Guiding My Path

Guiding My Path

Challenging stereotypes and unconscious bias

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This issue featuring women leaders in highway safety prompts me to reflect on my journey to AAMVA and the opportunities I have had along the way.  

Starting with my parents, I rarely heard a response other than “why not?” or “give it a try” when life or job presented a path to a new challenge.  Did I face barriers? Sure. Likely, I was too impulsive to notice, too persistent to back down or too curious to hear any other response. Luck played a role too, and I kept moving forward with a lot of help from family, friends, bosses, coworkers and strangers.  Some encouraged me, many taught and inspired me, and a few highlighted paths I did not want to follow.

Women were my earliest mentors and guides—my mother, grandmothers, sister, and grade-school teachers. They nurtured, tortured or tolerated me exploring my boundaries. Through my teen years onward, my buddies in class and on the field were girls and boys, my bosses and professional mentors were men. This did not seem strange at the time.  

But at an impressionable age, my mother began hosting a women’s consciousness-raising group in our home. My father, after years of roaming the globe as a foreign correspondent, stayed home to be a freelance-writer and picked up parenting duties while my mom returned to school to get her master’s degree. Taking on non-traditional roles through the ’70s and early ’80s, they made it seem effortless, but I suspect they faced resistance from family, friends and coworkers.  

Even with these great examples of gender equality, my husband and I encountered resistance when he offered to stay home and raise our children in the mid-’90s.  He sensed a put-down from professionals when attending my work events for being “unemployed” and I imagined being judged the “absent mom” when attending school events. Were these stereotypes in our heads or in the people we encountered? I suspect a bit of both.  

The stereotypes and unconscious bias are still present.  Stay-at-home dads may have more support groups, but they still face resistance to taking paternity or parental care leave. Women are working their way up to the C-Suite, but a stint of several months at home to care for family is used against a woman when she re-enters the workforce.  Unconscious bias is present in all of us and reveals itself in unexpected ways. The challenge is to learn how to challenge it in ourselves and in the workplace.

In this issue of MOVE, you’ll hear from women who’ve pushed past barriers and faced resistance that could have put them down. They are brave, talented people who make a conscious effort to help others sometimes by example and often with a helping hand. They readily give credit to those who have contributed to their success and gladly move forward arm in arm with other women.

Whatever your gender or role, I encourage you to take the paths these women reveal and follow them in finding ways to unravel bias-barriers, lend a helping hand, collaborate to challenge norms, mentor others and encourage people to pursue opportunities to be their fullest selves.

Enjoy reading this issue and check out the extended profiles to learn more about each individual.

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