August 18, 2020

A Century Later, The Lessons Of The Suffragettes Still Hold

If you were born in the South, as I was, expectations for girls were standard and basically inviolate. The qualities cherished in boys—vigor, courage, confidence, intelligence—were not at all those cherished in girls. “Young ladies,” by contrast, were valued for their graciousness, femininity, and most of all for their obedience. You accepted the path that had been laid out for you by your parents and by society, which basically amounted to this: find a husband, have children, keep house, and most of all, keep quiet.

I was having none of that.

Headstrong and determined, I knew from an early age that I was not going to be happy or fulfilled doing what others expected. I had my own dreams, my own path to forge. Eventually I became part of the first big wave of women who elbowed their way into the business world in the 1970s. To see what has happened since—to see how many amazing, talented, and innovative women have flowed into the pipeline—well, it’s everything. It’s the realization of the dream I had when I established a search firm: to make sure women got a seat at the executive table. Four of the five firms that today comprise The Diversified Search Group were founded by women.

On this day, the day we mark the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment granting women across the U.S. the right to vote, I look back and think about my journey, and the journey of all of the women who embarked on similar ones before me, with me, and after me. We owe the Suffragettes so much, as the new, brilliant series celebrating their achievements in the New York Times shows us. Against all odds, they stood, shoulder to shoulder, marching and writing and protesting and, yes, occasionally shouting, saying, Enough! We have a voice, and we will be heard.

Remind you of anything?

Let’s face it: We are in a horrible moment when it comes to national unity. There is so much anger, discord, misinformation, finger-pointing. At times it simply feels hopeless. But then I remember those feisty suffragettes. Think about their journey—think about everything they endured in their quest for what was right, what was just, what was not only a political movement, but a moral imperative. And look at how we are reaping the rewards of their work. Yes, it took a long time. But right now we are seeing how women are coming to the forefront to be heard, to offer their unique brand of leadership. While our politics remains a mess, are there any of us whose heart didn’t swell seeing not one, not two, but six major female candidates for President emerge last year? Who, no matter what your personal political persuasion, isn’t excited about Kamala Harris on the Democratic ticket, representing not only women, but—at last—women of color? You look at the movements, the protests, the energy, they’re all being propelled by women.

And if you really want to see where women are leading, take a look at the coronavirus response. As the U.S. continues to deal with out-of-control infection rates, the countries of New Zealand, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, and Norway have either flattened the curve completely or have the virus firmly under control. You got it—they’re all led by women. The Times recently compiled data from 21 countries around the world, 13 led by men, 8 by women. The male-led countries averaged 214 deaths per 1 million people. The female-led countries averaged 36 per 1 million—a fifth of the male-led average.

Don’t get me wrong. I adore men. I had some amazing mentors who were men. I married one, raised two others, and have a grandson who is the light of my life. But today, when I see these women—in business, in politics, in entertainment, sports, media, academia, everywhere—and how they continue to move the ball forward, my heart swells. There is much work still to be done. But on this very special day, a hundred years after achieving one of our biggest milestones, let’s take a moment to say “thank you” to all the women who came before us. And to make sure that the daughters and granddaughters who will follow us will do so with courage and verve, guided by the belief that every woman has the right to determine her own destiny.

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