Jessica Eliasi, Vice President Business Development, Personalized Nutrition, Mars Edge.
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Full Potential

Let’s Get Rid of the ‘Shoulds’ and ‘Shouldn’ts’ We Impose on Women

Originally published on LinkedIn by Jessica Eliasi, Vice President Business Development, Personalized Nutrition, Mars Edge. Jessica is a Mars Associate of 14 years who started her Mars career in a health & nutrition incubator, building healthier snacking ventures, later setting up strategy functions for the global Mars Wrigley segment and corporate. In her current role, she is devoted to advancing the Mars Edge Purpose of creating better lives through nutrition.  

From as far back as I can remember, people have always tried to tell me what I should and shouldn’t do as a “good girl.” You shouldn’t talk so loudly. You shouldn’t be so tough. You should be more nurturing. You shouldn’t be so assertive. Yes, I am loud, but more than that, it’s that I have always been outspoken. And for many, that’s not really considered to be a desirable trait in a woman.

But women’s voices are powerful and need to be heard. That’s why Mars has launched #HereToBeHeard, a global survey that asks, “What needs to change so women can reach their full potential?”

It’s a crowdsourcing initiative that will elevate the voices of women everywhere to help shape a more inclusive society, where women can reach their full potential. Once we collect answers from around the world, we’ll share them with our partners at Oxford University, who will analyze them for themes and identify action steps we can take to help close the gender gap.

So, I hope you’ll give some thought to the question, then add your voice by visiting our Here To Be Heard site!

My answer to the question is this: We—all of us, regardless of gender—need to drop the “shoulds” and shouldn’ts.” We teach little girls that they should play nicely, be helpful. They should be less boisterous, more gentle, modest, domestic. Girls learn they should put others needs ahead of their own, hide their own lights and bonus for making themselves look more beautiful.

Research bears this out. In a recent Pew survey, Americans say the traits they value most in men are honesty, morality and professional success, while the top qualities for women are physical attractiveness, being nurturing and being empathetic. And when asked which traits women should not have, nearly a third of respondents said, “ambition, leadership and assertiveness”!!!

I never accepted those “shoulds” and I was blessed to have parents who let my voice be heard. I grew up in an open-minded family in a traditional culture. While our culture had lots of “shoulds” on the role of girls (emphasis on becoming a wife and mother), my parents were exemplary in giving us choice, support and encouragement to focus on growth and learning. They never treated my sister or I as “less than” for being girls. They encouraged us to strive and to achieve. Being blessed with a father who wanted to hear my thoughts, who encouraged me to debate and put forward my views, gave me the freedom and confidence I needed to battle so many of the “shoulds" I faced in childhood and as an adult. Seeing a mother who herself rebelled on the “shoulds” of her time to pursue education and career, and be a devoted mom, showed me the “coulds.”

But within all cultures and all walks of life, by the time a girl grows to be a woman, she has spent years quieting her inner soul to conform to whatever society says is the norm and ideal for women. And what is a “woman,” anyway? You might have been born one gender, but identify with another.  So why should our gender or sex define who we are? Why not give ourselves the freedom to simply be who we really are?

So, what we must do to help women reach their full potential is drop the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts”—at home, work and in society. And as my father did for me so many years ago, we must support and encourage that inner voice so it can grow to be loud.

For example, my husband and I have an 8-year-old boy, Henry, and a 4-year-old girl named Roxy. We talk openly about the fact that it’s harder for girls to get ahead, and the importance of celebrating girls (and women’s) success. When Henry cheers on Roxy for her “girl power”—or they both cheer on Kamala Harris together, like they did last month—it builds Roxy’s confidence and makes Henry feel more connected to her world. 

So how can we re-create the Henry/Roxy dynamic in the grown-up world? We can model what it looks like to be gender equal, wherever we are. At home, we can equally share childcare and household duties, which have disproportionately fallen to women, especially during COVID. We can teach our children about the importance of inclusion and equality, and we can treat them in differentiated ways because of what makes them unique, but equally. At work, we can make sure women have deliberate mentorship and sponsorship, just like men do. We can ask women their opinions and give them the space to speak their mind, just like men do. We can actively reach out to them and create forums that give them a place to be heard—because even for outspoken women like me, sometimes feeling you have permission and a place to speak makes all the difference. We can make sure our talent processes acknowledge that the "shoulds" many women grew up with may make it harder for them to voice their strengths and ambitions, as so many women do not feel comfortable with "self promoting." We can encourage women to take chances, and not to let the voices of stakeholders drown out their own inner voice. As a society, we can help set girls and women up for success and celebrate their wins—just like men do.

I also believe there is one “should” women must do: Speak up. For ourselves, for each other and for the future. If you think something needs to be said, say it. Here To Be Heard is here to listen, step up and help create a world where all women can thrive!