Q&A: How can I create more opportunities for women as an educator?

Question:

In my society, women are not given higher positions even when she has quality, talent, and education. I want to be one of the people who can give leadership to women so they can stand on their feet. I am the owner and principal of a school. It is my soul. I am trying to make it better. What kinds of steps shall I take for its betterment? What do I have to do to become a successful businesswoman?

— Dedicated Educator and Leader in India

Answer:

Dear friend,

Your work with children is commendable. They need your time, your leadership, and your belief in their abilities. You have risen to this challenge and they, as well as your community, will surely benefit.

Your question raises three distinct but all very important questions which I will generalize a bit here:

  1. How can women succeed in a society that does not value them?
  2. How can I improve my organization so that it can have a stronger impact in the lives of children?
  3. What can I do to improve my own leadership and business skills to positively impact my school and my society?

These are all very complex dilemmas that impact women and leaders around the world. I wish that I could provide you with a simple, direct answer to these questions, but I don’t think I could fully answer these questions because 1) I don’t have all the answers; and 2) it would take a lifetime of studying, dialogue, and practice to discover the best approaches; and 3) I am not very familiar with your particular community and the specific challenges you face there. Nonetheless, I am going to provide you with some ideas that I think might be helpful not just for you but for the entire Women’s Creative Leadership Network.

Women are undervalued in many organizations and societies — in different ways and to various extents. I can identify with this challenge because I have witnessed and experienced this in my own country. We can be inspired by many examples throughout history, both in the past and more recently, of women beating the odds and attitudes about women evolving to become more understanding and inclusive. Yet, we still have quite a way to go.

There are a few things we can do, as women, to succeed despite the fact that we are undervalued in society. One of the key things we can to do to provoke transformation is to work together. We are stronger together than we are on our own. I have seen women turn against each other in competition to the detriment of our collective goals. We must support each other, uplift each other, and defend each other for our common good. My advice to you would be to connect with other women, share your struggles, ask for assistance, be helpful when you can, and have conversations about how you can collaborate. As we work on our own personal advancement, we must also stay focused on the bigger vision of creating opportunities for all women. Our success doesn’t need to come at someone else’s expense. We must also be steadfast in our insistence for rights, access, acceptance, inclusion, and appreciation of our contributions. When we are told directly or hear implicit messages that women are not good enough, we need to take action because we know better and the world will benefit from this knowledge. As women leaders, we need to actively educate and also stand as an example through our words and actions.

You do this all of this as an educator and as a leader. People look to you for guidance, wisdom, and support. By strengthening your school, you will also be able to address the needs of women in society. You can improve your school by: assessing what you need in terms of curriculum, facilities, materials, and support; developing partnerships in the community to improve the school’s access to what it needs; inviting parents and others in the community to get involved in the school through volunteer service that meet the school’s specific needs; remaining focused on your goals of providing a high quality education to your students; and continuing to learn about how other schools are addressing the challenges you are experiencing by reading and by making connections with your colleagues both in your country and around the world (you might be able to make some connections through the network). These are just a few ideas that may or may not be helpful depending on your particular circumstances.

And now for your final question. As an educator, you probably love to learn! To be a successful businesswoman, you need to never stop learning. You can learn by reading, participating in classes, reflecting on your experiences, and observing what other leaders in similar environments are doing. It is helpful to identify specific things that you need to learn and then seek that information, but another important part of learning is continually being open to receiving and re-interpreting information. There is so much that goes into being a good businesswoman, such as making good decisions, effectively managing resources, developing the right relationships, and taking care of yourself. Continue to practice and learn and your leadership and business potential will develop over time.

I hope these suggestions are helpful, and are the beginning of a conversation about how we can all create more opportunities for women in our societies. I invite all of our readers to share their ideas.

 

Yoga is Free!

Yoga is Free

I went on my first yoga retreat in the 1990s, to a somewhat stoic place in the majestic Berkshire Mountains. At the time, I was a recent college graduate who earned little money working at a shelter for women experiencing homelessness. Yet, through yoga all things seemed possible — not just travel to not so far away places, but also a deeper sense of connection to my purpose and desires.

Today, about twenty years later, I have mixed feelings about the growth of yoga in American society. While its now commonplaceness makes it, in some respects, more accessible to people in multiple life spectra through proximity, it has also become a huge industry. Like its sister mindfulness practice meditation, yoga also has, to some extent, become an elitist practice that makes the uninitiated feel uncomfortable and excluded through profuse use of Sanskrit without adequate translation, expensive accessories, and the removal (disconnection) of spirituality or even personal transcendence for the less spiritually inclined from its teachings.

