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Whether it’s the #MeToo cases against prominent men – from Madeline Pollard’s triumph in the 1894 in the sensational sex scandal against the prominent and powerful Member of Congress, Colonel Breckenridge; to the women who got Bill Cosby put in jail, Harvey Weinstein arrested, and other the powerful media moguls fired – or the slow but steady ascents to the C-suite of women like Mary Barra; or the underdog women who fought for women’s right to vote, and contemporary women who defied odds to be elected to Congress in 2018, sometimes being underestimated is a tool we can use to our advantage.
At first, these underdogs are dismissed as inconsequential. But if they persist, and keep gaining small wins along the way, eventually they rise up and take the hill.
I moderated two events this past week commemorating the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, including one at the Newseum, and I can’t help but see a pattern of women quietly seizing and leveraging resources in ways that can lead to historic results.
These patterns show there are advantages to being underestimated, no matter what sector you’re in, or age you are, or region you live in, or your ethnicity.
Here are commonalities I see among successful underdogs:
- Persist: No matter what you’re after, persistence is essential. Whether you’re Pollard determined to get even with the lover who spurned you, or Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg determined to move women’s rights forward even before anyone will hire you as a lawyer merely because you’re a woman, persistence pays off down the road.
This is clearly seen in RBG’s writings and speeches amassed in the book, “My Own Words,” that Justice Ginsburg compiled with help from Mary Hartnett (one of my panelists this weekend) and Wendy W. Williams.
- Courage: The characteristic that propels underdogs to persist through choppy waters is courage. Pollard and the other #MeToo movement plaintiffs had the courage to put their sex lives in public view. Miriam Michelson, a “girl reporter” in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s who broke the mould for women in the news business (and my great-great aunt), summoned her courage when she went to places women didn’t go much less go alone. Or, when she asked for jobs or covered stories that were previously only given to men or dismissed as inconsequential.
- Reinvention: As your journey evolves, any underdog will need to reinvent themselves, to pivot in some way, around obstacles, or honing their message, or finding another path to success. Louisa May Alcott of “Little Women” fame was determined to contribute to the Civil War somehow, even though women were banned from the war effort. As Samantha Seiple creatively describes in “Louisa on the Front Lines,” (and another one of my panelists this weekend), Alcott reinvented herself from a writer to a nurse to achieve her goal of serving. She also wrote “Little Women” only for much-needed money at the time – and ended up writing one of the most enduring, influential and best-selling books of all time.
- Leverage your resources – people and hard assets: Resources can be the social dynamic of the time, as RBG leveraged the feminist movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s to advance women’s rights, or the women like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who ran for office and unexpectedly won in 2018. Resources can be well-heeled friends and supporters who support your goal financially. Or, resources can be sharing your unoccupied bedroom via AirBnb to generated additional revenue and meet new people. Or, resources today are also the platforms you have via social media and media more broadly. We can each have a louder voice if we want it.
- Use your voice: Miriam Michelson used her journalistic and fiction platforms to spread the message that women can be reporters and best-selling fiction authors. She used her platforms to support and even elevate the burgeoning women’s suffrage movement, ultimately proving pivotal in leading to the 19th Amendment’s passage.
- Be optimistic: Being an underdog requires you to be perennially optimistic about your chances of success, even as practicalities creep in. Surrounding yourself with people who help you maintain that optimism (and away from people who bring you down) is essential as you keep up your courage, find creative solutions and resources, and use whatever platform you have available.
Let all the stories of unexpected success by women like Madeline Pollard, Louisa May Alcott, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Miriam Michelson and Ruth Bader Ginsburg inspire you reframe being underestimated as a good thing.
June 30, 2019 at 09:53PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs