Hey, I’m Charlotte and I’m a 22-year-old university student. Whilst trying to navigate the stresses of being in my 20s like keeping up to date with the latest ASOS sale, never knowing when’s appropriate to message the guy I like and remembering to actually eat vegetables, I’m also the leader of 80 people. In the roles’ 16-year history it has been filled by two women before me, so right now I find my 22-year-old self-feeling the pressure to prove that the female race can lead.
The first thing which has been hard has been to actually recognise and call myself a leader. Looking back, it is easy to see why I never aspired to leadership because my whole life I have, like most of girls & women, have experienced a double standard.
Growing up I was always called ‘bossy’, when I was being assertive. I came to university and someone called me ‘fierce’, when I was just giving an opinion. On a leadership course, after giving the best lead of the day my feedback from my all male group was that I needed to ‘chill out’. On the dating scene I’ve been told that being a leader is ‘unattractive’ and ‘intimidating’. As a result of this double standard, it is extremely easy to see why I and so many other women don’t want to be leaders. The running narrative across our whole lives is basically to ‘keep our opinions to ourselves’, ‘not to make a fuss’ and to ‘smile because we look prettier’. What a rubbish message.
So after dutifully ignoring societies’ message to not be a leader, now being a leader, I would love to say that it is wonderful. However, in reality it can be pretty hard. It is hard because numerous times I have felt like the biggest hypocrite. Whilst pushing to try and inspire other young women into leadership, the reality is that I’ve cried three times in three weeks. Messaged friends thinking that I’ve failed. I’ve made mistakes and then felt like I had let down the whole female race. I’ve consistently questioned confidence in myself and I feel massively out of my depth and underprepared.
After reading about the progress of women’s movements, I naively had an idealistic view that when I became a leader, I would be treated like any man. Unfortunately, at the moment, that’s not true. We have to figure out and play by the rules set before us. Well-meaning people will undermine you, question you and scrutinise you more than they even realise. It can feel pretty exhausting and overwhelming.
Luckily for me, my mother keeps reminding me that Hilary Clinton didn’t have it easy either. She has also taught me that I, like all female leaders, will be okay. Whilst being a leader in a male dominated environment can be incredibly frustrating, you will find your feet. There will be a lot of moments of despair, frustration and loneliness, but there will also be great moments of success. You suddenly have this amazing platform which you can use to create positive change – how cool is that ?! There will be many amazing moments and changes you which you will make and they will remind you why you set out to lead in the first place. Remember them all because they’re important
My advice to any aspiring female leader, is firstly that you are absolutely capable whoever you are. Being able to call yourself a leader should not be defined by age, gender or any other category. You can do it – from my experience the world needs more female leaders regardless of whether you are 15 or 50. You will get great satisfaction consistently surprising yourself and others around you what you can achieve.
And secondly, whilst at times it may seem like you are fighting an uphill battle to be heard, you do have a voice. A voice which is important, valuable and worthwhile. Show the world that you have something to say and that you deserved to be heard. I’m pretty confident that if you remember those two things, you may get off to a better start than me.