March is Women’s History Month. The month is meant to celebrate the expanse of women who have made a difference throughout history. So many of these women — Eleanor Roosevelt, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Rosa Parks are a few that come to mind — are my personal heroes. Their examples serve as a model of courage and the power of relentless conviction and tenacity. These were women who were not satisfied with the status quo — women who demanded better and worked to make that “better” a reality.
This month, we celebrate these great, visionary women who bravely countered cultural norms and expectations. Visionary leaders like Emmeline Pankhurst and Ann Atwater are indispensable, but history is not just the playground of the ‘Great Women’ of history any more than it is that of the ‘Great Men.’
Change — real, enduring change — is the product of time and many (many) hands. And it is important that we recognize and celebrate those who have not been as visible, but who, by working diligently behind the scenes or by confronting their private challenges, made our world a little safer, a little more equitable, and a little more open to accepting and acknowledging women leadership and autonomy.
I have been thinking about this recently — partially because, as a strategy and management consultant, change (and the management and navigation of change) is half of my stock in trade. But also because of an interaction I witnessed a few weeks ago that gave me an example of the profound acts of private courage and service that we should all recognize and emulate. Ultimately, it is these private acts of courage that make real change possible.
I was picking up my son after a martial arts class and was waiting in the vestibule with other parents. Most were chatting jovially or trying to figure out how to stay six feet about while not seeming rude. Two women caught my attention. They were clearly friends, but lacked that easy familiarity that comes with a longstanding relationship — there was a tenseness to their exchange. Eavesdropping on their conversation, the reason for the uneasiness became clear: they were speaking about domestic violence and the importance of public awareness of the issue. At least one of the two friends was a survivor of domestic violence, and she said how she was trying to get comfortable wearing masks that have the color and ribbon for domestic violence. She had also gotten a shirt that says “I fight for you because I was you.” She hadn’t worn it yet; but she was determined to, because it was important.
It was clear how very uncomfortable this woman was bringing her experience into the public domain — but it was equally clear how committed she was to doing that very thing, because it is important. While I admittedly felt a little guilty for listening so avidly to their conversation — I mostly just felt great admiration.
The class ended and the vestibule was flooded with kids. In between my son’s recitation of the class, questions about dinner, and juggling coats, I noted that the woman had a young daughter. I thought, with awed admiration, how this mother is taking the steps to set her daughter up to have high self-esteem and confidence, and how she is willing to bare and share her experience in order to be there and bear witness for other women.
This brings me back full circle to one of my personal heroines, Eleanor Roosevelt, and her words that have been my own motto in life, and in business: “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” This snippet has been a rallying cry for myself — but is all the more poignant taken in its full context:
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
I am surrounded, in business, in my personal life, and all across my community by women who are strong and do amazing things in the face of incredible obstacles. I am both inspired and profoundly grateful.
Michealle Gady, JD, is Founder and President of Atromitos, LLC, a boutique consulting firm headquartered in Wilmington, North Carolina. Atromitos works with a variety of organizations from health payers and technology companies, to community-based organizations and nonprofits but their work reflects a singular mission: creating healthier, more resilient, and more equitable communities. Michealle takes nearly 20 years’ experience in health law and policy, program design and implementation, value-based care, and change management and puts it to work for Atromitos’ partners who are trying to succeed during this time of dramatic transformation within the U.S. healthcare system. Outside of leading the Atromitos team, Michealle serves as a Board Member for both the Cape Fear Literacy Council and A Safe Place and is a member of the American College of Healthcare Executives and American Health Law Association.
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