by Fiona Ma, Chairwoman Emeritus of the California State Board of Equalization. Originally published here.
Why is run like a girl, scream like a girl, or cry like a girl one of the most insulting things you can say on the school yard? Why in movies do we see girls relegated to the damsel in distress, the absurd scientist running through the forest in high heels, or the romantic sidekick? Society has instilled in all of us that women are the weaker gender – to be compared to a woman has been an insult since before I can remember.
Instead, we should teach girls (and boys too!) to be leaders, champions, adventurers, entrepreneurs, heroes that save the day, and to stand up for your beliefs. That’s why I ran for public office, to make a difference in my community and to be a champion for what’s right.
The life skills I’ve used in my journey to public office started early. As a girl scout, I learned to be a go-getter, innovator, risk-taker, and leader (GIRL). One of the best ways girls learn these skills is through selling cookies.
Yes, you’ve all seen them – the entrepreneurs on the corner selling those delicious cookies. But do you know there’s more to it than fund raising? Cookie sales teach business skills, the start of financial literacy, public speaking, how to handle money, marketing your product, team work, goal building, and a host of other traits needed to run a successful business. While they don’t need a seller’s permit to sell those cookies, what they do need is math, public speaking skills, and the ability to be a go-getter.
These lessons translate into the board room and into the Legislature. According to the Girl Scouts, one out of two businesswomen in the U.S. were Girl Scouts and 75% of female senators were Girl Scouts. These girls grow into women who make a difference –women with leadership and business skills who are critically needed these days.
According to a November 2015 study by the University of California, Davis women hold 12.3% of board director and highest-paid executive positions at the 400 largest public companies that are headquartered in California. Of the 3,260 board positions, women hold 432 (13.3%) seats with San Francisco Bay Area companies with the most women directors (14.5%) and women among their highest-paid executives (10.9%). The National Conference of State Legislatures reports the number of women legislators in California dropped down 21.7% (an all-time low since 1991-92) and California Women Lead reports California women make up only 32% of the Congressional delegation.
These disheartening statistics show how important it is to continue to keep California moving forward, especially since we are lacking women leaders at a time when women’s issues are at the forefront of a political tug-of-war, and female representation is needed in the decision-making process. Together, we must work towards making positive strides in our society. California has a legacy of women trailblazers that inspire others to step up and make a difference, and it is imperative we keep this legacy alive and active by continuing to promote women leaders to help us shatter the glass ceiling here in California.
What’s a good way to do that? Encourage kids to participate in the community and understand the world around them by engaging them in discussion of world events. Inspire girls (and boys!) to study science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM). I myself use math every day, as a Board Member on the Board of Equalization (BOE). I have to understand audit findings, how much revenue the BOE is generating, or the cost to implement a new program. As a Certified Public Accountant, I had to study and have an extensive understanding of math and taxation.
As one of the few women currently serving in a Constitutional Office in California, I am very aware of the need to mentor young women to become leaders of tomorrow. Women’s history month reminds us of the contributions women have made. But we need to do more to help women be remembered the other months of the year too. We need to help girls create their own #Herstory. Heck yes, we need to run like a girl because we need to reclaim that term and re-purpose it to mean “be yourself”. We need to encourage girls to be brave, be strong, be go-getters, innovators, risk-takers, and leaders – to be GIRLs that make a difference #LikeAGirl!
The battle for equality and progress is far from over. Let us learn from Senator Elizabeth Warren that in face of adversity, we as women will not stay silent: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. SHE PERSISTED.” We are strong, we are here, and we too shall persist!