The Obamas on Women and Leadership
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The Obamas on Women and Leadership

Ladies' Home Journal talked exclusively to President and Mrs. Obama about women and leadership, raising confident girls, and why more of us need to speak up.

Ever heard the saying that a woman's place is in the house...and the Senate, too? Sure you have. It's been around since the '70s -- so long that now it's just a corny feminist joke instead of a rousing slogan. But maybe it's time to start the fist pump again, because when it comes to public life, we women are still tragically underrepresented. Upset? Don't call your local Congressperson about it -- there's an 83 percent chance your rep is a man, even though more than half this country's population is female. And your governor? Nah. He's almost certainly a he as well.

Call on yourself instead. It's time for you -- for all of us -- to get off the sidelines and into public life. There's no better time than in an election year, but really, making your community and country a better place is worth attempting on an everyday basis. The happy news is it's easier than you might think. Even the President of the United States has some ideas for you. In an exclusive interview, Ladies' Home Journal Editor-in-Chief Sally Lee sat down with President and Mrs. Obama to talk about how women can step up and take charge. Here's a sneak peek:

How can we get more women to be leaders, whether in Washington or on their home turf?

Michelle Obama: We have to start with them while they're young and instill in girls a sense of confidence. That's why sports are so important. They teach you how to compete -- how to fall down and get back up. And there are organizations like the Girl Scouts: They nurture self-confidence and give girls the chance to practice being in charge. We've got to give young women the opportunities to be leaders.

President Obama: It's easier for boys to imagine themselves being President. They see themselves as being in charge. Girls are socialized to think about other people more. I want Malia and Sasha to feel confident about expressing their opinions. And if they're good at something I want them to have the confidence to step up and shine. I don't want them to lose their empathy and stop thinking about other people, because that's an important part of leadership, too. But I don't want them to be wallflowers.

Michelle Obama: We talk about this a lot, obviously. But it's not just about what we want for our girls...we also think about the girls who grew up like we grew up: in working-class neighborhoods where they didn't have sports programs. Or in a single-parent home. They need to be encouraged, too. Choices and options shouldn't be limited to...

President Obama: ...folks of a certain income bracket.

Do you think we are missing out by not having more women in office?

President Obama: I think voters are hungry for women's leadership. I think they recognize that women oftentimes have a more well rounded view of what American families are going through. I think they trust women candidates, and women leaders, to do the right thing, as opposed to being in it because of blind ambition. My hope is that each successive generation sees more and more women taking the risk.

Mr. President, what is it about your wife that makes people sit up and listen to her?

President Obama: Well, she's very smart. She's a wonderful speaker. She's very cute.

Michelle Obama: Thanks for this question. I wanted to see what he had to say [laughs].

President Obama: Having said all those things, the quality I love most about her is, she's honest and genuine. I think that comes across to people. They get a sense that they can trust her. You know, the word "authenticity" is overused these days. But I do think it captures what folks are looking for -- not just in leaders, but also in friends and in coworkers -- and that is, folks who are on the level. People like that tell you what they think and don't have a bunch of hidden motives. That's who Michelle is. She's also funny. She's the funniest person in our family.

For more of our interview with the First Lady, pick up the new issue of LHJ (on newsstands Friday August 10th) or get a copy on your iPad, Kindle Fire, Nook, or Google Play device at LHJ.com/digital.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, September 2012.

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