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Podcast Transcript

Women Supporting Women Part Three

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  0:11  
Welcome to "Your Authentic Path to Powerful Leadership" with Marsha Clark. Join us on this journey where we're uncovering what it takes to be a powerful woman leader. Well, Marsha, we've got a full house this week as we continue to celebrate women supporting women and this series.

Marsha Clark  0:30  
That's right. We sure do. And so we are incredibly fortunate today to have two powerful women in the studio. I look at one of them and go, "I remember when you were really little", with us and this is a first for us and that our guests are a mother and daughter.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  0:47  
I know. This is so awesome. So this week's episode is entitled "Raising the Next Generation", which is why we've invited our dear friend and colleague Denise Kirkman and her dynamic daughter, Zoe Bennett. Today, we want to explore this notion of helping the next generation step confidently onto their own authentic paths of powerful leadership. So we're excited to have you both here today.

Denise Kirkman  1:13  
We are excited to be here.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  1:17  
Okay, so Denise and Zoe, we like to start our interview episodes by kind of setting the context for how we're connected to Marsha. So I'm going to have Marsha open up that part of the conversation with the backstory on how she and Denise initially met.

Marsha Clark  1:33  
So Denise and I met in, it would have started in 2008. She is a graduate of the Power of Self Program. You were working at Accenture at that time. And Thear Suzuki, who attended the very first Power of Self Program and who was one of our earlier guests on a podcast episode, introduced us. And basically, at that point in her career, she was able to nominate and sort of sponsor, if you will, women coming into the Power of Self Program. And so that's how Denise and I initially met and at Denise's graduation, which we did at my house at the time. And can I just, I have to say this because every time I see you, this is what I see. So Zoe was about two years old, she was the cutest little thing with a little ballerina tutu on, you know, came prissing into my living room and was as cute and precocious then as she is now. So that's how I met you. And you don't even remember that. It is a vivid, both image and memory in my mind.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  2:34  
So Zoe, I want to hear your background and how what brought you to the Power of Self Program.

Denise Kirkman  2:41  
Well, as Marsha alluded to, I was working for Accenture at the time, and they were nominating women who they thought would be good candidates for Power of Self. And it was interesting because I didn't know much about it. I was excited to be nominated because I had just joined Accenture and so to be nominated that quickly for something and be recognized as a leader, I was like, wow, this is phenomenal. And when we got to Marsha's the environment was very relaxed, and from that it was just I always tell people that for me, being in Power of Self was life changing. The opportunity to really delve into what it takes to be an authentic leader but through self examination and really understanding who you are and why you are that way and how you can leverage that because I think the tagline at the time was about being who you are as an authentic leader and not trying to model what you see others doing. And in order to really be authentic, you have to have an understanding of who you are.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  3:51  
Who you are. Exactly.

Denise Kirkman  3:52  
And from that and talking to Marsha more about her background and realizing that she had gotten her Master's in organizational development from American University and their focus in that program was understanding who you were. And so I went to American and got my Master's in organizational behavior because of Marsha. And you know, I'll say it again. It was life changing for me and it has impacted how I show up in the workplace. It has impacted how I lead, how I treat people, what my focus is when it comes to working. So we already know that she's a phenomenal leader.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  4:34  
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

Marsha Clark  4:35  
You know, I remember us having those conversations because it was not just gonna go back and get your Master's, it was at the same place that I had gotten mine and so seeing you being willing to do the work because you already had one Master's, didn't you?

Denise Kirkman  4:38  
Yes, I had my MBA.

Marsha Clark  4:49  
Not that she's an overachiever or anything! I just remember being so impressed with the fact that you were so committed and dedicated to the continuous learning in a whole different part of yourself based on what we had introduced you to, if you will, but it was amazing. Yeah, yeah, you are amazing.

Denise Kirkman  5:11  
Thank you.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  5:11  
All right, Zoe. It's your turn. So let's hear the background. What grade are you in, what school, favorite subjects. And what are you involved in outside of the classroom?

Zoe Bennett  5:22  
Okay, so I am currently a freshman at The Hockaday School.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  5:27  
For those of you who are not in the Dallas area, The Hockaday School is absolutely the most prestigious girls' school that you could attend in Dallas. I just want to drop that there. Yeah, no biggie or anything.

