How Can I Help You? Nancy O’Reilly On Why We Must Support Each Other
Author, psychologist, entrepreneur, broadcaster and founder of the non-profit, Women Connect4Good, Inc., Nancy D. O’Reilly knows we not only get by with a little help from our friends, but we thrive with the help of women all around us.
In her new book, In This Together: How Successful Women Support Each Other in Business and Life philanthropist, educator and president of the board of Take The Lead, O’Reilly offers the wisdom and insight of 40 successful women from many different fields on how support systems, mentoring and networking not only move individuals forward, but move everyone ahead.
Recently honored at the 2018 Canales Project along with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, O’Reilly is the author of several earlier books, including, Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life and a supporter of Convoy of Hope as well as Take The Lead’s 50 Women Can Change the World programs.
Her “Conversations With Smart, Amazing Women” podcast taps into the wisdom of women from all different disciplines and fields. O’Reilly recently answered questions with Take The Lead about her latest book.
TTL: Why is it so important now that women support each other and lean in together?
Nancy O’Reilly: “I really feel like the time is now. Look at the momentum that was started with the Women’s March in 2017. It was followed by women speaking out about abuse and sexual harassment, which became #MeToo and #Times Up, then a tsunami of women signing up for training about how to run for office, running and resulting in electing, not only more women to Congress, but the most diverse Congress in the history of the country.
We need to keep this going. I’ve been beating my drum for so long and feeling l was all alone, it’s amazing to partner with so many women to bring us all forward into equality. The time is definitely now. It’s time to stop talking and start doing. It’s already started, we just need to push it along and make it grow.”
TTL: Do you have a favorite piece of advice from one of the women leaders you feature in your new book?
NO’R: “The main things I want women to take away from the book are: Support each other. See ourselves as leaders. Use your voice for great change.
Many of the women in the book talk about how we need to see ourselves as leaders and support each other, which is really the point: All of us are ‘in this together’ and when we combine our talents, expertise and resources to help each other, amplify our voices and increase our ‘power to’ accomplish our goals, we really can do anything.”
TTL: Was there a time in your life when you needed the support of other women and did not have access? Is there a time in your life professionally when other women lifted you up?
NO’R: “When I was a young mother going to night school, I didn’t have time to develop the kind of supportive relationships that would have helped me. And my family and friends at the time were not supportive at all. They asked me, “Who do you think you are?” and “What about your children?” Actually I was pursuing my degrees to provide a role model for my daughters and show them that they could do what they wanted when they grew up.
When I was getting my doctorate, there was a group of us that banded together and supported one another. We called ourselves ‘The Psych Sisters’ and still have lunch and get together today. That is the most memorable time and the most enduring of supportive women. But my partnership today with Gloria Feldt (Take The Lead co-founder and president) and Dr. Sheila Robinson is equally empowering. We’re all working to bring women up and change our world in ways that supports everyone, where no one is left out because of gender, race, culture, or country for that matter. Where women lead, everyone lives a better life. We must get to 50/50 and that takes all of us working together to make it happen.”
TTL: How can someone best access the support of friends, family, allies and mentors? Is it OK to ask for help and how do you do that without feeling like a burden to someone?
NO’R: When we ask for help, it opens up completely positive relationship. Vulnerability is not weakness; it shows great strength and courage to be vulnerable and ask for help. That’s the one thing that women aren’t very good at, but we have to take off our Super Woman t-shirt and get help when we need it. I will never forget the woman who I offered to help in one of my podcast interviews. I asked her, ‘How can I help you?’ And she was silent for such a long time, I thought the call dropped. Finally she said in a very soft, tiny voice, ‘You want to help me?’
We don’t have to fix everything and do it all ourselves. In fact, we can’t do it all ourselves. It’s our own unconscious prejudices that keep us from reaching out for help, like it’s some sort of weakness on our part that we can’t do it all. We have to change the way we think about that too—like we do about power. It’s actually a gift to ask for help. We all feel so much more rewarded when we’re able to help others, so why not let them help us when we need it. And most important—ask for it. People won’t know you need help unless you ask for what you want. It takes practice, but women can get good at that too.“
TTL: How can you best offer support to someone and lift her up?
NO’R: “Simply asking, ‘How can I help you?’ It doesn’t have to be a big gesture. We have no idea how much impact we can have through simple actions. One of the women I quote in my book, Judy Hoberman, has a mission “to help one woman a day.” She said that she never knows who that will be or how it will happen, but with the mission in place, there is always an opportunity. When she helps one woman, she feels that that woman will go on to help another, and so on, until like a pebble in a pond, it expands exponentially to lots of women helping a lot of other women, one at a time.”
TTL: Have you ever been surprised by the level of support or the content of support you received?
NO’R: “Surprised isn’t a word I use. I have been delighted. When someone says they want to help you, I say, “wow!” I’m thrilled. It’s exciting. When that happens, we’re making progress and we’re starting to see more of it.”
TTL: Why do you feel some women are competitive with others and want to prevent other women from rising?
NO’R: “I actually think competition is a good thing. Healthy competition makes us better. We need to take a lesson from men about how to compete in a healthy way. They go out to play golf and play their best and try to win, then they shake hands afterwards and forget about it. We can compete in healthy ways and boost each other up by raising the bar.
Too many women think if I win, you lose. And that doesn’t need to be the case. We are still stuck in the old days where only one woman got a top job. That’s another attitude we need to change. Now, there are studies that prove the opposite to be true and we talk about them in the book. In fact, when more women are promoted to top jobs, it triples the number of women who are promoted.“
TTL: Why is it critical that women learn the advice you and the many wise leaders in your book offer? Why is now such an important time for women to help other women?
NO’R: “Like I said, it’s time to stop talking and start doing. This book tells women how to start doing. It’s full of solid information and actual “say and do’s” to guide women through the minefield of biases that confront them every day in the workplace. The women I’ve quoted and talked about in the book have been there and seen what works in life, communities and businesses of all kinds. They have become leaders by practicing the advice they give others. I’d like to invite everyone (women and men-because we need the men too) to choose just one nugget to test in their own life. See how it works, then pick another. The best way to change our culture and the world is to become aware of the changes we need to make in ourselves and move us all forward from the inside out.
We have a momentum now that is unprecedented in history. It has taken a long time to get here and we should keep pushing it forward. Like another of my favorite advisors says, ‘Women lead through relationships.’ Dr. Sheila Robinson puts together the most diverse group of women and men through her annual Diversity Business Women’s conferences to create a synergy of women and men coming together and working for a common purpose. Her first law of leadership is to “create strategic relationships.” Then she says, when you have a mentor, don’t forget to ask what you can do for her. Relationships are two-way—give and take. We need to do both and help one another because we really are in this together.”
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon www.micheleweldon.com