Simone Marean, Tasja Kirkwood & Amanda Liu | The 2022 MAKERS Conference

Simone Marean, Tasja Kirkwood & Amanda Liu at the 2022 MAKERS Conference.

Video Transcript

- Please welcome Amanda Liu, Simone Marion, and Tasha Kirkwood.


AMANDA LIU: Welcome, everyone. I'm Amanda Liu, and we just heard an amazing interview from Alena and Mae who is showing us all just what our young girls are capable of. So, what I wonder today is how do we build more girls to become future leaders? Tasja and Simone, thank you so much for joining me today. So let's jump right into it.

So Tasja, we heard briefly in the intro video about the dream gap. Can you tell us a little more about this and how this may inhibit young girls from leadership?

TASJA KIRKWOOD: Yeah, absolutely. First, I want to say it is my honor to be on stage with you guys this morning. Yeah, you know, I think there's two sides to this story, right? So from a leadership perspective, obviously we're seeing some amazing role models across genres. I mean, all the amazing leaders in this room are a great example of that. But on the other side, from a research perspective, we're still seeing that there is this worldwide aversion to women in leadership in general. And so while we've come a really long way, we still have a long way to go.

And so when we think about some of the things holding girls back, a lot of them relate to these second gen biases. And what that means is, there are these underlying, subtle, silent, hidden biases that are sort of, you know, giving, you know, they are sort of, you know, giving girls, you know, a little-- holding them back a little bit, right? And so some of those are gender expectations.

From a very young age, we've heard that girls have been told they shouldn't do certain things because they're quote unquote, "for boys," right? A lack of role models, and the volume of role models, lack of sort of self esteem and a lack of confidence. Bullying is another really big one, right? A lot of girls under 13 say that bullying is their number one fear on a daily basis. And when you think about this time in their lives when they're building that self-confidence, you can think about the long-lasting effect that bullying can have.

Gender biases also. Plenty of women in this room, we know that women make what, $0.79 on the dollar? African-American women, $0.64 on the dollar, Latina women even lower than that. So showing them already that they are not as valuable as their male counterparts.

And the other thing I'll just throw in there is this idea of the double bind. And it's this idea that the attributes of a leader-- traditional attributes of a leader-- things like confident and decisive, already line up with a lot of the more stereotypical attributes of a male. And when you think about the stereotypical attributes of a female, pleasant, right? You know, cooperative, collaborative, from the very beginning, there's already this disconnect between who they think they are as a girl and who they think they need to be in order to be a leader.

AMANDA LIU: Yeah, and I'm 16 years old, and I can vouch for that. I've talked to some of my friends about this before. And I had this one friend who discussed this one instance during her PE class when the PE coach would be looking for a strong boy to carry a mat rather than a strong girl. Like, why aren't they looking for strong girls? We're just as capable as boys, but they don't-- but they don't tell us that. And I think it's really important that we of create this environment where girls know that they're just as capable and know that they can become leaders themselves. And Simone, you've done some research on this. So, can you tell us a little more about it?

SIMONE MARION: Yes, thanks. Amanda, good morning, everyone. So at Girls Leadership last year, we did a national qualitative study in partnership with Barbie. This was a youth-led study where our girls advisory boards-- so 12 high school girls from across the US went out and they interviewed 140 girls in elementary school, girls from across the US-- mostly girls of color-- about their identity, their experiences. And what they found listening to these girls is that in elementary school, girls are very much aware that they're already up against a bias.

For some of them, this bias is at home, but for the majority of girls, like we heard about from our last speakers, this bias exists at schools. Mostly, we heard about-- especially in elementary school-- in physical activity. So this came up at recess, in PE, on sports teams. The girls told us about when the boys get high fives but we don't, or we finish a race and the PE teacher is shocked that we could do this thing, but they're not surprised that the boys can do this thing.

