Why Don't All Women Think They Can Lead?

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Generic image (Digital Vision)

(The Root) — "Can a woman really make a good leader?"

I rolled my eyes dramatically and looked out at the Brooklyn, N.Y., skyline. I'd been invited to a rooftop event, a monthly brunch when a group of mostly accomplished women, with degrees and jobs and probably a side hustle or two, gather to network.


Usually I prefer brunches where attendees are left to their own devices to sip champers and talk among ourselves about whatever strikes our fancy. But this particular hostess organizes the conversation, an icebreaker of sorts to make sure we're all engaged. This isn't a bad idea. I just wished that the topic she'd picked was something juicy that would spark some quality debate. Usually we discuss dating and relationships, but this day she was branching out.

Back in March, the New York Times posed a similar question as the topic for its popular "Room for Debate" series. Across the Internet, women collectively were offended that the question even was being asked in 2013. There have been several studies by the Harvard Business Review suggesting that not only are women fit to lead but they also make better leaders, a conclusion reached by men and women alike.

It's a foregone conclusion with a resounding yes — yes! A woman can lead. Asking about women's capability as if it is somehow up for debate is like seriously asking, "Do you think water is wet enough?" The flak over the Times' question was so bad that the publication ran a follow-up story on all the negative feedback.

So there I sat, surrounded by women, gazing blankly at the Barclays Center in the distance and wondering what woman in her right mind was going to say, "No, no — I, woman, think a woman would make an unfit leader simply because she is a woman."  

And then the woman sitting next to me spoke up. "Well, it depends," she began, instead of giving the "Uh, duh" I expected to hear.

"Women are more emotional, and we have PMS and that affects our thinking," she said. "I would only support a woman leader if her No. 2 was a man who could check to make sure she was being logical and giving a rational opinion."


I like to think of myself as quick-witted, but on this day, I was uncharacteristically slow. I'm used to hearing this sort of opinion from some men, mostly unintentional misogynists or those well-meaning men who are clueless (or in denial) about male privilege and would like to pretend that their perks are God's will instead of a social construction. But I didn't expect a woman — not in 2013 — to think she couldn't do anything a man can do.

I was raised by a mother who might shy away from calling herself a feminist because of the bra-burning, man-hating (both incorrect) associations. But she told me until I internalized it, "You can do anything a boy can do" (and anything I set my mind to).


When I was 5, a relative balked at my Christmas wish list, which included a race-car set. Not only did my mother chastise the relative in front of me but she promptly bought me the biggest set she could find. She taught me how to use the controls so the cars didn't go flying off the track. When my male cousins took their go-kart out for a spin, she buckled me in and told me to hold on tight. She dressed me in corduroy pants so that I could run, jump and explore freely with those same boy cousins without scratching up my legs, with a promise that I would thank her when I was older.

I wish I'd given that breast-heaving soliloquy to the woman on my right. But a baffled (and loud) "Huh?" was the best immediate response I could muster.


"Like if a woman was president and there was talk of a war," the woman began again. "If she were a mother, she would think about babies and mothers and soldiers dying to make her decision, not the broader scope."

And that's a bad thing how?

The hostess piped up that she didn't think that women made good leaders, either. In summary, leadership — especially the running of something important like a country or a major corporation — was a man's job. Her father was the leader in her home, and she believed that as proper women, we shouldn't be competing with men for the role. She agreed that women were too emotional for leadership.


No one's suggesting that a woman who can't tie two thoughts together should lead anything. But a competent, qualified, accomplished woman with the required skill set should be excluded solely because she is a woman, because somehow that makes her inferior? "Poor" Sheryl Sandberg is out there preaching the gospel of convincing women to strive for more, and there are some women who don't even think they deserve a spot.

If I had been wearing pearls, on behalf of my mother, Marcia Gillespie, Bell Hooks, Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem, I would have clutched them. Tight. Instead I offered the woman next to me some words of encouragement that always sneak up on me when I doubt what I'm capable of: "Honey, you can do anything a man can do. You might even do it better." (Thanks, Mom.)


Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor to The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life.