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Here's to Strong Women

Julie Sielaff, Communication, Capabilities and Leadership Manager for Commercial Sales

I always welcome the month of March—hello, Spring, and high five, fellow Arians! It’s also Women's History Month—a time to celebrate the women who came before us, the women we surround ourselves with and the women who will come after us. The memes and #tags that fly around are #inspiring and #empowering. And this meme is one of my favorites—it speaks to my soul:

Strong women - be know raise

I believe it’s more than fair to say women haven’t received due credit throughout history. But that didn’t stop them from changing the world in critical and necessary ways that changed the course of history:

  • Cleopatra was the final ruler of Egypt’s Ptolemaic dynasty and possibly the original Iron Lady. She was a formidable, politically sharp monarch at a time when there were few—if any—strong female leaders.
  • Gifted mathematician Ada Lovelace is considered the first computer programmer for her work on Charles Babbage's proposed computer, the Analytical Engine. About 100 years later, Hollywood leading lady Hedy Lamarr helped to develop a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes during World War II. These works laid the groundwork for modern Bluetooth technology and Wi-Fi. Thanks, ladies!
  • Marie Curie founded the new science of radioactivity, and her discoveries launched effective cures for cancer. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to win twice, and the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different sciences.
  • In 1955, African American Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a public bus—in a segregated Montgomery, Alabama—so that a white person could sit down. Her protest helped spark the civil rights movement. In 2005, she became the first woman to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda (one of four Americans to ever receive this honor). Did I mention the Nobel Peace Prize on her mantle?
Strong women - Marie Ulbrich
Marie Ulbrich, paternal grandmother of Julie Sielaff, as a young woman, and on her 100th birthday.

May we know them.

It’s not just women from across the centuries who inspire me to be strong and stay strong. I have my own long line of strong women to draw inspiration from.

My paternal grandmother, Marie Ulbrich, went to work following her first husband’s early death. Solely financially secure and putting a son through college and later law school, it took a lot of work for her future second husband to convince her to marry again (I’m pretty sure it was his shared love of dancing that changed her mind). My maternal grandmother, Phyllis Manson, put herself through graduate school. With a Master’s in social work, she went on to help pioneer the concept of community living homes for the intellectually disabled in the Detroit area. Not bad for a late-blooming career woman—in a time when the idea of a career woman was practically unheard of.

My mother was the first and only single mom I knew for many years in the 1970s. She made a name for herself as a paralegal in the Detroit legal community, whipped up a mean tuna casserole and taught every one of my sixth-grade BFFs how to do the Hustle. And my step-mother, who has been in my life since I was four, used her teaching skills to turn me into an early reader, a master popsicle-stick-crafter and a shoelace-tying ninja. She also taught me what it means to open your home and your heart to someone who is “not yours”—and that the simple act of doing so makes them yours.

Strong women - Carol Kijac
Carol Kijac, author of The Wayward Explorer, teaching English to monks in Laos.

May we be them.

Look around you. There is no shortage of women doing amazing things in the world and for the world every day. Just off the top of my head:

  • A friend of mine dropped her career as an architect to follow her passion: disaster recovery. Yep. She went back to school so when everyone else is driving away, she’s the one who gets on a plane to fly toward—and make it better.
  • My friend Carol did some soul searching when her career hit an unexpected hiccup. Within months, she had sold or stored her worldly possessions and boarded a plane for her first adventure in a year-long series of adventuring. Stop one? Teaching English to young monks in Laos.
  • Another friend, who was abducted and sexually assaulted as a young woman, channeled her experience into founding an organization that provided art therapy for other survivors of sexual assault. Years later, her attacker was arrested for another assault, and other with crimes spanning years and continents. She boarded a plane for the UK to ensure her voice was heard in court and that justice was finally served.

Strong women are all around us. Sometimes it may seem that the extraordinary things they do are not all that special because there are so many women doing so many extraordinary things. Do not be fooled. They are extraordinary. We should remember to tell them we think so.

strong women - Julie Sielaff
Julie Sielaff during her time on the men's crew team at Michigan State University.

May we raise them.

When I was in high school I wanted to join the rowing team. Not as a rower but as a coxswain, the person who bosses all the rowers around; the "brain" of the boat. There was no such thing as a girls’ team back then and the boys’ team had a strict No Girls Allowed policy. So I had to put my dreams of ruling the world (and the boat) on hold—until college. I was raised to never give up on my own dreams and to pursue my passion until I make it a reality, which I did by joining the Michigan State University men's crew team, claiming my rightful role as coxswain. Now, there are very few—if any—things left that girls cannot dream of and cannot do.

There are more women in the C-suite than ever before. And that number will keep growing. Some girls will grow into women who choose to be family caregivers as their primary role. Their choice requires strength and their work will be important. Some girls will grow into women who choose not to have children, instead focusing on career or adventure or whatever it is that stirs their passion. Some will blend their options and create some sort of balance between raising a family and building a career.

The beautiful thing about it is, if we keep doing this right, they will have the opportunities and choices, and the autonomy and support to choose.

Take time this Women's History Month to remind the extraordinary, strong women in your life that they inspire you.

May you know them.
May you be them. 
May you raise them.

 

Published March 25, 2019.

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