And I think it's fair to say we heard a strong theme that the girls were disappointed and they were mad. They-- I mean, when you've had just like Dr. James-- and a fifth grader look at you. We did these interviews on Zoom, of course, so they're looking in the camera and they're saying, like, is that right? Is that fair that this is happening? And you just feel it in your heart. And so I think the good news is, what we heard is-- just as our last speaker shared-- they are getting support and connection for their strengths at home. So the girls spoke passionately about the strength from their moms, their aunties, their grandparents. This is where they're learning to speak up for themselves. This is where they're learning to self-advocate.

And I think another piece of great news that came out of the study was these girls had sophisticated and nuanced understandings of leadership. This was not command and control-- the traditional leadership qualities that I think many of us were raised with. They talked about wanting to share power with their friends. They wanted to be strong, but they also wanted their friends to be strong. They didn't want to be in competition. They saw leadership as standing up for themselves.

And there was one Latina in kindergarten who said a leadership is someone who takes care of the situation. And Dr. Jameson said, you don't always get to be liked, right? This isn't about a popularity contest. At five years old, these girls already know.

AMANDA LIU: Yeah. And what's really important is building that nurturing and empowering environment for girls. So Tasja, what can we do to nurture and empower girls at a young age?

TASJA KIRKWOOD: Yeah, I think there's a few things. The first is content and products. So, exposing kids at a very young age to gender-neutral content and gender-neutral products, toys, and games. I think what that does is it shows them that there are other ways for these relationships and these gender roles to play out. Another is to sort of, you know, that nurturing and nurturing empathy. And what I mean by that is nurturing empathy around the relationship between boys and girls. So we don't need to just be talking to girls. We need to also be talking to young boys, right?

We've got a lot of work at Mattel around boyhood and broadening the scope of boyhood and what that looks like, because boys do nurture. They just nurture in different ways. And so we need to sort of lean into that a little bit. We can also think about the friendships that boys and girls are having at a young age, right?

We've heard some interesting stories in focus groups where moms and dads say when little girls and little boys are friends, we put this-- we attach this assignment to it. We say, oh, look at her little boyfriend. Look at her little girlfriend, right? We're already showing them that there needs to be this sort of sexual relationship between them, too. Not officially, but we're defining it for them already, before they have a chance to think about how they might create that mutual respect at a young age.

And then I think the last thing is just exposure, exposing both young boys and girls to strong female leadership en masse.


AMANDA LIU: So talking about exposure, to everyone in the audience, you should have received a notification on your phone with a tool kit to help build our girls into leaders. So, Tasja, the first takeaway from the toolkit is to ask ourselves about the compliments that girls receive. So tell me a little more about that.

TASJA KIRKWOOD: Yeah, compliments, we know they play a huge role in creating self-identification, in how we think about ourselves, our self-esteem. There's been research done that says that women only accept about 40% of the compliments they get in their lifetime-- only 40%. And when those compliments come from men, that number drops to 20%, right?

And so a lot of, you know, the conversations we're having about the relationships between genders, you know, think about tween and teen girls, right? So 7 in 10 say when they get a compliment, they instantly feel sexually objectified, 7 in 10. And that means that a lot of the compliments they're getting are around the physical, and they also start to develop a relationship around self-objectification and are highly focused on that external. Obviously, social media playing a big role in that as well.

We see that by the age of 13, 85% of girls have used a touch-up app already because they're not happy with what they see and what they're portraying in the world, and a lot of it is about that physical, right? So I think, you know, to expand their possibilities, what we can do is, we can compliment them on their courage and their strength and their brilliance, and really lean into, you know, compliments when they are starting to sort of lean into that growth mindset as well. I think it's important to give them positive reinforcement around growth mindset.

And then really, it's just about complimenting them on the qualities of their humanity, right? Focusing on their mind and their words.

AMANDA LIU: Yeah, I've seen this commonly. As a high schooler, there's this one time I took a picture with one of my friends. And right after we took the picture, she automatically pulled out Photoshop and, like, face tuned and tried to adjust her face. I was like, why are you doing that? You don't need to do that. She was like, no, I'm fat. And she was just commenting and just being really harsh on herself because of these expectations that society and the media kind of set for girls. And Simone, the second big point is to ask others about gendered language when you hear it. So tell me a little more about that.

