Change Starts Within Ourselves: Leading the Way to Diversity and Women’s Empowerment
Author: Roma G Velasco
I had the opportunity to witness our president, Jennifer Simpson, speak during the Women’s Leadership Symposium held at the University of Colorado, Boulder. It was such a pleasure hearing Jennifer share her stories and experiences as a means to promote diversity and women’s empowerment.
The theme of Jennifer’s speech was “Personal is still Political: Transformation Begins in the Mirror”. Jennifer emphasized the importance of exploring and understanding who we are internally as a key ingredient to taking on the role of change agents. Literally and metaphorically, what we see in the mirror is not always in line with our beliefs. Often, we behave based on the stories we tell ourselves, the stories that other people tell us, or what community and society tell us. Whenever we work to make change, or take up a cause on behalf of someone else when we don’t fully understand ourselves in relation to said change, we are more likely to miss the bigger picture or even make a problem worse.
As change agents in our communities, society, and the world, Jennifer shared three key principles:
Principle 1: We can’t create external change without confronting internal change. Lasting change starts very personally—by knowing ourselves deeply.
Principle 2: None of us does it alone. Finding those people who can hold you, and love you, and challenge and stretch you at the same time is a crucial part of being a change agent.
Principle 3: We can’t wait to have it all figured out to give it a go. Stepping into the unknown and knowing that we may not always get it right the first, second, or third time we take a step on making change happen.
Using her own stories as an illustration, Jennifer shared with us how challenges, unexpected events and uncomfortable situations that may shake our perspective, are some of the best catalysts to discovering our strengths, and to overcome any limitations we thought we had. These moments are opportunities to realize our privilege and to challenge the system.
Here are some lessons from Jennifer:
Lesson 1: The stories we tell (and believe) ourselves matter
Lesson 2: Expect the unexpected
Lesson 3: Curiosity is more powerful than fear
Lesson 4: The world is bigger than me
Lesson 5: People and systems are intertwined
I have learned a lot from getting a snapshot of Jennifer’s life experiences through her stories, which she also encouraged us to do the same – tell our stories. The stories we were told by our mothers, our mothers’ mothers, and the stories that we will share with future generations through our lived experiences, have a significant impact on how we shape the future that we wish to create.
Here are my personal takeaways from the Women’s Leadership Symposium, as I take the next step of becoming a change agent, leading the way to diversity, equality, and women’s empowerment:
- Explore who I really am internally and through my experiences.
- Understand my role in society and my contributions to solutions and/or my role in reinforcing issues that society faces.
- Know my part in the upholding systemic inequality. What are my privileges?
- Find and support other change agents because I cannot do it all on my own.
- Tell my story, as there is power in sharing experiences with others.