7) Encourage independence
Start early. When she is struggling to tie her shoelaces or button up her dress, resist the urge to intervene. Allow her to make her own mistakes safely and give support after she has tried on her own. This can be difficult. Last week when my 7-year-old asked to make her own pancakes, she picked a big spoon to flip the pancakes instead of a spatula. It took everything out of me to hold myself back from telling her what to do. But guess what? On her own, she figured out that a large spoon does not work as well as a spatula in flipping pancakes. She made the switch on her own. Granted the pancake was shaped imperfectly as a result. But she was proud of herself as she enjoyed her pancake for breakfast afterwards. Building self-confidence by encouraging safe independence is critical to raise girls to be leaders.
6) Don’t punish them for being “bossy”
In many circles, when a boy is bossy it’s encouraged. He’s seen as assertive. But if a girl is bossy, it’s frowned upon and she is seen as too aggressive. Check your own biases in this area. Make sure you are not sending negative signals to your daughter when she asserts her viewpoint. I was raised to do whatever my parents wanted me to do, regardless of my thoughts or ideas. To this day I still struggle with coming across as “bossy” when I’m in fact simply stating my opinion. I make a conscious effort not to silence my daughter when she tries to express her opinion. Girls who are more assertive and confident in expressing their opinions are less likely to give in to peer pressure and unsafe practices. Encourage your daughter to listen to others but also to value her own opinion, and to assert it when necessary.
5) Expose them to leadership experiences early
Help them discover what they are passionate about. Urge them to lead in these areas. Make sure they have age-appropriate chores. Expose them to books and movies where women are in leadership roles. Urge them to join a club at school or in their community in an area they are passionate about. Buy them books about inspirational women leaders. Leaders need to express their ideas clearly and coherently. Enroll her in a public speaking class, acting class or debate team. Ask her opinion on matters. I was quite shy as a child and so is my daughter. I touch base with her teacher often and ask her teacher to encourage her to actively participate in class discussions. Leaders need to be comfortable in their own skin when expressing their opinions, regardless of what others think. The earlier your daughter starts to get comfortable with this process, the better.
4) Encourage teamwork
Strong leaders are not necessarily the smartest people in the room. They are experts at unifying a team for a common purpose. Collaboration and teamwork are essential skills for leadership in today’s workplace. Expose your daughter to opportunities to work in a team. Encourage her to take part in a team sport. She can start a club or group in an area she is interested in and grow it from there. Expose her to diverse experiences and people. Teach her how to work and play with all kinds of people from different social, racial, cultural and economic background. She will learn to entertain ideas that differ from her own. She will also learn self-confidence and how to appreciate and protect her own values.
3) Teach them how to make and manage money
Girls can become intimidated with complex mathematics and can grow to think that math is for boys. Get your daughter comfortable with math early. Build up your daughter’s financial acumen and independence early. Leaders in the workplace are skilled at using numbers to interpret data and making leadership decisions as a result. They also have to be able to read a balance sheet as well as balance their own check book. If girls are comfortable with their own finances, they will be more likely to manage and invest their own money instead of relying on others to do so for them. See “Top 7 money management secrets you must teach your child” and “Top 7 money management secrets you must teach your teenager“.
2) Help kick stereotypes
Teen boys, teen girls, and, yes, even parents have biases against girls and women as leaders, research by Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist found. Check your own biases. Do you set limitations for your daughters compared to your sons? Most kids aim to please their parents. If your daughter senses you don’t have high expectations for her, she may set a limit to what she can accomplish. In an effort to please you she may lower her goals to whatever yours are. Remind her constantly that she is capable of anything. If your daughter wants to be an astronaut, an engineer or a mathematician, encourage her to do so. Your encouragement will solidify her self-confidence; a critical foundation of which is necessary for her to become a strong leader.
1) Teach her how to forgive herself
Unlike boys, girls can sometimes be their own greatest critic. If you are a mother, be honest with your daughter about the challenges you have faced as a woman and how you overcame them, no matter how small. Your daughter needs to know that she will face challenges, disapproval and criticism when she rises to be a leader. And that it is okay to feel discouraged sometimes. But what’s most important is persistence; mastering how to pick yourself up and keep going. See “Top 7 tips to show your child how to deal with failure”.