Zoe Bennett  5:42  
I think my favorite subject, it's honestly really hard to choose because I think that the teachers at Hockaday really make every subject interesting, at least from my perspective. But I think that my favorite this year has probably been physics and history.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  6:04  
Okay. That's an interesting combo.

Marsha Clark  6:06  
I was gonna say that it's an interesting combination.

Zoe Bennett  6:09  
Usually you hear math and science or English and history.

Marsha Clark  6:12  
Yeah. Okay. Kind of like a whole brain thing.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  6:16  
Awesome. That's awesome. So any, any hobbies or extracurriculars?

Zoe Bennett  6:20  
A lot of stuff. So I'm in choir, inside of school and outside of school. I'm in an organization called the Greater Dallas Choral Society. And I also row for my school. I think that's all. Oh, I forgot. I'm in my school's musical.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  6:42  
Fantastic. What are y'all doing?

Zoe Bennett  6:44  
We're doing Addams Family.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  6:47  
Which character are you?

Zoe Bennett  6:49  
So I'm an ancestor. It's like, but I did get called back for Morticia. I'm crossing my fingers for next year that I get a good roll.

Denise Kirkman  7:00  
It's a big deal for a freshmen to get a call back.

Marsha Clark  7:02  
I was gonna say that's a big deal. And what our listeners don't know when we were chatting before we started recording is that Zoe performed last night at the Meyerson, which is the Dallas Symphony Orchestra hall here. So that's a big deal too, just learning to perform in front of lots of people.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  7:21  
That's good. That's excellent training for those CEO roles. (That's right.) So Denise, just to get a sense of timing, then how old was Zoe when you were going through the Power of Self Program, and what was that like juggling her in this program?

Marsha Clark  7:35  
And work and, and.

Denise Kirkman  7:37  
So she was around, I know she was around two when we graduated. It was a challenge juggling being a mom, doing consulting and the commitment to Power of Self. And I can remember some very direct conversations that Marsha had with me about my level of commitment, and having to make a decision. It's all about priorities. And if this is your priority, and this is your commitment, then you've got to make some decisions around being here, mostly because it was just one of the things that we also learned in our organizational behavior course was when you are in the room and when you are not in the room, you have impact. And so you have a responsibility to acknowledge and own what your impact is, whether you are there or not. Everybody else is committed to being there and their expectation is you're going to be there as well. You have something valuable to bring to the table. And everybody learns from that. And so I had to make a decision, a real conscious, intentional decision to be there when I said I was going to be there. My executives already knew that they were paying for me to be there. So there was not that excuse that "Well, I had something come up at work." It just wasn't gonna fly.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  9:11  
Well, yeah. And I want to just underscore the point of, you know, when you're there, it's not just physically being in the room. It's the focus and the energy that you're bringing, and the you know, just being committed to being present. Yeah, exactly.

Marsha Clark  9:27  
Well, and I also want to say, in this program, and really anytime you get a group of people together, and what I say at the beginning of every program I do is you're going to learn as much from each other as you're going to learn from me. Well, if you're not in the room, they can't learn from you, right? I mean, so you're missing out on a significant part of the learning process because women learn through stories and in relationships. And that's what this program builds is the community so that we're in it together and we give the time to share the stories and build those relationships. So you were missed.

Denise Kirkman  10:00  
Yes, yes. The other thing that was going on that was a challenge was I was going through a separation at the time. So it was balancing and juggling all of that and still remembering that I needed to be intentional about the things that I was committed to. And that's just a life lesson. Things are going to happen in life, but you have commitment and responsibilities outside of that. And you are responsible for that.

Marsha Clark  10:28  
Yeah. And I want to add to that. I put a lot of sort of boldface exclamation points on these. And when I think about when you're going through a lot and it's hard, taking care of yourself and refueling, replenishing self care is even more important. (Absolutely.) And we're so easy to let that go. That's a great lesson for you to learn and hold on to.

