Can you believe it's only been about a week since Oprah accepted the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement at the Golden Globes? But already, her barn burner of an acceptance speech is beginning to fade from our newsfeeds, even if we’re still using all the relevant hashtags.
I, like most of you, was really moved by that speech. Heck, I retweeted it too. But once the initial buzz wore off, something didn’t feel right.
Speeches like that are great for firing up an audience, but they don’t exactly shape behavior. That’s because while they make us feel good, they don’t provide a roadmap for meaningful change.
So if your Oprah-induced glow is starting to wear off, I have good news. I’ve taken the transcript of her speech and pulled out the juiciest nuggets of Lady O wisdom. Below each segment, you’ll find my thoughts on how we can begin to actualize her ideas.
I give you: #OprahActionPlan2018:
1. Set an Example
“It is not lost on me that at this moment, there are some little girls watching as I become the first black woman to be given this same award. It is an honor -- it is an honor and it is a privilege to share the evening with all of them." - OW
Acknowledge and embrace that you are in a position to set an example for other (especially younger) women in your life. Consider how your behaviors and choices can make an impact on them.
- Let a colleague know when you notice her being direct, say something like “I really liked how you told the boss what you needed to get that project done without apologizing, I really respect that.”
- If you co-parent with a man, be sure to let your sons and daughters witness you doing tasks that fall outside of gendered norms. Make it normal.
2. Build an Army
"We also know it's the insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice. To -- to tyrants and victims, and secrets and lies... what I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have." - OW
It's easier to call out bias or inequality when you feel less alone. If you work in a male-dominated or hostile environment, know that there is so much support for you outside of your workplace.
- Start connecting (either online or in-person) with other professional women. There are thousands of social and networking opportunities for boss ladies like yourself. (Shoutout to Urban Girls of Nashville - I just joined and I’m obsessed!)
- You’ll feel stronger, and less willing to tolerate the bullshit, if you have allies you can lean on. But it can’t stop there. Once you find your tribe, invite other women into the inner circle. #YouCanSitWithUS
3. Be a Heroine
"So I want tonight to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue." - OW
Let’s be super real here. Like I said in my last post, there are many women who simply can't challenge their employers. If you are financially insulated, educated, and in a leadership position, these women need you.
- Turn your attention to your subordinates - and I’m not just talking about middle management. I’m talking about the woman who cleans the the office toilet after you leave for the night. See her face, know her name, thank her for what she does, and ask questions about her working conditions.
- Is your employer hiring? Remember those boss lady networks I was talking about? Make sure they know about the vacancy.
4. Stop Putting Lipstick on that Pig
"In my career, what I've always tried my best to do, whether on television or through film, is to say something about how men and women really behave." - OW
Like I’ve been saying, we have to do more than say something, we have to do something. I’ve talked about this before, but a critical first step in enacting change is to take a long hard look at how we’re contributing to the problem.
- Make an assessment of your work life. Maybe there are things that bother you (e.g., a lack of female leadership or institutionalized heteronormativity). Maybe you have goals you want to achieve, but you keep smacking your head on that ceiling. Are you giving yourself permission to honestly evaluate your situation?
- Don’t get trapped in a grass-is-greener mindset. But do examine the choices you have. If your employer is dead set on digging his or her heals into the patriarchy, start looking for a better gig. Again, a great place to start is with a professional network of likeminded women.
5. Be the Boss, Change the Game
"And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say "Me too" again." - OW
I want to count myself AND my readers amongst those who are fighting the good fight. We all have a role to play, but getting yourself into a leadership position will give you much more powerful ammunition.
- Job hunt like a boss so you can be one. When you read a leadership job description, remember it’s a loose outline written by someone who has likely never worked the job. That means that if you see a requirement for 4-6 years of experience, and you have three, apply anyway if you know you’re qualified. (Pssst men already do this)
- If you don’t have opportunities to advance at work, look elsewhere. Get involved in your community and use your strengths to inspire change there. Along the way you’ll meet people who will witness your incredible talents firsthand, and you never know who's hiring.
Be Bold and Start Small
Never forget that you have power, and what you do matters; in fact, tiny ripples are often the beginnings of incredible waves. We need smart, creative, disruptive women like yourself inside the belly of the beast that is corporate America. Without you, things will never change there.
Be bold and start small. I recently talked to a woman who’s raising awareness about a cause she cares about (animal rights) at the financial institution where she works. She talks about her values with colleagues, and organizes sponsored volunteer opportunities (she even managed to get her employer to cut a check). In doing so she’s cultivating inclusivity on the job, and in turn her employer is prioritizing philanthropy.
Think that's nbd? Wrong. She's cultivating the underpinnings of egalitarianism, and I’m really proud of her.
So what's your part in all of this? What small steps can you take today that will help us turn Oprah’s world into a reality. I sure would love to live there, wouldn’t you?