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Creating Successful Leaders

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

There were many little lessons I took away from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk, but one of the greatest ones was about women in the workplace. Her talk revolved around female equality and reclaiming the oftentimes negatively-used word “feminism.”

Being from Nigeria, Chimamanda gave some extreme examples of how women are treated as the lesser gender (not being allowed into nightclubs on their own, expected to be submissive to men, etc.), but she also noted that the problem of female equality is still alive and kicking in the U.S. Take the modern workplace, for example. As Chimamanda notes, “The higher up [the ladder] you go, the fewer women you see.” Last year, only 4.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs were women.

What follows is an exert from Chimamanda’s TED Talk on selecting an outfit to wear for her first day of teaching at a United States University:

“The first time I taught a writing class in graduate school, I was worried. Not about the teaching material, because I was well prepared and I was teaching what I enjoyed. Instead, I was worried about what to wear. I wanted to be taken seriously.”

“I knew that because I was female, I would automatically have to prove my worth. And I was worried that if I looked too feminine, I would not be taken seriously. I really wanted to wear my shiny lip gloss and my girly skirt, but I decided not to. I wore a very serious, very manly, and very ugly suit.”

“The sad truth of the matter is that when it comes to appearance, we start off with men as the standard, as the norm. Many of us think that the less feminine a woman appears, the more likely she is to be taken seriously. A man going to a business meeting doesn’t wonder about being taken seriously based on what he is wearing–but a woman does.”

“I wish I had not worn that ugly suit that day. Had I then the confidence I have now to be myself, my students would have benefited even more from my teaching. Because I would have been more comfortable and more fully and truly myself.”

The lesson rings clear: Be confident, be yourself! Your attitude and outward projection matters much more than the serious cut of your suit. Dress comfortably and walk into your next meeting with your shoulders up and your head high.

For the complete TED Talk, click the video link below:

 

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