It’s been a bit over 2 weeks since the Women in Physical Therapy Summit in NYC and I’ve been wanting to write about my experiences but have been having a hard time. Returning home after one of my favorite events of the year, I was left with a renewed sense of self, insightful introspection, mindfulness and vigor. Speaking at the summit was an incredible honor and the intense gratitude I feel is beyond what words can describe. But I issued a call to action and when I got home, I felt frozen. There were so many people who came up to me after my speech to commend and thank me for my bravery, courage, and vulnerability in sharing my story. My gratitude for this little gesture is exactly why I spoke to the powers of amplification. For many, I know it took a small act of courage to approach me and for that, I am forever grateful. You all are the reason I wanted to share.
The question of what defines a woman leader seems to be lingering in a lot of minds after this event and I wanted to share some thoughts on this. The google definition of "leadership" is the action of leading a group of people or an organization. The definition of "leader" is the person who leads a group of people or organization. While I do believe that leadership requires action, the definition of a leader, for me, is somewhat restrictive and narrow.
Here’s the thing, if you’re a woman, you possess the capacity to lead. This seems obvious in my mind and I’m sure in many of your minds as well. What I find restrictive in this definition, is that I believe women need to define leadership in whatever way they choose, and in accepting your own definition of what taking action is to you, you embody what being a woman leader means. We are all unique and have a story to share if we should choose to share it.
Speaking up, stepping out, amplifying, being bold, whatever it is, there is a place for you to do it. If you aren’t the type of person to be loud in the stereotypical way, that is yours to own. What is important in all of this, is knowing that YOUR voice matters to progress for women. I had several folks say to me that they’ve never thought of gender as an issue in their experience as a woman PT. What a fortunate place to be!! I wish we could all say the same but statistically speaking, we can’t. It’s vitally important to recognize this as a place of privilege. And with privilege, comes great responsibility to understand your power to influence significant and meaningful change. To HEAR what others are saying and empower women to lead by facing their fears and being unabashed about the feathers they might ruffle. OR it might be helping women to feel empowered to BE THEMSELVES!
Speaking up and amplifying is often a catalyst for other women to be emboldened themselves. I am firmly rooted in the premise that change does not happen without some disruption. In physical therapy, disruption as a woman (and maybe even a man, but more likely for women) definitely comes with challenges as it is often seen as unprofessional. And while I believe this is likely true for most professions in some capacity, as a PT it seems to me that being professional carries a weight that can often restrict my own understanding of myself at times. I'm constantly in a battle with my "disruptive" self and my "professional self." Two boxes that feel too small. Molds demanding to be broken.
Much of my frustration as a young professional is a direct result of the adversity I have experienced. And what is important for me and for everyone to realize is that not everyone has had similar experiences. One of the driving messages for me after the summit, is that it is absolutely essential for stories to be heard and for us to allow each person to live their story as they see fit. By accepting that each person has a different definition of success, of womanhood, of feminism, of leadership, we empower each other to be ourselves.
I have had countless mentors tell me to be careful about what I say, who I say it to, how I say it, where I say it. One of my beautiful flaws is that I am quick to react. I respect the notion that professionalism is an important aspect to my career, but I reject the notion that because I’m a physical therapist I am not allowed to be politically engaged, emotionally charged, frustrated or empowered through feminism. I am allowed all of those things and more...and so are you.
Until gender equity is achieved, my definition of being a woman leader is one that allows me to never be ashamed for being what I am or what I hope to be: A Badass Woman. I'm taking action on being myself. I am proud to be a woman. I am proud to be fighting the good fight. I am proud to be lifting other women up to do things that they want to do, even if it means potentially sacrificing an opportunity for myself to do it. I am proud to be a woman leader and I will own that word as long as I choose. Because that choice is mine to make.
As I woke up on Sunday morning, the day after the summit, I realized that in being surrounded and accepted just as I was by a group of women I respect and admire, I was able to accept and notice that I am allowed to feel the way I do and so are you. I am allowed to exercise my ridiculous desire to drop an F’bomb or have a damn opinion. I am allowed to be angry that men amplify the shit out of each other and don’t seem to think of women when they do so. I am allowed to be upset when folks want me to quiet down, sit down, settle down, calm down. I will not do any of those things because, I’m not going down anywhere, I’m going up and I’m doing it, as me, a WOMAN leader.