May 20, 2014 — “To whom much is given, much is expected.” This is my father’s mantra. He has inscribed it in graduation cards and my middle school yearbook; vocalized it at points in my life when failure was a possibility and apprehension loomed; and, most importantly, lived and breathed it during his poverty-to-success lifetime. I have attempted to embody every last drop of his worth ethic and mentality. Growing up, “much is expected” meant putting in the effort for a task—the all-nighters for a project, countless one-on-one feedback meetings, and extra extra attention to detail. I expected a lot out of myself (my best friend has dubbed me the most intense person she knows, for better or for worse) and working hard would be the differentiator, regardless of circumstance.
A few formative classes, lectures, and employment experiences later, however, made one thing abundantly clear: working hard isn’t enough for women in the workplace. And as evidenced by the success of books such as Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, women across the nation recognize this as well. So, since I want to ultimately be at the top of whatever organization or industry I enter, I have started to carry my father’s mantra in my back pocket, with an outward-looking addendum.
My father’s mantra does not mean a woman must work hard to ensure that she herself succeeds; it means a woman must give a helping hand to those who come behind her. Women at the top need to help women at the bottom.
The good news is that research shows that they do. A recent Catalyst report, First Step: Gender Diversity at the Top Pays Off from the Boardroom to the C-Suite, showcases how greater representation of women on boards correlates with an increase in women executives. The even better news is that other research shows there is a trickledown effect, where leaders—especially women—advocate for women in the lower ranks.
This trickledown effect is incredibly important for millennial women like me who are in the pipeline. It’s a talent retention issue, an employee value issue, and an “A-ha, I am not alone in this quest for success” issue. We need women at the top, as these women will advocate for women like me, who want a seat at the table. I credit my father for the strong woman I am today, and believe women need to follow his mantra. When they do, all women succeed.