When’s the last time you looked around at the world, your home, your office and relationships and thought, “What an incredible time to be a woman!”
Yet that’s how Dr. Nancy D. O’Reilly begins the introduction to her new release, Leading Women, a collection of 20 entries from industry-leading women on business, professionalism and leadership. Sure, most 21st century women have greater freedoms and opportunities than ever before, but as news, media, lewd comments and social stigmas remind us, haven’t we still got a long way to go?
In the 250 pages that follow, Dr. O’Reilly and her compatriots answer with a resounding “Yes!” and yet their positivity remains undeterred. The optimism of O’Reilly’s bold opening statement gets echoed and enriched by each of essays that follow in a uniquely realistic way. With remarkable precision, the compilation charts a new course between the two camps of gender politics – the one that complains about inequalities and the one that denies they exist. Instead, each voice acknowledges the specific handicaps imposed on women by media, men, other women and themselves, and then quickly moves on to the bigger question: What are we women going to do about it?
It’s clear from page one that these aren’t women with a bone to pick, a grudge to hold or a theory to defend. These are working women who have fought their way past the double standards and stereotypes to emerge as successful, confident individuals – powerful women eager to share the secrets to their success with others.
Because although women now have a presence within all disciplines and fields, they’re still hulled-up in the halls of middle management, below the glass ceiling that’s as difficult to define as it is to break. So what are we women missing?
Dr. O’Reilly suggests that it has something to do with the way we think about power. She admits that in her talks with fellow professional females, there’s sometimes a tinge of discomfort when she brings up the notion of power – a discomfort she blames on a myriad of factors that make power seem dangerous. “In the past, the portrayal [of successful women] has always been so limiting,” explains Dr. O’Reilly. “To be successful, you have to be aggressive; to be successful, you have to be the b-word; to be successful, you have to have power over others.”
Seeing the ways in which “society punishes powerful women in subtle and not-so-subtle ways,” as Dr. O’Reilly describes, women have been encouraged to avoid power and to fear it. This limiting belief – that women and power just don’t mix – has kept many women from standing up for their rightful place on the board, in the home and at the head of table.
But that’s beginning to change. “Now, it’s not about having the power over, but the power to – to do and achieve whatever we choose.”
With that redefinition of power in mind, Dr. O’Reilly contacted 19 of the women she’d worked with through the years on her internet radio talk show, WomenSpeak, and asked them to answer the following question: “What are the keys women must acquire if they are to unlock their personal power and create a better world?”
Their succinct, practical replies are organized into three target areas that make up the sections of the book: Mastering Our External Environment; Mastering Our Internal Environment; and Connecting to Support One Another. Each section signifies the three-prong approach to empowerment that has no specific beginning and no particular end, except that it eventually carries women away from damaging and often subconscious beliefs about their place in the world and workforce and towards their greatest potentials.
These are not the arguments you’ve heard before. In “Eight Key Ways Women Become Natural and Necessary Leaders,” Lois P. Frankel argues that women are uniquely suited to the style of leadership modern history demands – “cooperation and collaboration” as opposed to “command and control.” Birute Regine echoes that sentiment in “Soft is the New Hard: The Hidden Power of Feminine Skills,” going even further to illustrate the unique ways in which women can and must capitalize on the “soft” skills that differentiate them from their “hard” male coworkers. In the second section, Vivian Dillar takes on “The New Beauty Paradox” by questioning how we internally sabotage our success by giving in to the pressures of media – particularly those that confine our powerful years to those before our hair turns grey. Finally, contributors like Cheryl Benton and Janet Rose Wojtalik redefine what it means to be a part of a modern women’s movement in a world that continues to raise its hackles against feminism, even in an atmosphere more favorably disposed to equality than ever before.
Most importantly, the collection itself represents the kind of collaborative effort than many leading women argue will eventually close the wage gap, silence the naysayers and shatter the already trembling glass ceiling.
“What exciting is that we’re coming together now – there are these networks of women all around the world who are really wanting to support one another,” explains Dr. O’Reilly. “This is the Ah-Hah moment!”
Of course, not everyone is graced with the presence of leading women in their lives to make them feel connected to the “coming together” happening in our time. But that’s what collections like Leading Women are for.
“What this book is really about,” Dr. O’Reilly says, “is what can each of these 20 voices do to help you find success? Because really, you put five women in a room together and geez, anything can happen!”
About the Book: Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life (Adams Media, 2015, ISBN: 978-1-440-58417-6, $16.99,www.drnancyoreilly.com) is available at bookstores nationwide and from online booksellers.
About the Author: Known by her listeners as Dr. Nancy, author Nancy D. O’Reilly is a clinical psychologist, speaker and philanthropist committed to helping women claim their power. She established the WomenConnect4Good foundation to educate and encourage women to participate in social-profit activities and to improve their careers, finances, health and relationships. Read more about Dr. Nancy and the causes she supports at drnancyoreilly.com.