Being the only woman is hard. It’s easy to not even try to be at the table. I was recently reminded how brave it is for women to be the only one in a room, AND how important it is. So many of the amazing women I get to interview for the podcasts were firsts, and often the ONLY women at the tables they sit at.
I work in politics which is known to be a male-dominated field. There have been times in my career that were very tough, where sexism and the old boys club were impossible to ignore, and I had to fight for every move to grow my career. Once when I quit a job, my manager tried to keep me by suggesting that I should wait to speak to my husband about it when he got back since he was out of town. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. When I ran for politics I was told people would not vote for me because I was a woman, that I should dress differently, and act differently, more feminine (you don’t want people to know you are tenacious; that's not feminine).
Recently my daughter reminded me how proud we should be to break down barriers, and how hard and brave it is to do that. She was competing in a Ninja Warrior Competition. I was proud of her for doing this on so many levels. She struggles with anxiety, and yet she competed and she tried. The last time she competed there was miscommunication and she missed the demonstration of the course before she competed. For someone with anxiety, that is a nightmare.
For her latest competition I signed her up without asking her first, and given her past experience, she really didn't want to go. To prepare her, we had some really important conversations about trying our best. We talked about flipping the script if we don't do well, and how she could learn from the experience about areas she needed to improve. I read her my recent blog post, how to take risks to grow your career, and we talked about how that could apply to her situation.
By the time the day of the competition came, she was ready. Ready to try, even if she didn't win. This competition was very different from the last competition because it was part of the Canadian Ninja League. This time, the kids were separated by age. She was the only girl in a group of five 11-13 year olds (she turned 11 in January), and all of them were taller than her. She got 4th place overall. I was SO proud of her because she tried; she was brave enough to try.
We also learned (we didn’t know beforehand) that they were also placing kids by age and gender. She placed 1st in her age group for girls. You should have seen her face— she was beaming with pride and joy as she was given her gold medal.
I could not have been prouder. One, because she was willing to try when she was scared and anxious, and two, for being the only girl. That day she reminded me so much of our podcast guest, Kate Ryan (my aunt), Trailblazing with lawyer and athlete Kate Ryan Ep. 68.
Kate is a bad ass, in her life as a lawyer, athlete, and mom, she is often the only woman at a table or in the competition, she has blazed trails for countless women. One thing she is known for is competing at very high levels in water skiing, and in her age group (she is now in her 60s) is often the only one.
I look at my Aunt and I look at my daughter and I don’t think, “oh, they were the only one; of course they got gold…” I think how amazing it is they showed up, they tried, and how amazing it is that they ARE the only one. Because being the only girl takes bravery and courage and means so much because you're paving the way for the girls and women that come behind you.
On the car ride home I bawled, and I told her how proud of her I was, how brave she was, and how important it is to be the only girl (as a side note, I have also now been barred from attending her graduation for fear of bawling my eyes out).
Are you the only women/girl at your table/competition etc.? I want you to know we see you, we see the hard path you have taken, how hard you have worked for it and the difference you are making for future generations. YOU are making a difference, be it in your own sphere of influence, or for broader society, you are showing women and girls what you AND they are capable of. Sit at the table, queen, and own it!
Maybe you are not a trail blazer, maybe you don’t want to be, and that’s okay too. When you see a queen lose her crown or it gets crooked, help her straighten it.
You are capable of great things beyond what you can imagine. You may think that you're just living your life. You may be a woman who is the first to go to university in your family, or you may be a woman who is the first to own a business in your family, but you make a difference in whatever role you're playing in your life whether it's for other women or future generations. So sit at the table, queen, and wear your crown. You deserve it.
“Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference”
– Robert Frost