By Karen Hendricks
It was one of the most inspirational events I’ve ever experienced—the More/Shape Women’s Half-Marathon through New York City’s Central Park on April 17, 2016.
The sheer size of the event was overwhelming—nearly 10,000 women circling Central Park twice to equal 13.1 miles. I started the race in the middle of the pack, and it took me nearly 10 minutes, walking shoulder-to-shoulder with other women, just to reach the starting line. It’s billed as one of the largest all-female half-marathons in the country.
But the most significant takeaway: the camaraderie, the empowerment, the overwhelming vibe of “girl power.”
Nearly 10,000 women of all shapes, sizes, ages, and abilities, set out to accomplish a goal—to run the challenging half-marathon course on that day. I talked to women from Florida, Tennessee, Michigan, as well as New Yorkers who welcomed us all. Some had never run a half-marathon before; some had run this specific race many times before. For me, it was my second half-marathon and I see many more in my future—personally I love the challenge of that distance. A love of running brought us all together.
As a female small business owner and entrepreneur, I feel very blessed to “do what I love and love what I do.” I’m also blessed to refer business, and have business referred back to me, by many other women-led businesses. It’s an empowering network of support, not only because it involves other women, but because we often work alone for large periods of time as small business owners. This camaraderie and circle of support is very similar to what I felt in Central Park.
Many of the runners were mothers like myself—I was so honored and thankful to have my college-age daughter supporting me and cheering me on! There were hundreds if not thousands of supportive family members—husbands, sisters, brothers, children of all ages, as well as friends—cheering on the runners, holding encouraging or funny signs that made us smile, and adding to the excitement of the event.
For that one brief moment in time, on a beautiful sunny morning in New York, the ugly realities of our daily lives as women melted away. There was no “good old boys’ network.” Race, age, and appearance didn’t matter. There were no cliques, walls, or glass ceilings.
When we tackled the hills on that course, they were simply hills and we ran them together. We cheered for each other, we cursed “the Harlem Hill” together, we shared a warm feeling of solidarity together as women. In real life, we struggle up the hills that society often puts in our way.
Google defines “the old boy network” as “an informal system of support and friendship through which men use their positions of influence to help others who went to the same school or college as they did or who share a similar social background.” How many of us have come up against the old boy network in our careers and/or our personal lives? (Disclaimer: Thankfully, not all men are like this!)
I have personally experienced the good old boy network taking care of its own, through various work situations over the years, and even through my daughter’s soccer team when rules of conduct were twisted by the board–primarily men–to uphold violations by her male coach and a team dad. Sometimes we feel as though we don’t have a voice or justice. But these situations bring others’ “true colors” to light. The old boy network–one example of the walls built against women.
Sometimes the walls are constructed by other women—we encounter stereotypes and hate-shaming because we stay home with our children, or because we don’t stay home with our children and re-enter the work force. There are “insider” and “outsider” labels placed upon us, people who are “natives” or “transplants” to a region. Women can form cliques like nobody’s business. Jealousies get in the way—I have seen women form jealousy over other women’s beauty, possessions, even their children’s accomplishments or talents. Rather than being happy for each other, celebrating life’s moments together, jealousy often rears its ugly head instead. These situations often define who our “true friends” are. All of these walls, labels, and jealousies–it’s all a form of hate.
Consider these facts:
Only 2% of women around the world would describe themselves as beautiful, according to the global study,The Real Truth About Beauty: A Global Report, reported by Dove.
In 1979, women working full time earned 62 percent of what men earned; in 2014, women’s earnings were 83 percent of men’s. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, December 2015.)
A woman-owned business employs, on average, just one person in addition to the owner; women-owned businesses have average annual revenues of just under $155,000, far less than the $400,000 figure of the typical privately held business. Women seeking first-year financing to get their companies off the ground receive about 80% less capital than men. (2013 Women-Owned Business Report, published by American Express OPEN, cited in Forbes, June 2013)
In my home state of Pennsylvania, only 18 percent of state lawmakers are female. In 2015, Pennsylvania had only one statewide elected executive who is a woman and did not have any female U.S. Congress members. In the state Legislature, nine out of 50 senators were women and 37 out of 203 house members were women. Because of the low percentage, Pennsylvania ranks as 40th in the nation. (New Pittsburgh Courier, April 17, 2016)
Women reached the peak of their labor force participation in 1999, with a rate of 60.0 percent. Since then, labor force participation among women has declined, to 57.0 percent in 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, December 2015.
In 2005, 1,181 women were murdered by an intimate partner. That’s an average of three women every day. Of all the women murdered in the U.S., about one-third were killed by an intimate partner. (According to statistics compiled by the National Organization for Women)
According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, which includes crimes that were not reported to the police, 232,960 women in the U.S. were raped or sexually assaulted in 2006. That’s more than 600 women every day. (According to the National Organization for Women)
Still there are bright spots:
Between 1997 and 2013, the number of women-owned businesses increased by 59 percent – 1½ times the rate of U.S. businesses overall. What’s more, over the past 16 years, employment by companies owned by female entrepreneurs was up by 10% and their revenues grew by 63%. Both of those increases exceed those of all but the largest, publicly traded firms. (Forbes, June 2013)
Today, more than 8.6 million U.S. businesses are owned by women. They generate more than $1.3 trillion in revenues and employ nearly 7.8 million people. (Forbes, June 2013)
Over time, women have increasingly attained higher levels of education: among women ages 25 to 64 who are in the labor force, the proportion with a college degree more than tripled from 1970 to 2014, increasing from 11.2 percent to 40.0 percent. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, December 2015)
I am an eternal optimist, a believer in what is good and right always prevails. The hashtag set up by race organizers was #womenruntheworld. Yes, for one beautiful morning in New York City, we literally ran the world, our steps in harmony encircling Central Park. As wives and mothers, we run the world and impact the next generation. As female leaders, business owners, and entrepreneurs, we set goals not unlike our half-marathon marks—regarding pace and duration. Let’s keep empowering and respecting each other, lifting each other up rather than tearing each other down, as we keep striving (and striding) for change.
Many thanks to the following females colleagues who encouraged me to write this blog, this week: Robin, Kaycee, Wendy, Lisa, and Elle. I deeply appreciate your support! XO
Photos that capture the spirit of the day: Click on any photo to open a slide show: