“Leadership is a series of behaviours rather than a role for heroes.” - Margaret Wheatley
Even though the world is slowly realising that women are humans too (finally!), we’re far from being a perfect society. India still has an unequal gender ratio, women are still paid less and have a higher illiteracy rate than men and fewer girls manage to finish primary school than boys in this country. In this context, it is important to ensure that we raise our daughters to be confident, and hone their leadership skills.
Establishing qualities such as leadership and confidence isn’t a one-day job. It’s a gradual process that may seem long and hard, but it is worth the work.
As a parent, you are your daughter’s first and the greatest influence. She learns from what you do and say.
Demonstrate gender parity
It is crucial that you never convey, overtly or subtly, that being the woman of the house is any less important than being the man. Establishing gender equality at home is the first step to establishing equality in society. When your daughter sees and experiences equality at home, she will grow up understanding that she does not need to stay dependent on anyone and that she can be a leader. Even the daughters of mothers who are housewives can be leaders.
One of the major contributors to shaping a leader is being given responsibility. Often, out of love and an inclination to protect our children, we assume that they aren’t old enough to shoulder responsibilities or to be put in charge of something. Maybe, we just assume that they need us at every step. On the contrary, children are actually a lot smarter than we give them credit for and that is why it’s important to give them the privilege of shouldering responsibilities from an early age. Let your daughter take decisions on some of the things that affect her. Here are two age-appropriate suggestions:
- As a little girl, you can let her choose what to wear on a daily basis or for special occasions, with some initial guidance from you.
- As a teenager, you can let her choose her career, after giving her the pros and cons of various options.
Respect her decision and implement it, after making sure she knows that the liability of the choice rests with her. If she falls, be there to catch her. If she fails, critique her, but don’t punish. Analyse and discuss what went wrong, instead of being negative. Talk about how she can get better and help her improve herself.
School them right
Being a woman is challenging at any age, and women face discrimination at every stage in life. Often, it is assumed that women are suited only for less stressful tasks and at times get overlooked for challenging professions and responsibilities because of stereotypes accepted by society. As a parent, be aware that school can be the biggest hurdle to the development of your daughter’s confidence and leadership qualities. Be it science projects or sports, girls can face prejudice because of their gender. The proof of this is the large difference in the number of girls who show interest in science at a young age and the skewed gender ratio in engineering and research institutions.
Equip girls to challenge discrimination
During the 12-14 years that a child spends in school, she makes friends as well as enemies, celebrates achievements and faces challenges. Girls go through everything from the first crush to the first period while they’re school students. They may get their first taste of feminism and sexism within the four walls of the school too. It is important to prepare them to deal with these issues.
- Teach your daughter to confront feminism and sexism the moment she notices them.
- Lead by example and make sure she knows that just because sexism is widely prevalent, it does not mean that she needs to accept it.
- Motivate her to stand up for herself and her friends against gender inequality, no matter how small the issue.
- Teach your daughter to challenge sexism by asking questions such as “Are you saying that because I’m a girl?” or “Did you pick him because he’s a boy?” each time she faces unfairness.
The aim is to raise confident individuals, not timid women who look for support every time they face a crisis.
Mould a leader
“As a leader, I am tough on myself and I raise the standard for everybody; however, I am very caring because I want people to excel at what they are doing so that they can aspire to be me in the future.” – Indra Nooyi
What makes a good leader? A true leader is a team player first and a boss later. Accountability, participation, perseverance, confidence, planning and a realistic approach in sticky situations are some of the general leadership qualities that can be instilled in your daughter right from when she’s a young child.
Being passionate and hardworking
Motivate your daughter to take initiatives and work towards fulfilling her goals. Encourage her to be passionate about her goals and express the importance of the hard work it takes to achieve these goals. At the same time, make sure she knows that the only person she needs to prove herself to is herself.
Taking the bad with the good
While achieving goals and winning appreciation are important parts of the process of developing into a good leader, it is equally important to know how to take criticism, learn from it and turn all the downs into ups. These are qualities that take time to nurture and are best absorbed with help from supportive parents.
- Use examples from your life to teach your daughter about the struggles and the challenges that life throws at women.
- Highlight lessons you learnt from problems you or your dear ones faced.
Being a woman at the helm
A woman often faces greater challenges than a man when she heads a team of men. Many men find it difficult to take orders from a woman and the ability to tackle such a situation is one of the most important leadership skills that a woman can possess. She may face frustration and stress, but good leaders need to have the patience to deal with a deeply-ingrained patriarchal mentality, and the self-doubt that could come with it.
Be the change for the future
Society may dictate to your daughter how she must dress, what she must say or not say in any given situation, even how to sit and stand. It will criticise her if she makes choices that are against its norms. But, her confidence in herself will give her the strength to stand by her choices and become a competent leader. Your daughter will be as strong as she believes herself to be.
The changes in today’s society, which have been brought about by the girls who have been moulded to become leaders, will become the stepping stones that will be used by future generations of women. The ultimate aim is a gender-neutral society that does not discriminate, not even unconsciously.
“As a leader, it’s a major responsibility on your shoulders to practice the behaviour you want others to follow.” - Himanshu Bhatia, Founder and CEO, Rose International Inc.
Nandini Arora, part of Safecity’s Writers Movement, regularly writes about issues such as women’s safety, feminism, LGBTQ, etc. on her blog nandiniaroraweb.wordpress.com
Hope you liked this article. To get expert tips and read interesting articles on a wide variety of parenting topics, subscribe now to our magazine.