Why Not Me?

Robbyn  Scribner works within the areas of development and grant writing for the Utah Women in Leadership Project at Utah Valley University. She holds a Master’s degree in English with an emphasis in composition and rhetoric from Brigham Young University, and a Bachelor’s degree (also from BYU) in European Studies. Robbyn specializes in promoting excellence in writing; she has taught university writing at all levels and co-directed a cross-curricular writing tutoring program at BYU. She has also led seminars and workshops for scholars in various fields, training them on teaching and incorporating more writing in their specific disciplines.  Robbyn has also worked as a copy-editor and researcher for various academic and professional projects.  Most recently, she has been researching and writing on issues affecting women and careers, with an emphasis on women who’ve taken time away from the workforce and are looking to return.

In the fall of 2014, my family and I (all rabid volleyball fans), watched with great excitement as the BYU women’s volleyball team, not expected to go deep in the NCAA tournament, advanced all the way to the championship match–the first time ever for an unseeded team.

The BYU team’s motto through the tournament, playing off their ubiquitous single-letter moniker, was “Y NOT US?” Commentators and volleyball fans across the country had many answers for such a question—this team wasn’t from a power conference, they didn’t have a long legacy of winning like many of the perennial favorites, and their regular season play hadn’t put them in a position to shine.

Yet this team ignored the nay-sayers and fought to the bitter end (and it was a bit bitter—they lost the championship match). But they progressed farther than anyone thought possible—all while boldly asking: Y not us?

Sometimes as women interested in leadership we need to ask ourselves the same question. Again, there are plenty of nay-sayers; sheer numbers tell us it’s difficult for women to reach the highest echelons of business, politics, academia, and entertainment. Cultural and social norms can make it feel like a woman’s place isn’t in leadership, and sometimes the little voices in our heads tell us we just aren’t good enough.

And yet we see a need. We’ve learned that countries where women have autonomy are more peaceful and prosperous, that businesses with higher numbers of women executives are more profitable, that decisions made by both women and men working together in politics are better decisions. So, why not women? Why not us?

If you made it to this blog, chances are you already recognize the need for women leaders and see our potential for good within the state and beyond. Studies have shown that women are sometimes more assertive in their negotiations and advocacy if they feel they are asking for someone else—working for the good of a team. I think that’s part of our strength as women—we look out for each other, root for one another. As we study, strive, and work together, we can grow in confidence and when we see the need for someone to step up and lead we will be ready to ask, “Yes, why not us?” I am lucky enough to have a personal and professional network full of incredibly talented, brilliant, and passionate women! I know so many women who already have made, and will continue to make, a tremendous impact.

But as individual women, we must eventually ask an even more important, and much more difficult, question: “Why not me?”

When I read books like Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, which reminds us of how much we need more women leaders at the very top, and essays like “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” by Anne-Marie Slaughter, which reminds us how very difficult it is to be at the top, I feel torn. I know we need women to fill these roles, but the selfish part of me wants some other fabulous woman to step up to the plate and let me off the hook.

My hesitancy forces another question: “But if not me, then who?” Anyone who has watched a bitter election or seen a CEO take the fall for a failing company knows that leadership, while rewarding, isn’t necessarily for the faint of heart. It’s a risk, and it definitely takes both preparation and courage.

If we are ever to have a strong contingent of “US,” we need to start with a number of individual “MEs.” No, we don’t all need to be the COO of Facebook, or a director at the State Department—we can start where we are, where we see the need today: as the first woman on the city council, as one of the few women majoring in the electrical engineering program, as the only woman entrepreneur going after that limited pool of angel funding. Hopefully, as more and more individual women face the question “why not me?” it will become easier to do. When it comes to women and leadership, there is strength in numbers. I’m challenging myself (and I invite you to join me) in saying “there’s no reason this shouldn’t be me.” Let’s go all in.

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