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As a woman in leadership, you would think I would have a lot to say about this topic…and I do. Yet, as I write this, I worry too about the direction in which these messages can go. I DO love that there are strong women in history who have paved the way so I can actually be a CEO and have this space to write. But as a woman in leadership, I can also say this topic makes me somewhat uncomfortable. I don’t want to be labeled as a strong female leader. I really just want to be seen as a strong leader. Or better yet, a strong person. As much as I like to be in control, I also like to relinquish control. I like to look pretty some days and I also like my sweats. I like to be on the front page and other days I like to hide at home. I want my life to have purpose and meaning, but I accept the fact that I may never be as well-known as Taylor Swift. Does she deserve the crown? Sure. But guess who else does? No, not me J. I think of the women we serve at Hope Clinic; those coming in with an unplanned pregnancy and those trying to live with the consequences of a pregnancy loss. They are all amazing warriors to me, and some of them may never make the front page or any ‘Women of History’ list.
The first women that I think of as playing a strong role in history are those who walked beside and helped finance Jesus during his time in ministry. Those who bravely stood at the Cross while He was crucified. Those who first saw His resurrected body. I love that Jesus knew 2,000 years later the strong role women would play in history. And even further back I think of Esther, Ruth, and Rahab…pretty strong and remarkable women who played an important role in history. Sometimes they acted bravely. Sometimes their very presence was an act of bravery.

Fast forward to the last 100 years and the list includes many great women who changed history. I am sure our lists may be different depending on your religious or political views (which I won’t even touch here J). I do think, no matter who is on your list, that as women have made more and more of a mark on society, it has brought about both good things and new roadblocks to face. In our attempt to be stronger, we sometimes come off as not needing any help. I have seen men lose their chivalry and start to question their role as we grow. I think we are still just trying to figure it out.

This brings me to the women we served 30 years ago and those we serve today. What is the same? These women are facing life-altering decisions that impact their life first and foremost…more so than their partners. The brunt of the decisions and the workload falls on her shoulders. What has changed? On one hand, the world wants to push the man further and further away from her body, her choice, and her decisions. Yet from where I sit, I am not sure that has always been to her benefit. We know full well the cost of young people growing up without a father figure in the home. We know over 90% of those incarcerated have no father. We also know of many women who are actually our clients BECAUSE of a poor father figure in her life. So while we continue to equip and empower these warrior women who walk in our doors, we are also trying to engage their partners in the process. We want them to stand beside her, support her, share in the responsibility and the decision making, and yes, be a part of the parenting process. This is good for her and it is good for the child. We have male therapists talking to the partner so he better knows how to support her. We also have these male therapists talking to the woman so she knows how to better ask for what she needs and deserves. This is a radical change from the original pregnancy center model and one that many others still hold today. But it is one I think is vital for the real long-term success of the women we serve.

So I think being a strong woman doesn’t have to exclude having strong men in her life; just like there is nothing wrong with a strong woman choosing to stand beside her strong husband and taking the number two spot. I think great women in history have never followed one prototype. She can be strong AND meek; empowering AND submissive; outspoken AND quiet; making a mark on the whole world AND just in her own home. I thank God for the many women before me who made it possible for me to have a voice, and I look forward to the women of tomorrow who may have opportunities because of some tiny contribution I have possibly made.

Renée Rizzo, CEO/President