Reed-Francois said in her press conference that she hopes a day will come when no one has to point out those gender-centric rarities. While we are evolving, we are still a long way from that.
The move was lauded by many, who felt obligated to point out that Reed-Francois’ appointment was absolutely meritorious, evidenced by an illustrious career as a college athletics administrator that broadened and deepened her experience with every step. This is a bold move by Mizzou that will continue to inspire little girls to dream; young women in high school and college to believe; and provide those already on their career journey vivid evidence that those dreams can be actualized and become real.
Along with those who hailed the appointment based on her merit, there were some on social media who clearly focused on everything but her experience and achievements. A few Tweets:
- “It would be a challenge as a coach to have a female boss.”
- “Let’s hope that they hired her because she’s the most qualified candidate and being a woman had nothing to do with it.”
- “She looks delicious.”
But the skeptics, doubters, naysayers and doomsday prognosticators don’t think beyond her gender to make their assessments. They will be who they are. Their biases are embedded and the effort it takes to even nudge their beliefs an iota is not worth it. The fact is if Reed-Francois’ vision becomes reality and Mizzou wins championships and has sustained success, even the most ardent naysayers will say they believed in her all along.
What is worthwhile is to tell more than just the little girls and young women who will be more inclined to be inspired that Reed-Francois has earned the post. It’s an opportunity to show little boys - and some grown men - that no matter Reed-Francois’ gender, she has the intellect, emotional intelligence, competitiveness and humility to help Mizzou actualize the vision. And when progress isn’t being made - because there is never linear progression for any vision that has significant challenges and competitive forces - she must show the toughness and objectivity to hold herself accountable to make high-leverage decisions and modifications to pivot the trajectory toward the vision again.
That is leadership. And it isn’t about gender. It’s about being a human being who has a passion for excellence and the will to do what it takes to lead a team to achieve it. Not for personal glory. But in service to and for the sake of others.
People with such traits who get opportunities like this can be an example for anyone who dreams of being a leader and serving others. Women simply haven’t had nearly the number of leadership opportunities that men have had historically. But more and more women are getting them and setting an example. That example is important to girls, but it can be just as important to boys. The more normalized it becomes to view a great leader as a good person and human being instead of a specific gender, the faster we will get to the point when we don’t have to note rarities and firsts.
I’ve been blessed to work with strong women throughout my career. Some own companies. Some lead departments in companies. Some are teachers. Some are in healthcare. Some are social workers. Some are moms who raise children. Some volunteer their time generously to causes. Many fulfill more than one of these roles simultaneously.
All of them have two things in common. Number one, they are often underestimated by doubters and skeptics simply because of their gender. Number two, they always rise above those naysayers.
Not because they are women. But because they are tremendous human beings.