When my friend Leslie Bradshaw, a woman who absolutely inspires me with her energy, ambition and insanely sharp business intellect, asked to interview me for her Forbes blog series “More Seats,” I said yes, with the understanding and intention of bringing more awareness to the lack of women contributors and editors in Wikipedia. Originally, Leslie was going to name the series “More Role Models” but changed it to reflect her purpose of addressing three major problems women face: not having enough women “at the table,” not enough women holding positions of power, and not enough women prevailing as role models.
When I began responding to Leslie’s questions, which ran the gamut of topics from the glass ceiling to work-life balance, I found myself having more and more reservations in answering. I didn’t tell Leslie this, but a part of me didn’t want to do the interview because I doubted my own worthiness as a role model.
It was in conflict with a lot of things I was taught growing up. I questioned why I was deserving of being interviewed. In my house, boasting in any way is “unbecoming.” And talking publicly about something so intimate and unsavory as being sexually harassed at work is disdainful. Then there’s the fact that I discussed my pursuit and passion, screenwriting, that has yet to produce any external reward.
Together these created a month-long delay in my responses. Until something happened that reminded me what it means to be a role model and why Leslie’s column is so important.
I was surfing, like I typically do, on a Wednesday evening in southern California. I’m still a beginner surfer. I have yet to graduate from my learner board. I’m at the point where I can stand and ride a wave but I fall a lot, especially when I take waves bigger than a few feet, which is affectionately called “eating sh$t” in surfer world. I eat sh$t a lot, but I have fun and improve each time I go out and that’s all that matters to me.
More times than not, I’m the sole female surfer in the water. This evening was no exception. There were plenty of guys surfing but I was the only “Betty.”
So there I was doing my thing, when I notice a girl, maybe 10 or 12 years old, in the water nearby, staring at me. She must’ve watched me for a good 5 or 10 minutes, which made me feel completely self-conscious and I’m wondering why this little girl has an optical lock-in on me. Then she disappears. Goes back in shore. And I resume my uninhibited surfing fun.
Ten minutes later, she’s back in the water, but this time she has her dad with her and he has a surfboard and she’s asking him to teach her how to surf. And half the time the two of them are watching me and mimicking what I’m doing in the water. That’s when I realized the power of role models and how important they are for anyone in a minority position.
Gloria Steinem recently said at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit, “We do what we see, not what we’re told.”
We become role models by doing. We learn and follow by seeing. I might have been the worst surfer out in the water that evening (which I don’t think I was), but because that little girl identified with me more than anyone else, I was her role model.
It made me appreciate the beauty of Leslie’s series all the more by reminding me of the power in seeing and hearing other women’s stories and that to be a role model, we just need to do, even if it means falling along the way. Who knows who might be watching.
You can check out my interview with Leslie in Forbes is here.