As I was scrolling through my LinkedIn newsfeed this week, I came across the video of the press conference with Muffet McGraw, the head women’s basketball coach at the University of Notre Dame. When asked about her decision to only hire women to serve on her staff, her response was powerful and direct. “Women need the opportunity. They deserve the opportunity,” she said. She went on to say that “We don’t have enough visible female leaders. We don’t have enough women in power.” 

For the past seven years, McGraw has had an all-female staff. She’s been publicly questioned on numerous occasions about why she refuses to hire males (Bryan, 2019). And each time she is questioned, she delivers the same unwavering response.

Her message resonates with me, and shapes how I've chosen to lead.

Her message resonated with me, as I also make a very conscious and dedicated effort to hire female staff and provide internship opportunities to females throughout my career as a leader of a company and also as an administrator in the field of education. Like McGraw, I believe strongly that women need to see other women in roles that they also desire to pursue. Young women need to see actions that match the lip service given to “equality” in the workplace and in their educational careers. This in no way undermines the efforts and impact of male role models and mentors in the personal and professional lives of women. Nor does it suggest that males should not have equitable opportunities to relentlessly pursue their interests. It merely suggests that more can and should be done to ensure that women have female role models and mentors to help empower them to chase their dreams and pursue their passion. It’s difficult to believe in the possibilities if you seldom see anyone who “looks like you” doing what you want to do.

As I listened to Muffet McGraw’s interview, I reflected on my own upbringing as a female in a small rural farming community in southeast Iowa in the 1970s and '80s, where gender bias was entrenched in the rural culture and a male math teacher once told my father and me (during a parent-teacher conference) that I was “pretty smart for a girl.” 

More than 30 years later, what sticks in my mind (more so than the teacher's comment, which he thought was a compliment) is my father’s response: “I think she is pretty smart, period.” I was fortunate to have a father who sent a strong message to me (and to my math teacher) that I was capable and expected to pursue whatever I wanted to pursue. 

And so … I did. 

In high school, I was the only girl on the cross-country team, the only girl in the upper-level math course, the only girl on the state mock trial team my senior year of high school, the only girl to go to national future bowl and compete with other males from across the country. I guess a lot of other girls didn’t get the “message” that not only was it OK to relentlessly pursue anything of interest, but it was expected. For me it wasn’t the exception, it was the rule. 

We need to make sure this message is the norm and not the exception for females in our communities.While we have made strides to address the gender inequality and gender bias in our country, we still have considerable work to do, as evidenced by an EdWeek article published March 29, 2019, titled “Judge Strikes Down Charter School’s Dress Code Requiring Skirts for Girls.” A federal district judge in North Carolina ruled that forcing girls to wear skirts as part of a dress code policy violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause. The charter school’s founder, Baker Mitchell, describes the dress code as part of a “climate of chivalry” and “mutual respect,” and the charter board argued that it was “part of a permissible traditional values approach to help instill discipline and keep order as well as promote mutual respect between the sexes” (Walsh, 2019). 

As I read this article, I couldn’t help but think about how much work remains to be done to ensure that women have equitable opportunities in school, in the workplace and in life.

It is crucial that we recognize there are not as many females in many traditionally male-dominated fields such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), or in positions of power and decision-making, such as the CEO of a company or an elected official. 

According to a study produced by the Girl Scouts of the USA, 4 out of 10 girls say they haven’t had opportunities to interact with successful women during the last school year (Anderson, 2012). Only 5% of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are female (Zarya, 2018). 

In light of this alarming statistic, it is critical the women among us who hold these positions make it a priority to “pay it forward” and mentor young girls and our female colleagues who are interested in pursuing a similar path. There are so many ways for women to serve as role models for other women, and in spite of how busy we are running companies, raising families or both, I challenge us all to make it a priority to help empower women in as many ways as possible. Seek out female interns, hire female staff, speak to clubs and organizations that engage female members (such as Girl Scouts, sororities, etc.). Join networks such as the Female Founders network in Des Moines to learn and be inspired and empowered by strong successful female business owners. 

Time ReDesigned is proud to be developing the next generation of female leaders through internship and employment opportunities, and I am proud to have mentored a number of young women who have gone on to start their own business or pursue careers in leadership positions. My hope is to cultivate a network of strong and successful female leaders who are proud to “Fight Lead like girls.”

Jobi Lawrence, Ed.D., is the founder of Time ReDesigned, an educational technology company located in Johnston. Lawrence has over 25 years of experience in the field of education, serving as a teacher, a leader, a policymaker, and a mentor throughout her career. As the founder of a small woman-owned business, she is passionate about “paying it forward” and helping other women succeed in their personal and professional lives.