“Por ser niña, tengo derecho a soñar.” [As a girl, I have a right to dream.]
I hung the painting by the El Salvadorian artist Fernando Llorte on your bedroom wall because every morning when you woke up, I wanted you to see the happy, colorful image of the little girl and smile. But even more importantly, I wanted you to read the text and be reminded that YOU have a right to dream. You will probably roll your eyes when you read this and you will likely mutter to yourself, “There she goes again … lecturing me on women’s rights and empowerment. Telling me about what girls can become, what potential they have.”
I know it may seem like I have been on a soapbox at times, but it is only because I think it is so important to show you the world, the opportunities available to you and that I want you to be optimistic – never bitter or jaded. Sharing stories of girls that have succeeded against all odds has been central to what I can teach you. I don’t want your heroes to be pop stars or reality TV personalities. I have wanted you to see that the real heroes in this world are regular women, doing extraordinary things. I have wanted you to have role models that are inspirational.
I am a feminist, but I am feminine. You can be successful and can still enjoy baking or scrapbooking. Be authentic. Let down your hair. You do not need to create a persona. It is exhausting and it gives the wrong sign to other women that to be successful, you need to adopt a persona. It is those other interests, perhaps feminine interests, that make you human and genuine. I have spent much of my career trying to sponsor other women and it is mostly because I recognize how fortunate I have been to have strong women (and I must admit, mostly men) propel me forward into positions and roles that I coveted, but that I did not necessarily put myself forward for. I thought good work, hard work, was enough. That I would be recognized. After all, in school, that is how it worked.
But real life requires different skills and hard work is only one element. People need to get to know you, know what you want and what ambitions you have. I realize that supporting some of these women has come at the cost of spending time with you. But if I have been able to enact change, even the smallest impact, it has been worth it.
I walked into the first day of your startup bootcamp with you and observed that there were only 7 girls amongst the 35 boys. You were clearly disappointed. But so was I. I blurted, “Now you get to experience a typical day in my workday. I had hoped that the world would be different for you. Well, I guess not. Now is the time to get used to it.” But the world IS changing, albeit slowly. You will have to continue to fight … for yourself and for your daughter. But at some point, that startup bootcamp, coding class or math competition will have the same numbers of boys and girls participating.
I have watched you, at the age of only 10, become frustrated because your voice was not heard and your male partner took over your project. Your father and I advised you, or some may say “berated” you, because it is such a valuable lesson to learn to speak up and that your input was equally as important as your partner’s. In the end, you spoke up, the two of you came to a compromise and you were happy.
I have watched you be disheartened when your younger brother has excelled. I have seen you give up. Don’t. You are blessed with different talents. Wonderful talents. Use them. But remain genuine and true to yourself. As you have reminded me many times, you are unique.
I have had my doubts over the years and you will most certainly have yours. It isn’t easy juggling a career, family, children, friends. It isn’t perfect and things do fall through the cracks. Life is about choices. Once you make yours, go with it and don’t look back. A promotion doesn’t necessarily mean “more.” It means “different.” Don’t hesitate because you don’t think you can handle “more.” Watch and observe those who inspire you. You will be surprised.
I hope that you are lucky enough to find a husband who is not jealous of you, does not hold you back, but rather catapults you forward. Your father has demonstrated more confidence in my abilities than I often have in myself. He has given me incredible strength. I pray that you are equally blessed. I do hope that you will support your friends and other women as they seek out their futures. You are not in competition with them. The more you provide support, the stronger you will become.
Be humble, but don’t be naïve. Be humble, but not apologetic. I was incredibly fortunate to have a strong mother and we come from a lineage of powerful women. Never forget that and those genes will propel you forward. I hope that I have been a good role model to you. You are a girl who will blossom into a young woman. Perhaps then, when you read this, some of the choices I have made will make more sense. You may choose another path, but whatever path you choose, I will love you.
“As a girl, you have a right to dream.”