Nieces, Know Your Worth
Maëlis Mittig is a proud Savvy Auntie who moved to New York City from Philadelphia, PA, and joined the Francis Financial team in 2011. Since her move to New York City, Maëlis has become actively engaged in the not-for-profit sector and joined the membership committee for Step Up Women’s Network, an organization inspiring women and girls to fulfill their potential through mentorship and networking opportunities. She is also working on a project with The Ben Appelbaum Foundation where she is helping a small nonprofit, Gifted Hands, with branding, PR, and general growth strategy.
“There’s a special place in hell for women who don't help other women.”—Margaret Thatcher
As women, we know how much harder it is to climb up the corporate ladder, demand equal pay, and stay true to our ultimate dreams. Let's face it; we live in a “man’s world.” After watching the documentary, “MissRepresentation,” and learning about the effects of the media on young girls, I became inspired to search for the best pieces of advice I could give my nieces as they grow up. What can I do to help them dream big without being discouraged by social norms? The ultimate lesson we can teach our lovely nieces, is to know their worth. Here are a few pieces of advice on doing just that.
Finding Their Passion
It’s only right to start out with the basics. During a Step Up Women’s Network power breakfast with Jane Wurwand, CEO of Dermalogica, I asked Jane if she had any advice on how to find your dream job, your true passion. She looked at me said, “Think about what you wanted to be when you were 10 years old, when your dreams weren’t clouded by societal norms. Go with that.” As we grow up, as women, we get discouraged by the idea that some professions are reserved for men. Seeing that a mere 3% of women represent Fortune 500 CEOs and about 17% of the US political office, our nieces might find it discouraging from the start to aim high and truly go for their dreams.
1. Get a feel for their talents and interests.
When speaking with my nieces a few months ago, I realized that they weren’t quite sure what they wanted to do with their lives—normal, as they are in their early teens. I tried to start a conversation to find the areas of the workforce that made them light up with excitement. I asked, “What would make your life easier? What would help others? Where is the void? What skills do you have to make a change in the world?”
2. Get them excited.
If you see a spark of interest for a specific industry, I recommend that you fuel that spark, and help them understand what it is they’re interested in. Using examples of women who have achieved great things is a wonderful way to go about it. Read them stories. Help them explore. Find clubs, shadowing opportunities, and mentors in the field that can lead them the right way. If you have these women in your network, introduce them. If it’s fashion, PR or Marketing, talk about women like Karen Chan, the founder of Shecky’s, who created an entire industry that ignites women over drinks, shopping, and networking. If it’s politics, talk about women like Hilary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, or Sonia Sotomayor. You can even bring up women who have a career in Politics but are a bit out of the norm, like Mika Brzezinski, co-anchor on the popular political talk show, “Morning Joe.” These women have paved the way for us, as women, to become what we want to become. Read their biographies, and gift your nieces their books. Inspire them, and let them know that it is possible.
3. Teach them to think outside the box.
Use rhetorical questions. If your niece has a philanthropic heart, teach her about starting not-for-profits. A few weeks ago, I asked my 16-year-old brother, who has been in and out of Juvenile detention for the last few years, what he wanted to do with his life. I asked him the same questions I asked my nieces, “What would make your life easier? What would help others? Where is the void? What experiences do you have to make a change in the world?” Someone came up with Post-Its, right? (Maybe not philanthropic—but useful!) He admitted that a focus on sports would have been helpful in leading him on the right path. Okay, so sports help young adults stay out of trouble. How about a not-for-profit that enlists the help of pro athletes to come in to juvenile centers and teach boys about sports? How about creating a policy in public schools that mandates all teens partake in at least one sport and focus on it for the entirety of their high school years? How about creating more sports programs in Juvenile detention centers and making them more exciting? Using rewards? Teach them to think outside the box, to develop their ideas and help them create a plan of action.
Our nieces, amongst most women, often struggle with the idea that appearance directly impacts their chances at success. It’s easy for young girls to get caught up in society’s burden to look a certain way. Help them understand that it’s not about their appearance, but more about their presentation. Mika Brzezinski, author of the New York Times best seller, All Things At Once, advises that “[it’s] not about your appearance; it’s about presentation. If you are wasting time worrying in front of the mirror, you are going about it the wrong way. When you walk in the room, the visual of you should send this message and this message only: Oh, She has her act together.” Teach them confidence. Help them become excellent public speakers, to learn everything they can about their industry and to know that preparation equals confidence.
As we know, media has a powerful impact on our nieces. It’s important that we educate them on understanding that movies, magazines, and TV misrepresent the female population. It’s quite rare to find an educated, successful, and kind female role model in movies. So, do your research. As simple as it sounds, reiterate the fact that what we see on TV is not representative of the real world. Actresses are often airbrushed, and women are often demeaned to sexual objects. Help them understand what a real female role model looks like—one who is educated, respected, kind, and driven.
Be the change you wish to see in the world. Teach them kindness and compassion. Teach them to treat others the way they want to be treated, and to stay out of the inevitable teen drama. Help them stand for what's right. It’s important not to fall for stereotypes and to befriend everyone around you. Let them know that kindness will lead them much further than anything else they learn in school. Being open-minded and having the ability to empathize is an indispensable trait to have. Take them to volunteering opportunities, and help them step out of their comfort zones.
Published: December 19, 2012