In a few weeks a new generation of young women will enter college and/or the workforce. These Gen Z women have a plethora of potential and possibilities to step into and yet they are so often held back by the pressure to prove or the fear of disappointing others. How can we help them remove their self-imposed obstacles to understand that their generation is the most tech savvy, progressive, self-aware, and socially responsible one to join the adult world?
What gets in a young woman’s way? Fear. The fear of being misunderstood, criticized, or condemned, and, worse yet, rejected, or ostracized. As any young woman learning to “adult” will tell you, when she is faced with a group’s consensus, she will choose conformity over stating her own opinion. Researcher Carol Gilligan calls this “psychological dissociation” whereby girls silence their voices or their knowledge of feelings, desires, and opinions to stay connected in relationships.
As a mentor and coach, I speak with young women of Generation Z about how they can speak up and speak out; to believe their voices matter; and guide them in how to use their power. They have a lot to say; they don’t always know how.
Based on my professional experience, I have found these four guideposts to be helpful for empowering young women:
One. Teach young women to listen to their inner voices. In a busy, noisy, distracting world, it can feel almost impossible to teach a growing woman to slow down and listen to her inner voice. Not the critical voice telling her what she should have said or done, or that she isn’t good enough; but the voice that urges her to keep going, to dare to dream, and that shows her the way. Remind her to take time to turn inward and listen.
Two. Remind women to trust their inner voices. Most young women I know are filled with self-doubt and uncertainty. What's it going to take to shift them away from needing approval for their own decisions, to knowing that they are right? The best way to help her learn to trust her own intuition and instincts is to ask her questions without answering them for her. For instance, "How do you feel about that decision?", "What do you think of how your friend treated you?" or "What sense are you making of the world right now?” These questions encourage self-reflection and redirect her away from approval seeking to self-trust.
Three. Encourage growing women to use their voices to share their stories. When women share stories and experiences, they almost always feel relieved and normal. They have a lot to say. So often, they hold back, they give the minimized version. "I had a good day". They need so much encouragement to say more. We can start by assuring them that what they have to say matters and they can share without judgement. By being vulnerable, they learn courage and empathy; they come to understand each other better. Remind young women to speak up.
Four. Empower young women to use the power of their voices. Not every young woman has this privilege and those who can use their voices should. This means standing up for themselves and others when they are mistreated and disrespected. The challenge to overcome is insecurity. The best way to help them is, first, ask about their opinions and give them time to express themselves; and second, by listening. Prompts to try can include: "I believe...", "I think...", "I agree because...", or "I disagree and here's why...". Challenge them to share with confidence.
In Enough As She is, Rachel Simmons writes this, “As little girls, they might be feisty and spirited, forceful and stubborn, but as the unwritten rules of young womanhood sink in, this once fierce voice becomes muted or even silent.” Let’s challenge these “unwritten rules”. How? By guiding young women to listening to, trusting, sharing and using their voices. They need both the confidence to know their authentic voices matter and the inner strength and courage to use them.
Lindsay Sealey, BA, MA Ed, is the author of the award winning books Growing Strong Girls: Practical Tools to Cultivate Connection in the Preteen Years and Rooted, Resilient, and Ready and Made for More now available on Amazon and Audible. She is the founder and CEO of Bold New Girls and Brave New Boys. For more ideas and information, visit: LindsaySealey.com.
This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Commentary: 4 ways to empower young women to use their voices