Learning to "Lean In"
Encouraged by the successful female executives she's met, Ahama, an ambitious young woman who identifies herself as an "aspired CPA and JD" in her email signature line, is now working to inspire her classmates. The Lean In Circle she's establishing for women in the business school is designed to help them recognize their potential, and challenge the social norms and belief systems that too often hold them back in their careers.
It's a role Ahama could scarcely have imagined for herself as a child growing up in the small West African nation of Togo, a place where most women do not work outside the home. But as fate would have it, Ahama did not grow up in a typical African household.
Her father immigrated to the United States five years before the rest of the family so he could get established in their new home. Ahama was only 8 years old at the time, and over the next five years, she was raised by her mother and five aunts.
With fiercely independent aunts and a mother whose circumstance required she work outside the home while raising four children, Ahama says she was largely unaware of women's discrimination issues. "I was raised to believe that hard work pays off, and that's all I did," she explains.
But after moving to America and becoming interested in the corporate world, the newly naturalized U.S. citizen says she began to realize that hard work isn't enough. "Hard work won't pay off the way we would like it to if we don't sit at the table and explain how we did the work," Ahama says.
Even here at Susquehanna, a college campus where free expression and open communication are invited and applauded, Ahama says she's felt the weight of unchallenged and often subconscious social norms holding her back. "I began to realize that there were times (in class discussions) where I bit my tongue on certain issues, just because I was afraid how my opinion would be taken or sound. But then two minutes into the conversation, a male student would raise his hand and say the exact same thing I bit my tongue on and be praised for it."