Sheryl Sandberg has pinpointed another problematic gender gap for women at work, but instead of taking place in the boardroom, this one starts in the classroom. The acclaimed businesswoman and best-selling author recently announced that we need to start teaching girls how to lead at an earlier age.
“I believe everyone has inside them the ability to lead,” Sandberg said on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Disc radio show. “We should let people choose that not based on their gender but on who they are and who they want to be.”
At Harvard, Sandberg saw that women were more frequently undermined than their male counterparts. She realized that teaching girls from a young age that they can lead just as well as boys will inspire them to advocate for themselves.
“We start telling little girls not to lead at very young ages, and we start telling little boys to lead at very young ages, and that’s a mistake,” Sandberg said.
Sandberg credits her personal experiences for showing her that women are excellent leaders. When talking to Mashable, Sandberg said her mother inspired her because she “is the most giving woman in the whole world who has done more for me and everyone else around her and anyone I’ve ever met.”
As a result, Sandberg has devoted a large part of her Lean In initiative to teaching young girls how to lead and how women can be role models for girls. If you agree with Sandberg (and here’s hoping you do!), here are some ways you can inspire girls to be the next generation of leaders.
1. Encourage girls to speak up.
Boys are more likely to call out answers in the classroom and are less likely to be interrupted. Not only should we teach girls to take advantage of speaking opportunities, but we can teach them how to counteract being interrupted by speaking confidently when they’re called upon (and even when they’re not).
To be a good role model, speak with confidence around young girls so they know what it sounds like. Make an active effort to not apologize for your opinions and, if you hear a girl fall into those habits, explain how these actions can undermine the point she’s trying to make.
2. Teach girls how to handle conflict.
There are a lot of examples of girls being mean to girls in media. (We literally have a movie called “Mean Girls.”) Instead of just focusing on how to get along with other people, encourage girls to use their problem-solving skills to solve conflicts. Conflict management teaches girls how to brainstorm solutions in a direct way, without personalizing or dramatizing an issue.
3. Celebrate other women.
As Madeleine Albright once said, “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” Inspiring female leadership is easier when you actively support female leaders. Take the time to compliment other women’s work and encourage young girls to celebrate the accomplishments of their peers.
No matter how you choose to inspire young girls, you’ll make Sheryl Sandberg proud just by making the effort. After all, the next generation of female leaders depends on it!