SIMONE MARION: Definitely. Yeah, so all our kids of all genders are growing up in such a gendered world. In many ways our world is more gendered-- their world is more gendered than it was a generation ago. And so, when this language comes up and it's inevitably-- does, the really important thing is that we name it so that it's not the water our kids are swimming in, these gendered expectations. This is a system, right, that was designed. And for our girls-- and particularly for our girls of color-- the system wasn't designed for them. So it's really important that this is just-- it's not considered, like, the way things are.

So the important thing first is that we name it so that we can start rebuilding the systems for our girls. Second is that we correct it. So when someone assumes that the astronaut is a male or the boss is a male, we say "or her," "or them," right? We open up the possibilities. And when we correct someone around gender bias in language, we do two things for our young people. One, we're giving them a script, right? This is what it sounds like to be more inclusive and intentional in our language. But way more important than the script is the permission.

It's OK to speak up. It's OK to self-advocate that as a mom, I am not here just to, like, keep the peace and the waters calm for everyone else, I'm here to change things and to lead, even as a parent. And so that permission is as deeply important. And then last thing is, we need to explain it so they know where it comes from.

So one of my pet peeves is always pilots like the-- how many pilots are men? The assumption that pilots are men. And so being able to say to our kids, it's not that women can't fly, we weren't allowed to fly a commercial airline until '83. We weren't a captain until 1986, which for my kids is like, that means "Stranger Things" times, right? That's when this all started.

And so I think that, like, name it, correct it, explain it, give them the context, that's what makes them awake to, like, we all need to lead in redesigning these systems for all our kids.


AMANDA LIU: For sure. And Simone, you say the secret for anyone who wants to build more young female leaders is to reflect and recognize the bias within themselves in real-time. So you have a question for the audience about this?

SIMONE MARION: Yes, so I'm embarrassed to share that when I was in my mid-20s, I did not identify as a leader. I didn't aspire to leadership. Research-- this is just the research you do, Tasja, would show that I was pretty typical as a White girl. And I was awkward. I was creative. So that command control, in-charge definition, didn't apply for me. And when I stumbled into Girls Leadership in the work of Rachel Simmons somewhat by accident, what I found was, like, this is the missing curriculum in my life. Like, these were the lessons I was never taught in school or at graduate school.

And so, eventually we found this new definition of leadership. It was actually developed at Harvard Business School, which is, leadership is making others better as a result of your presence, and making that impact last in your absence. I'm going to pull a Brene Brown. I'm going to repeat it.


SIMONE MARION: Leadership is making others better as a result of your presence and making that impact last in your absence. So I want you to take one minute. I want you to turn to your neighbor like they do in yoga class, introduce yourself, and share what are the qualities that make you a great leader. And you only have a minute for both of you. So within 30 seconds, hear from your neighbor. What makes them a great leader?

All right. As Oprah often says, we are back. We are back. That's right. This conversation can continue during to-go box lunchtime. All right, so I hope you'll take this definition back to the girls in your life, whether that girl is like your neighbor, your goddaughter, your daughter, your niece. We want all our girls to know this definition and make sure they know what makes them a great leader. So Amanda, what are your qualities? What makes you a great leader?

AMANDA LIU: Well, I'm lucky enough to have the opportunity to be surrounded by such amazing women, and to be speaking with you guys today. And I think what's really important is kind of developing a more open-minded mindset in terms of leadership. I've been able to speak with so many girls from, like, different countries with different cultural backgrounds, and it's really given me an insight into their perspectives. Like, who am I to judge them when I don't know them as well as they know themselves? And I think that's something that's definitely really significant when it comes to leadership, and just applying that knowledge to the decisions that we make on their behalf. So that's what I think about that.

And, as you said, Tasja, media does play a huge role. So, I've noticed a lot of movies have changed from the girl kind of being a damsel in distress to being more of a heroine. So how does media play a role in this dream gap?

