As a young girl growing up in the South, I was well aware that there used to be “traditional” benchmarks that young women were expected to aspire to. Few of them had anything to do with climbing the corporate ladder, and everything to do with maintaining personal relationships, raising children, and managing households. Fortunately, my own philanthropic-minded, all-around rock-star mother (a practicing optometrist) always answered my inquiries about the future with “at least four years of college.” As a result, I never knew that there was another option. No matter what I chose to do in life, education would be the channel, so I braced myself for 17-plus years of schooling.
Not everyone thinks like my mother. For example, when I started applying to colleges (a mere six years ago), a guy told me matter-of-factly, “Why does it matter where you go? Most girls don’t finish college anyway.” My heated response focused upon education, financial security, and a genuine interest in journalism, all of which probably made me appear crazier than he already thought I was. But as a product of generations of successful, loving, working mothers, I wasn’t about to back down.
To my dismay, I heard similar comments after I declared Journalism and Mass Communication as my major at Samford. One of my favorites was, “Oh, you mean you’re getting your Mrs. degree?” But I chose simply to ignore such nonsense, while becoming editor-in-chief of my college magazine in the spring of 2012, and, later that year, coming to work here at Memphis magazine and MBQ: Inside Memphis Business.
It may well take another generation (or two) before young women stop hearing these kinds of comments, but one thing is certain: The cracks in the glass ceiling are getting wider.
Look no further than the success of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, whose book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead became an instant bestseller when published last spring. Sandberg points out that, some 30 years after women became 50 percent of America’s college graduates, men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in business and industry, and she encourages women in the workplace to take risks and pursue their goals with gusto.
Cheryl Sandberg’s Lean In generation is a real force for change, but strong-willed and goal-oriented women have been making a difference here in Memphis for a long time. Every year the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis honors distinguished ladies as recipients of the organization’s prestigious “Legends Award.” In this year’s Women’s Issue, we have chosen to showcase the group’s 2013 recipients, women whose own careers speak to the importance of pursuing passions, getting involved with the local community, and marrying business success with personal success.
Established in 1995, WFGM is one of the fastest growing women’s foundations in the country, and is dedicated to securing and granting funds to programs that enable women and their families to become economically stable. The group’s broader mission is to “encourage philanthropy and foster leadership among women and support programs that enable women and children to reach their full potential.” Sounds like the WFGM took a page out of Sheryl Sandberg’s book long before it was even written!
A total of 27 women have been honored by the Women’s Foundation in the five years since the Legends Awards program’s inception, each of whom has made her own unique mark upon our city. Take a look at the 2013 honorees on page 53, and find out how they have “leaned in” and helped make Memphis a much better place. We hope you enjoy.