We Need Women’s Leadership Now, More Than Ever

by Jan 8, 2021Everything, Leadership

For the last four years, we’ve been quietly sharing the Startup Parent philosophy with every conversation and every working parent we come across. Each time I whisper it, people tell me they grab it, write it down, share it with friends. We’ve now plastered it on mugs and we’re working on postcards and sweatshirts and more.

Here’s one of our core philosophies:

We don’t have to do things the way they’ve always been done.

But this week, in the wake of steadily escalating provocation, attacks, and violence at the hands of people purported to be “leaders,” we know this isn’t enough as a question. Instead, it’s a mission statement and a call to action. We must to do things differently in order to get different results. We can’t keep living life the way it’s always been done and expect change to happen. 

It’s up to us to figure out the new world of work, the path forward in parenting, and to build the world we want to live in.

Here at Startup Parent, we believe the next generation of leaders will come from the world of working parents, especially working mothers, who stand up and pioneer new ways of working and living.

But how do you become the leader that the world needs? What can you do, as an individual who is struggling inside of the chaos and overwhelmed by parenting, working, and of course, this effing pandemic?v If you feel lost, overwhelmed, confused, or scared—know that it’s okay for you to show up wherever you are, how you are.

Our leadership philosophy starts with the whole person.

We need to show up as our full selves—complete with partnership challenges, marriage struggles, parenting snafus, fertility disappointments, bodily needs, career goals, and more. We won’t grow into the fully capable, brave, and spirited leaders the world needs if we keep shoving these parts of ourselves into hiding.

Your leadership potential is directly tied to living into the entirety of the life you are living. When you go through these growth opportunities, whether it’s living through a pandemic, or being postpartum, or bringing a new human into your family, or navigating a career setback—these are the moments that reveal who we are and how we show up, and who we can become. It’s when you examine the fullness of your life, when you share your truth alongside other people, that we can begin to create new futures.

Don’t leave yourself behind.

But the world of work largely ignores these very real puzzles, asking us to leave all of these growth opportunities behind closed doors and rigid routines because we are terrified of mixing family and work, and we are still clinging to the outdated idea of “traditional” family structures and patriarchal power systems.

We’re suffering as a result: this pandemic has revealed how critical caretaking is to basic economic functioning. But by keeping work, community, and family so segregated, and by asking people to shut down their emotional selves in pursuit of so-called rational thinking, our very leadership potential and leadership capacities are stifled.

Your feelings and your access to the messy reality you live in—right here, right now—are essential for your ability to lead.

So if you’re feeling stuck, or frozen, or scared, or overwhelmed, or confused about what to do—it might be because our leadership paradigms don’t model for us how to use empathy, self-awareness, and compassion as tools to connect. The modern work and power structures tell women that something’s wrong with us for feeling the way we feel. Let me be clear: there’s nothing wrong with you for having reactions, emotions, and responding to the world around you. Your inherent wisdom and knowing are directly linked to your ability to feel and perceive the world around you. You are tapping into your leadership potential even if you are exhausted, bleeding, leaking milk, or you’re wandering around the house in search of a dry pair of period underwear. (That was me, yesterday.)

We won’t get better leadership by trying to stuff ourself into uncomfortable suits and competing at who can work later hours. We won’t do it by hiding how hard domestic work is, or by showing up with a perfectly groomed face and pretending things are okay. We won’t get there by trying to act like other people.

We need your leadership from where you are—as you are.

Instead, we’ve known for a long time that we need much more diverse leadership, that we need women’s leadership, and that we need new models of power. As Elizabeth Lesser says, we need to embrace “power to,” not just “power over.” We need truth telling, and we need new visions. We need you, your work, and your brave new thinking. We need your leadership to guide us. We need you to show up. We need you to be who you really are, not what an archaic model of power and “leadership” tells you to be.

Show up for what your life needs, and for what the world around you needs. Maybe showing up means quitting projects that aren’t working. It might mean setting better boundaries. It might mean getting more sleep to rest up for the work ahead—trust yourself.

Take care, take the rest you need, take action, and show up.

Even and especially as you are.


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Sarah K Peck

Founder, Startup Parent

Sarah Peck is a writer, startup advisor, and yoga teacher based in New York City. She’s the founder and executive director of Startup Parent, a media company documenting the stories of women’s leadership across work and family. She hosts the weekly Startup Parent Podcast and Let's Talk, her second podcast. Previously, she worked at Y Combinator backed One Month, Inc, a company that teaches people to code in 30 days, and before that she was a writing and communications consultant.

She’s a 20-time All-American swimmer who successfully swam the Escape from Alcatraz nine separate times, once wearing only a swim cap and goggles to raise $33k for charity: water. She’s written for more than 75 different web publications and and has delivered speeches and workshops at Penn, UVA, Berkeley, Harvard, Craft & Commerce, WDS, and more.