TASJA KIRKWOOD: It plays a huge role. I think that, you know, actually, I'm super-glad you asked this question, because I actually spent a lot of time researching in television and film for over a decade. And what I can say unequivocally is that a little girl or a little boy seeing themselves reflected on screen, seeing their family dynamic on screen, their experience reflected on screen absolutely has impact, and it absolutely plays a role in moving us towards gender equity.

There's some really great research done by the Geena Davis Institute that talks a lot about some of the top-grossing films, especially family films. And girl characters, actually-- or rather, boy characters, actually-- outnumber girl characters three to one. The narrators in those films are 85% male.

So what are these kids hearing, a male voice leading the story, leading the narrative constantly. We're seeing similar issues in ads, as well. So lots of work to be done there. So I really feel like when we think about impact, it's about exposing young people to the stories of strong female leadership and really opening their eyes and really opening up them up to the possibility of dreaming of leadership as well. So--

AMANDA LIU: Yeah, and Simone, there's also this notion of the myths of perfection. So, how do we free girls from the limits of this belief?

SIMONE MARION: Well, Amanda, I could talk about this all day. So since we're short on time, I'm just going to say one thing about the myth of perfectionism. Our girls are dying to hear about our mistakes. They are dying to hear about our mistakes in childhood, at work, with our family, especially our mistakes with them.

So when we say to that thing to them that we wish we hadn't said, or we take that tone of voice that was not a helpful tone of voice, if we can own that and say, like, I'm sorry, I'm in process. I messed up. Can I try again? Right? We invite girls into valuing our messiness, our authentic true nature. And we're at MAKERS, right? So I feel like we're so-- especially those of us in caregiving roles-- we're so innately programmed to, like, how do I help my kids succeed?

But way more often than our kids succeed, they're going to fail, right? And so it's actually-- what I think the skill we can practice for our girls is, how do we help them fail? Because our girls can't be MAKERS if they can't fail. Right? Failure is the most important thing.


So I think inviting girls to be on that failure journey with us is really important.

AMANDA LIU: Yeah. And I realize we're almost out of time. So last question, Tasja, finally, it's about teaching girls to ask directly for what they want. So how should we go about doing this?

TASJA KIRKWOOD: Absolutely. We have to teach girls to be assertive, to take care of themselves, and ask-- you know, really ask-- for their wants and their needs. I think some of the simple things we could do are in our own households, right? So we can encourage them to ask for what they want from our own family units and our own family, you know, inside our households. I think we can also help them practice for what they can do in the outside world. So, you know, run through situations with them. Show them it's not scary to ask for what you want. And then also, just praise. So showing them that there is a positive to asking for what you want.

You're not always going to get what you want. I'm not saying give girls everything they want when they ask for it, right? But I am saying that they can, you know, really align being vocal about their needs with a positive reaction, even if the outcome isn't exactly what they thought it would be.

AMANDA LIU: Yeah, for sure, and Simone, would you like to add on really quick?

SIMONE MARION: My only brief follow-up is our favorite way to teach this at Girls Leadership is to use the example of ordering in a restaurant. So even at a very young age, if you ask a kindergartner, like, if you're wanting food at a restaurant, do you tell the waiter you're hungry?

And the kindergartener would be, like, no. Because I want no mayo, and I want a tomato on my burger, right? They know. With food, they know exactly what they need, and they know it how to ask for it. And say, apply that same thing to your relationships, right? It's not about saying, like, I wish our relationship were the way it used to be. That's like saying you're hungry in a restaurant, right? Say, like, no, like, I want an exclusive playdate with you once a week. Like, that's the specificity that we need.

Again, not that everyone's going to give it, but we need to teach our girls at the best chance of having their needs met is being able to say those needs with words explicitly.


AMANDA LIU: Awesome. So, thank you. This was such a great conversation. Thank you so much, Tasja and Simone for joining me today. Make sure to check out the toolkit that we just pinged you guys with on the app, or check out the website and access it there. So thank you guys so much for being here today.