As a little girl a man tried to get me in his car as I rode my bike home from school. He yelled, swore and drove on the wrong side of the road, pushing 9-year-old me off the road. I eventually got away from him, but he haunted me for years. As I grew into an adolescent I felt an acute loneliness. I believed I knew a secret: The world was not safe. Yet, everyone around me went about their normal lives in a way that seemed ignorant to the dangers lurking everywhere. As my body developed curves–earlier than my female friends–and I started getting the attention of boys and grown men, I didn’t know how to navigate my world. My mother seemed scared of my changing body and my father seemed ignorant to it, but Madonna told me it was okay. As a 10, 11, 12, 13 years old, I believed she spoke to me when she sang. Madonna told me to be fearless, to be proud, to be smart and to embrace my feminine body. Madonna said it wasn’t a contradiction to smart and sexy. Madonna gave me hope. Her stories of struggle spoke to my soul and gave me a suit of armor and a comrade in battle. She made me feel less lonely.
I told everyone she gave me up for adoption, she was clearly my mother. Everyone believed me. My hero, she saved me from a world of fear and self-doubt. I will never be able to repay Madonna for her influence, which protected me, made me strong, made me fiercely protective of other females and made me want to smash every prescribed boundary women had accepted as fate.
Madonna’s Woman of the Year speech resonated with me as I’m sure it will with all of you. Remember other women are not competition, they are allies, without the support of each other how can we expect any man to take us seriously. I was reminded of something last week when I was judging the Hult Prize at Harvard’s Kennedy School. Men bring other men to their endeavors. Men who sit on corporate boards invite their male friends to join them. Men who buy companies ask their male friends to be advisors, investors and have key roles in their organizations (look at Trump’s cabinet as an example). One male executive looked surprised when I mentioned this to him. He responded: “Of course, because I trust my buddies and I like to play golf with them.” He was trying to bring humor to the conversation, but the point is serious.
All too often women think of each other as liabilities — you’re not sure how she’ll be perceived, you know her kids get sick a lot and that will impact the business, she’s your close friend and you don’t think mixing business and pleasure is a good call, and on and on. FYI: Successful men are not always perceived well, most American executives are fathers and helping friends is what the relationship is all about, didn’t you pick her to be your friend because you admire something about her? Most men view those qualities in friendship as attributes that will benefit their businesses, why don’t you? How are we ever going to play an equal role in government, business, science and so forth if we don’t bring our girlfriends with us when opportunity knocks? We haven’t been able to overcome this in the past and we haven’t made nearly as much progress as we should have.
It’s easy enough to fix. A few times a week make an effort to give your girlfriends an opportunity. Make an introduction, think of opportunities you know of she’d be good at, ask her how you can help her accomplish her dreams, let her know you want to help, let her know you’re not the type whose stalling progress! We can all do it. We all have to do it! It’s the only way. It’s what Madonna has been doing for all of us for all these years. Thank you Madonna for your music, your love and your example, which we’ve benefited from beyond anything I can properly articulate. #ThankyouMadonna