You’ve Come A Long Way Baby!

Women's History MonthMarch is Women’s History Month, a time to reflect on how far women have come in the workplace. One can examine popular culture like the television show MAD MEN to cringe at the way women were treated in the business world.  In one episode Don Draper, the show’s leading man, announced to a female client that he “won’t let a woman talk to him this way.”  Combine that with excessive philandering, continual sexist jokes, illicit affairs, holiday parties where male execs actually tackled secretaries the see what color their panties were and women being expected to sleep their way to anything that even resembled a management position. I had the opportunity to talk to local women to see what adversity they overcame to gain leadership in business ventures.

Tommy Brann and Marge Wilson
Tommy Brann and Marge Wilson

75-year-old Marge Wilson runs the very successful Marge’s Donut Den in Wyoming, Michigan. She’s been at it since 1975. The business just recently went through expansion and remodeling to meet the needs of the community.  She wakes up at 3:00a.m. to be at work by 4:00a.m. It’s not easy and she was doubted by many when she first started. ” I remember when I first started so many men told me that it would be absolutely impossible for a woman to run a successful business,” she said. “There were so many doubters.” Look at her now. Running one of the most successful donut establishments in West Michigan.  She makes and distributes baked goods, wedding and corporate cakes, brownies, cookies, muffins and donuts.  She recently kept the business open 24 hours on Fat Tuesday to sell 24,000 Packzi’s and went through 2,500 pounds of dough.

Anne Doyle was a successful broadcast journalist at WZZM-TV 13.     Anne DoyleShe is now the author of POWERING UP! How America’s Women Achievers Become Leaders, a City Councilwoman in Auburn HIlls, MI. and a global speaker.  She has been tested for decades in some of the toughest leadership laboratories for women: sports locker rooms, the global auto industry, elected office and single parenting.

When she first started in reporting– in a relatively all male newsroom– she was told that it was her responsibility to get the men their coffee every morning.

How things have changed:

“My 2015 message is simply this: BE COURAGEOUS. Dare to continue raising your voice to make a positive difference. Everywhere we look, the human family is crying out for the mothers of the world — women — to step up and take an equal role in shaping the economic, cultural, educational, military and public policy decisions that impact all human possibility.”

I love the words of Admiral Michelle Howard, vice chief of U.S. Naval Operations, who is raising the Navy’s game. She recently told a Washington, DC audience, “My definition of leadership is ‘Not standing around and doing nothing while watching everything go to hell!’” Everywhere we look, things are going to hell. Pick your passion. Then put your shoulder to the wheel and let your voice be heard — particularly if you are the lone voice who brings different perspective to decisions.

Leadership is rarely easy. I draw courage from watching or reading about others in action, such as the movies: Selma, directed by Ava DuVernay; Iron-Jawed Angels and Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon. Or, pick up, “Race Across Alaska,” the fascinating book on Libby Riddles, the first woman to win the 1,000-mile Iditarod dog-sled race. Plus, right before our eyes, fabulous examples of powerful, brave and wise women are rising up and taking action. For example: •United States Congress.

We now have 100 women (out of 535) elected to the U.S. Senate (20) and House of Representatives (80). That’s nowhere close to what it should be. Two of our newest Congresswomen, Brenda Lawrence and Debbie Dingell, are from Michigan and pesonal friends. Here’s a fascinating articles on the women who led the way in the ultimate “boys club” and the sexism even U.S. Senators still contend with. •DC’s Matriarchy – For the first time in history, the Mayor, Police Chief and School Chancellor of an American city are all women — and two are women of color.

It’s time for the rest of America to catch up! •Women of Africa Rising — Kah Walla, a courageous political leader I met years ago at a global conference, is running for president in Cameroon. Her TedTalk is a must-view primer on this critically important continent. •Marissa Mayer and Silicon Sexism – 2014 brought fascinating revelations about the blatant sexism in Silicon Valley. In Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo! author Nicolas Carlson blames Mayer’s Oscar de la Renta shoes !!!) instead of Silicon Valley culture for any sexism she faced. The recent review in NY Times magazine is worth your time. •Actress and activist Geena Davis continues to raise her voice on behalf of girls and women. She is partnering with Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods and Walmart to host a film festival promoting women and diversity in movies.

Yes, indeed, we have come a long way baby–to get to where we’ve got to today.