“From a very young age, girls are often taught to diminish our skills. You don’t want to take too much credit, and you don’t want to be too assertive, but at the same time, you have to be confident. But you can’t be self promoting. So, don’t promote yourself too much, but at the same time, be assertive and have leadership traits.”
These are the words that my most recent guest on KnowThyBrand Women podcast, Mary Chung Hayashi, used when talking about women in politics.
Mary Chung Hayashi is an award-winning author, national healthcare leader, and former California State Assemblymember. With a distinguished career in public service, Mary has spearheaded substantial reforms in mental health services, championed gender equality, and forged powerful, unprecedented partnerships for social causes that previously had no financial or public backing.
In her book Women in Politics, Mary offers a riveting exploration of the strides made by women in government. This essential, contemporary analysis bridges the gap between past and present, blending Mary’s personal journey as an Asian American immigrant and former California State Assemblymember with the inspiring stories of trailblazing women in political leadership.
Featuring interviews and insightful discussions, Mary brings to life the trials and triumphs of these women, showcasing their invaluable contributions to political landscapes and the transformative power of their perseverance. Her work sheds light on the ongoing struggles for gender-political parity and serves as a call to action: we must actively participate in shaping our democracy.
The Intersection of Politics and Business
The initial focus of our conversation centered around the disparities in the journeys of women in politics and women in business. However, as our conversation unfolded, it gradually shifted towards the parallels between these two worlds. Ultimately, we came to the realization that the challenges and triumphs faced by women in politics and business are pretty much identical.
One pervasive issue highlighted in Mary’s book is the unwarranted scrutiny women face when it comes to their family lives. There’s a prevalent bias where women are questioned about their ability to balance family responsibilities with their political or professional roles.
In the political sphere, female candidates often find themselves under a microscope, with questions like, “Can she balance both family and a successful political career?” or, on the contrary, “Does she understand family values if she doesn’t have children?” These questions reflect a gender bias that unfairly targets women, scrutinizing their personal lives in a way that their male counterparts seldom experience.
It’s alarming how deeply ingrained these biases are. And the constant scrutiny on women’s family values creates a challenging environment, dissuading many talented and capable women from entering the political arena or pursuing leadership roles in business.
During our conversation, Mary also sheds some light on distinct differences in how men and women are perceived, not only in politics but also in business. The biases mentioned above contribute to what Mary termed the “ambition gap,” where societal expectations pressure women to conform to certain ideals. From a young age, girls are often encouraged to avoid conflicts, be service-oriented, and downplay their skills. This socialization contributes to a mindset where women might hesitate to assert themselves confidently or pursue ambitious career paths.
Men, on the other hand, are generally encouraged to be leaders from a young age. The ambition gap becomes particularly evident when examining career choices—women might lean towards nonprofit roles, while men are more likely to start their own businesses or aspire to become CEOs.
These differences translate into what is called the “imagination barrier.” Often, people struggle to envision women in powerful positions or leadership roles that defy traditional gender norms. This unconscious bias hinders the progress of women, particularly women of color, who may face additional layers of prejudice.
Moreover, women are often held to a different standard when it comes to ambition. While men are celebrated for their confidence and assertiveness, women can face backlash for displaying similar traits. The fear of being labeled as “bossy” or “aggressive” creates a challenging dynamic where women need to navigate their professional journeys with caution.
Another thing that stands out is the tendency to prioritize style over substance when it comes to women. This emphasis on appearance and communication style is not only prevalent in politics but also in business, where women often face criticism for negotiating compensation or asking for a raise.
Acknowledging these inherent biases and actively working towards dismantling them is crucial. Businesses should strive to create inclusive environments where both men and women are evaluated based on their potential and contributions rather than conforming to gender stereotypes. Additionally, mentoring and sponsorship programs can play a pivotal role in breaking down these barriers. By fostering a culture that encourages women to embrace their ambitions and providing the necessary support, we can gradually shift the narrative and create a more equitable playing field.
What Can We Do
When it comes to taking practical steps in overcoming these biases, Mary believes that recognizing that these challenges are deeply rooted and won’t change overnight is crucial. It’s not just about individual actions; institutional barriers also play a significant role..
One practical approach is through mentorship. It’s essential to recognize that men can be crucial allies in promoting gender equality. Studies show that when men actively support and advocate for gender equality, their message resonates with other men, contributing to positive change.So, the inclusion of men as allies is crucial. It’s not about pitting women against men but fostering collaboration for systemic change.
Moreover, recruitment efforts play a pivotal role. Women often run for office or pursue leadership roles when encouraged to do so. We need to actively ask women to consider these opportunities, breaking down the perceived barriers and empowering them to step forward.
One thing that deeply resonated with Mary was her interview with now US Senator Laphonza Butler who emphasized the importance of encouraging women to take the leap, even when they may doubt their qualifications. In that interview, Senator Butler used the phrase “do it anyway” and that resonated strongly with Mary. It’s about overcoming self-doubt and recognizing that passion and commitment matter as much as ticking every qualification box. This message is particularly relevant for women contemplating entering politics or pursuing leadership roles in any field. “Do it anyway” is a powerful mantra that extends beyond politics into various professional arenas. It’s not just about waiting until every qualification is met; it’s about seizing opportunities and pushing against self-imposed limitations.
And this approach is not exclusive to women. It applies to anyone facing doubts or questioning their readiness for a new challenge. In both politics and business, we need to shift the narrative and encourage individuals to embrace their unique strengths and aspirations.
Do it anyway.
Listen to this episode -> https://www.buzzsprout.com/1720376/14326766