Gender Equality Lessons from a 7-Year-Old

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #BalanceforBetter.  The goal of building a gender-balanced world is core to my beliefs and the work I do in my career every day.  It is also core to my role as a parent.

Raising both strong girls and boys who are allies has always been a key mission for me and my husband.  As a result, our 9 and 12-year-old boys regularly remind their 7-year-old sisters (yes, there are TWO of them to contend with!) that girls can do anything boys can, and there will be NO special treatment or limited thinking allowed.  The boys respect their sisters and encourage them to speak up in a strong and confident way. 

And the encouragement to speak up has been making a difference.

My in-laws recently had our kids overnight and took them to church the next morning. It always scares me to leave my children with my in-laws, because I never know what they say when I’m not around, and I’m not convinced that everything that comes out of their mouths is going to bode well for my parenting skills. For example, over dinner, my daughter felt the need to share that she was certain she had chewed the roast 100 times already, yet STILL wasn’t able to swallow the meat Grandma made. We’ve mastered speaking what’s on our mind.  We are still working on a filter.

Anyways, after church, I got a text from my mother-in-law that one of my girls said something to the pastor that made them laugh. She said I’d have to ask her about it when I got back from my business trip. *Cue the nerves.*

My daughter was listening closely to the sermon when she heard something that didn’t sit well with her.  The pastor was telling a story about how much he admired his Grandpa’s car growing up because “you know how little boys just love to play with cars”.   

Suddenly, my daughter got a really perplexed look on her face and asked for some paper and a pen.  She started jotting things down, listening more, jotting more, and then when she was done, she leaned over and told my mother-in-law she had something she needed to give the pastor. When the service was over, my in-laws dutifully walked my daughter over to the pastor. She confidently walked right up to him and handed him the note.  He opened it up and looked closely at the phonetically spelled message: "Y kant litle girlz play with cars to?" 

The pastor bent down and asked my daughter what her note meant.  Without hesitation, she replied, "You said in your sermon that little boys like to play with cars, but why didn't you say anything about little girls?  There are girls that like to play with cars too!  I don't think you should only talk about boys".  

#BalanceforBetter Lessons From a 7-Year-Old

If we look beyond the simplicity of the story, there are some key lessons we can all learn that if applied collectively could help move the needle on #BalanceforBetter:

  1. Pay Attention – The first step to achieving #BalanceforBetter is identifying where there are opportunities to do something about it.  For my daughter, she paid attention when the story she was hearing didn’t feel quite right to her and realized it was an opportunity to do something.  She also spoke up a week prior, pulling me aside and gently breaking the news (in the same way someone would share that your aunt has just passed away) that Jack Johnson (my favorite singer) only sings songs about boys and that she thinks it is incredibly rude.  She obviously has her radar up right now and is noticing these perceived inequities, and they aren’t sitting well with her! I’m guessing we could all pay closer attention to what we are seeing as well.  Awareness is always the first step to taking action.
  2. Get Clarity of Message – My daughter wrote her thoughts on paper before having the discussion.  She knew exactly what part made her upset and came up with a question to get at the root of it.  We can’t address inequalities until we know how to articulate what we are seeing or experiencing.  Get clear about what you want to address before addressing it.  And don’t try to tackle everything – pick a key issue to start with.
  3. Initiate Courageous Conversations – In my daughter’s eyes, the pastor is a scary dude.  He is bigger than her, louder than her (well...sometimes), and an authority figure that she has learned she’s supposed to respect. 
    It took courage for her to tell him what she thought he did wrong.  How many of you would have done the same at age 7?  What about the age you are today?  It’s easy to make excuses about why a 7-year-old doesn’t have courageous conversations, but what about the rest of us?  What is stopping us from speaking our truth about things we know matter?

  4. Understand Your Impact on Others – My reply to my in-laws when they told me the story was “I can’t believe she did that”.  My father-in-law’s retort… “Really?  Who do you think she learned it from?"  I guess he's right...although it felt a little more like an accusation than a pat on the back, but I digress.  She didn't just come out speaking her mind and recognizing inequalities.  The strong women and male allies in her life have influenced her thinking and helped her become the confident, outspoken 7-year-old that she is today. 

As you reflect on International Women’s Day:

What kind of influence are you having – on future generations, on the people in your organization, on your community?  Is what they are learning from you positively contributing to gender equality? 

Remember, we’re all in this together and understanding our individual impact helps create a collective movement towards #BalanceforBetter. And hopefully, we’re approaching a day when none of our kids will need the #BetterforBalance hashtag because it will simply be reality.