start-ups with at least one female founder. Women outlive men in every country around the world, yet because of the pay gap, they’re more likely to retire with less money saved. In fact, both young and old women are falling far behind in financial literacy because they are undereducated and underrepresented in the industry; 86 percent of investment advisers are men.

“The personal is political” was actually a rallying cry for the women’s liberation movement in the sixties and seventies because it highlighted the links between lived personal experiences and the corresponding need for social and political change. “Personal problems are political problems. There are no personal solutions at this time. There is only collective action for a collective solution,” Carol Hanisch wrote in her 1970 essay that established the term. My intention is not to tell you something jaw-dropping and new but simply to put the sentence at the front of your mind. Personal problems won’t get solved unless you and I are courageous enough to take positive action.

Political Issues Are Your Issues

When you read the news it’s easy to think that problems in far-off places—or even problems in the same city but on a different street—don’t affect you. But whether or not you feel the effects now, the man who was shot because of his skin color or the girl who was raped on her way to school does threaten you. Here’s why: the ripple effect of inequality gets back to all of us, and eventually you or someone you know will suffer because of one of these problems. As Martin Luther King Jr. famously wrote in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in 1963, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” The World Economic Forum puts it this way: “We live in a fast-paced and interconnected world where breakthrough technologies, demographic shifts and political transformations have far-reaching societal and economic consequences.” No country, state, or town is an island in today’s globalized world where everyone is just a Wifi connection or plane ride away. The ripple effect works both ways: positive action works to improve the world for everyone, and negative actions cause problems that hurt everyone in one way or another.

The Multiplication Benefits of Your Leadership

When you decide to lead change in the world, your actions will multiply benefits. First, the people who are impacted by the cause you’re leading change for will obviously benefit. If you champion a corporate culture initiative that brings women and men together to create a more gender-diverse culture, those employees will start feeling more represented and supported in their careers and will probably perform better. If you run an organization that aims to curb food waste by delivering leftovers from events or businesses to people in need, you’re giving someone a hot meal and making sure they don’t go hungry. If you’re an environmental activist fighting for stricter restrictions on pollution, the results of your work will make the world a healthier place and preserve the earth for the generations to come. When we call attention to an issue that affects a marginalized group or topic, what we’re really saying is that these groups and topics are important and their issues are worth fighting for. By naming a problem and giving it airtime, we start to chip away at the social stigma that exists around it.

Second, your act of leading will model what it means to be a leader. Many people can consume inspiration from you, realize it may not be so inaccessible after all, and then in turn want to inspire others like you do. They decide to step up and become leaders too. I have to imagine that every entrepreneur, leader, and change maker out there are products of the role models they looked up to. In fact, as Liz Wiseman’s work on The Multiplier Effect has shown, the best leaders are those who produce more great leaders by amplifying the intelligence and abilities of those around them. Multipliers are leaders who not only know how to attract and cultivate talent but also inspire and challenge others to stretch their potential and deliver results that exceed expectations.

Last, your service as a leader will make you feel more fulfilled and affirmed. Service not only makes you feel good but is also good for you. For example, adults who regularly serve others or a larger cause are more likely to have lower blood pressure and longer lifespans. On top of the health benefits, serving others boosts self-esteem, psychological well-being, overall happiness, and a feeling of connectedness—communities with lots of service-oriented people are better places to live. You know what I mean. Think about that feeling you get after you receive a thank you letter or email of appreciation for helping someone, when people rush up to you after a talk or speech you’ve given and express how much your words inspired them, when you learn about a fruitful collaboration that has formed between two people you introduced, or when you witness a massive achievement by someone you mentored.

Today 7.3 billion people make up this world. Imagine what society would look like if every one of them committed to lead a positive change. Could innovations occur every minute; climate change be solved; wars, terrorism, and acts of violence ended; global poverty obliterated, clean drinking water made available to all, girls and boys be valued equally, and so on? This has to start somewhere. It needs to start with you and me pursuing leadership, acting as role models, initiating its ripple effect, and making the desire to fulfill one’s purpose so contagious that we will unleash the potential of this population.

Excerpted from This Is How We Rise: Reach Your Highest Potential, Empower Women, Lead Change in the World by Claudia Chan. Copyright © 2017. Available from Da Capo Lifelong Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

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