Are the obstacles for women leaders around the world real? And, if so, what exactly are those obstacles?
First lady Michelle Obama took the stage in Argentina on Wednesday with Argentinian vice president Juliana Awada to talk to young girls about becoming leaders. She warned them about the obstacles they will face.
The first obstacle happens in the classroom, Michelle Obama noted.
“[I’ve dealt with] teachers who didn’t think I was smart enough and would call on the boys instead of the girls, even though the girls had better grades,” she said in the speech, which is part of her “Let Girls Learn” initiative. “People who thought a girl shouldn’t have ambition—and they would ask my brother what career he planned to have but would ask me what kind of man I wanted to marry.”
The next obstacle happens while walking down the street or entering a room full of strangers.
Michelle explained: “As I got older, I found that men would whistle or make comments about how I looked as I walked down the street, as if my body were their property, as if I were an object to be commented on instead of a full human being with thoughts and feelings of my own. I began to realize that the hopes I had for myself were in conflict with the messages I was receiving from people around me. Messages that said that, as a girl, my voice was somehow less important. That how my body looked was more important than how my mind worked. That being strong and powerful and outspoken just wasn't appropriate or attractive for a girl."
The final obstacle comes from within, she explained.
“I started to question myself: Was I too loud? Too much? Was I too bossy? Was I dreaming too big? And for years, I would lie awake at night and those doubts would eat away at my heart."
But Michelle said she managed to get past those obstacles. "I got tired of worrying about what everyone else thought of me."
Instead, she took another path.
"I decided not to listen to the voices of those who doubted or dismissed me. Instead, I decided to listen to my own voice and to rely on the support of the people in my life who believed in my ability to achieve my own dreams.”
In tackling the naysayers, Michelle told the audience she dreamed of attending the best university, becoming a lawyer and being a leader in her community. She urged the young women out there to take on the challenges they face as women by getting an education, fighting to be paid equally and balancing the demands of family and work.
"I devoted all of my energy to doing well in school. I made sure I was one of the most well prepared students in my class. While some doubted a girl like me good attend a top university, I went ahead and applied anyway. And I got accepted and eventually got a law degree from Harvard University. That education was everything for me."
She continued: "Because of my education, I had opportunities my parents could never have dreamed of for themselves. I want to urge you to get the education you need to get your voice heard in the world and rise up as leaders at every level of society around the world." She spoke about how women need to advocate for equal pay, for access to education and for leadership roles in their country, their workplaces and in global organizations..
Personally, I found Michelle Obama's speech motivating, timely and important.
Have a listen and let me know what you think. Will the next generation of young women be the leaders we hope they will be?