How NASCAR'S Danica Patrick and dads are empowering daughters
Anne Doyle is the former director of North America public affairs for Ford Motor Co. and author of POWERING UP! How America's Women Achievers Become Leaders.
Did you catch the change blowing in the wind at this weekend's Daytona 500 NASCAR race, fueled by Danicamania?
It wasn't just that Danica Patrick, one of the brightest stars in motorsports, won the pole position with the highest qualifying speed (196.434) in her lime green #10 Go Daddy Chevolet, or that she finished in the top 10. Although both of those accomplishments were gender-barrier busters in one of the biggest, toughest and most testosterone-fueled races in all of motorsports.
The coming paradigm shift was signaled by some of the biggest dudes in motorsports -- and little girls, who came in droves to catch a glimpse of Danica.
The big boys
Three of NASCAR's biggest stars -- Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards and this year's Daytona winner, Jimmie Johnson -- brought their daughters to pit row to meet Danica. The Associated Press reported: "Annie Edwards wore GoDaddy green shoes for the special occasion. Evie Johnson recognizes only two cars, her Dad said -- his and the green one (Danica's!)."
Patrick's pit crew handed out dozens and dozens of lug nuts over the weekend to girls clamoring for souvenirs.
When I see the racing suit-clad Danica drop to one knee and wrap her arm around the waist of five-year-old Ella Gordon to pose for a photo with her thrilled fan, I smile to imagine what the future will look like when Ella and her generation of girls grow up.
Patrick and her GEN Y sisters, the most highly educated and ambitious generation of women in U.S. history, grew up watching astronaut Sally Ride go into space, the Williams sisters dominate tennis, Hillary Clinton run for president and so many women serve as Secretary of State (Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton) they thought men couldn't have that job.
Now, here comes the next generation. Little girls who can meet and touch and perhaps imagine themselves as a glamorous and tough-as-nails race car driver -- competing toe-to-toe with high-octane men -- will be a very different breed indeed. I predict that Danica's mantra, "I was raised to be the fastest driver. Not the fastest girl," will be intuitive to them.
Role models are essential. You know the mantra: "If you can't see it, you can't be it." I'm thrilled to see the tremendous variety of choices girls growing up today can try on in their imaginations to see what inspires them.
The Power of Fathers
But let's not forget the magical power of fathers to be unique wind beneath their daughters' wings. I'm just as thrilled to see NASCAR's "Big Boys" proudly bringing their daughters to meet Danica as I am to see a woman driver put her pedal to the metal and make sports history.
Men still hold nearly all of the keys to the leadership locker room doors. But few men have any idea what's it like for the other half of the human race to negotiate male-dominated professional arenas where the rules -- written and unwritten -- were created by and for the male tribe.
There's been plenty of research on the abundance of accomplished women who talk about the importance of fathers who encouraged them and provided male insight and mentoring.
I'm one of them. My own father, long-time WWJ Detroit sportscaster Vince Doyle, was an invaluable ally and adviser to me as I negotiated the gender land mines of TV sports broadcasting -- including locker rooms -- in the late '70s and early '80s.
That's why I smile when I see the daughters of NASCAR superstars begging their dads to take them to meet Danica. There's nothing like a daughter to help a man see the world through different eyes.
We need men in the game with us
And that's why I'm on the lookout for men who are getting in the game with us. Men who are willing to raise their voices as advocates for tapping women's brainpower and leadership talent. Men who are willing to stand up as powerful sponsors for talented women, particularly when promotion decisions are being made behind closed doors.
My list is short, but growing. I'd love to hear who is on your list.
The days of men actively blocking women's paths to non-traditional jobs are pretty much behind us. Today, however, it's not enough for men to be standing on the sidelines cheering us on. We need them in the game with us -- blocking, tackling, passing us the ball and actively engaged in putting the gender leadership gap behind us.
The list of ways that men can put their shoulders to the wheel and help unleash the brainpower of the other half of the human race is endless. It's never too early to start.
Years ago we urged parents to "take your daughters to work." With women now 50 percent of the U.S. workforce that mission has been accomplished.
Women's next frontier is leadership. Whether you are a mother, father, grandparent, aunt, uncle or mentor, I hope you'll take a page from NASCAR's Big Boys. Take your daughters to meet Sheroes.
The greatest gift you can give a girl is to inoculate her from toxic, cultural messages by teaching her to believe in her own unique magic.
Anne Doyle is the former director of North America public affairs for Ford Motor Co. and author of POWERING UP! How America's Women Achievers Become Leaders. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.