Because I have practiced yoga for more than 20 years, to one extent or another, I find myself on many mailing lists for products and services related to mindfulness practices. One such mailing list, which thankfully I have been removed from — probably because I was found to be an unwilling customer — was a meditation supplies catalog. Now, I understand that there are many specialty items that can be used to enhance meditation practice and that these items aren’t found in every corner store. Yet, seeing all of these things for sale in one non-renewable energy guzzling mail order place signified to me a shift in understanding yoga and meditation as a space for commerce in addition to a space for connection and transformation.

This shift is a divergence from the true meaning of mindfulness practice. Yoga is free. Meditation is free. They are practices that we perform do at any moment, not avenues to promote consumption. They are about connection — both inward and to all living beings, an integration of our minds, bodies, and spirits both individually and collectively. Yoga and meditation are immediately available to anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Good yoga teachers are wise sages. Like artists, they inspire beauty, bring out the best in us, and build community. We should support them, including with our precious resources, because they add value to our lives. We should also support people who create safe spaces for us to practice yoga and meditation. And yes, we should support the companies that provide products and services to complement our practice. We can practice awareness by noticing when we use our mindfulness practices as opportunities to overconsume and the ways that we unintentionally exclude people, people who might so greatly benefit from this knowledge and participation, by how we talk about and present opportunities to practice yoga and meditation. The intent of yoga and meditation has traditionally been to unite, not to divide.

Like punk rock, all good things eventually become commoditized. Such was the argument made — not about punk rock specifically but about music in general — by political economist Jacques Attali in his awesome book Noise: The Political Economy of Music. We can resist this tendency by focusing on what is most important to our yoga and meditation practice – awareness, rootedness, connection, unity, and well-being.

How to Create a Welcoming Space

How To Create A Welcoming Space.png

Our hearts and lives are enriched through relationships with other people. I can’t imagine living in a community or doing work where there are neatly constructed borders that divide people. Rather, I see community, work, and family as opportune spaces to cultivate a sense of togetherness and shared destiny.

If you, too, would like to create welcoming spaces where all people feel safe, comfortable, and free to be themselves, here are a few ideas:

Open the Door to friendship and peace by inviting others into your space.

Set the Table by preparing a feast to generously share your abundance with others.

Create the Right Ambiance by promoting a climate of openness, kindness, warmth, respect, and appreciation.

 

The Rose Guard

rose

How can we appreciate the roses

When our bread is nearly gone

When our bread was

Stolen from us last week.

How can we feel any happiness or

Understand hope when our

Bread is nearly gone.

Our bread was stolen from us

Last week.

Where has the bread gone,

Where are my roses?

The Rose Guard is here

To provoke a new era of

Hope, of love, of beauty, of

All good things that we can imagine

Collectively.

The Rose Guard will protect us

But more importantly nurture us

Nurture our minds, our bodies,

Our souls

As we march on

Without any bread.

The Rose Guard ensures that

The gifts of our earth are

Shared and used to

Nourish

Rather than to cause

More harm.

The Rose Guard is me.

The Rose Guard is you.

Rediscovering the Library

library

As a young woman, I spent a lot of time in the library. It was more than a place to kill a few hours every day in-between school and work; it was a magical place where all things were possible.

But lately, I have gotten out of the habit of visiting these local treasures. Enrolling in a Ph.D. program interrupted any leisure reading I might have enjoyed for several years and since (temporarily but for what is becoming a more extended time than I originally anticipated) disenrolling, I have, for some reason, not been voraciously reading as I had been in the past. While I still enjoy good books and articles, and read when I can, I often find myself too tired at night when I snuggle into bed to read and too busy during the day to take the time. I also spend much too much time at work in front of a computer so using my eyes to read text above and beyond that time is sometimes undesirable.

I recently visited three local libraries as part of a history research project. I have been to all three countless times before, as I have lived in all three cities, but had not stepped foot in any of them more than once or twice over the past few years. I felt that magic feeling again, a mixture of possibility, stillness, intellectual stimulation, and safety. It is an environment beautifully calibrated with my soul, a place where I feel right at home. According to the 2015 State of America’s Libraries: A Report from the American Library Association, Americans see libraries as “anchors, centers for academic life and research, and cherished spaces.” Yes, that’s it.

Libraries fill my heart with joy and my mind with wisdom. Like my home, the beach, and farms, they are one of the places where I feel most at ease, inspired, and alive. The last time I visited a library. a toddler was screaming and crying after story time because he didn’t want to leave. I couldn’t have said it better myself.