Zoe Bennett  10:53  
Something that I've had to learn this year, Hockaday is very much a lot and I've been involved in a lot of stuff this year. You know, I was in the Dallas opera's performance of Hansel and Gretel, I'm in choir outside of school, I row and rowing is like a huge time commitment. And we row on Mondays, we were an hour in the morning and then two hours in the afternoon, the rest of the week we had two hours. We even have Saturday morning practice. We only got Sunday off. So balancing that and choir and this opera stuff, keeping my grades up, you know, and still having to find time like for myself. Yeah, it was like a lot. Like the past couple of weeks have definitely been a lot, especially since you're still kind of getting into the groove of things because high school is a very different experience than middle school. Because I did go to middle school at Hockaday, middle school was a lot more intense in terms of like, people are very much on you about getting stuff done. Where's this homework? Where's this assignment? Where's this project? But in high school, like our teachers don't do that. If you turn stuff in late and like, you just get those points off your grade. And that's kind of it. Like you can ask for extensions, of course. But that has to be planned in advance.

Marsha Clark  12:12  
Yeah I love the teaching life skills of accountability. Yeah, self sufficiency, self reliance, and those are hugely important lessons. And I get I mean, I just think about how many things the young people in our lives today. If you don't have all those extracurriculars, you can't get into the college you want and all those kinds of things. So it starts early. And I forget when I read this, and I think it was the millennials and it has continued with the Gen Z's. They are the most scheduled children on record. So I mean, it's Monday after school is gymnastics. Tuesday is soccer. Wednesday is choir. Thursday is, I mean every minute of every day.

Denise Kirkman  12:52  
We were just having this conversation on the way over here about how do we fit in all the things that we want to do. Now, how do we fit that into not only her schedule, but my schedule?

Marsha Clark  13:06  
Yeah, multiples. Yes.

Denise Kirkman  13:09  
How do we fit all that in?

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  13:10  
So Denise, what do you remember coming back from, speaking of teachings, do you remember coming back from the Power of Self Program modules and sharing any specific content or tools with Zoe?

Denise Kirkman  13:22  
I don't think, well, because she was so young.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  13:26  
Well, then let's apply that more now.

Denise Kirkman  13:29  
But I left the Power of Self very intentional about how I wanted to help her shape who she was. One of the gifts that we got from Marsha's program was we all got these mugs that were yellow mugs. And on the front, they said power. And on the inside of it, it said you choose. And that was very impactful to me. It was very powerful to me because with everything that was going on, work and professionally, at the end of the day, I got to choose, I get to choose the impact and how I respond to what's happening in my life. And so that was very powerful. So those are the kinds of things that I wanted to make sure as she was growing, as she was developing her sense of who she is and navigating who she is, amongst all these other little people who are figuring out who they are, the main focus for me was making sure that she knew how to communicate effectively. So using your feeling words, and using that model that when you are in conflict or disagreement with someone to make sure that you are isolating what the issue is, and not reacting emotionally and using your words to say "When you did this, this is how it made me feel."  So let's talk about that. And help me understand what you were thinking and feeling. And then let's have a conversation around how we can move past it, right. Now that's a lot. Zoe, even at a young age, she was very emotionally aware. Yes, she was having, I'll never forget this. She must have been about five and she was having a conflict, one of the girls in kindergarten. And just out of nowhere, one evening, she says, Mom, can I talk to you? And she says, Well, I'm having an issue. And I know you have a lot of experience. And she said it just that way. And she used those words. And we had a very mature conversation about the conflict that she was having with this little girl. And she said, Well, yeah, but I'm not that worried about it because I know she just doesn't get me yet. But she will.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  16:07  
How insightful. How mature.

Denise Kirkman  16:10  
Those are the things that I took on Power of Self and wanted to cultivate with her as she got older. So I wasn't able to specifically use certain tools. But as I, like I said, as she got older, and we get to the dreaded middle school, because that is where you really have to have a clear sense of who you are. (Yeah.) Right, so we worked on things and we talked about boundaries. And we worked on communication. You know we worked on understanding, having a clear sense of self because if you don't have a clear sense of self, you're not going to be able to set boundaries.

Marsha Clark  16:12  
And know your value system and make choices accordingly.

Denise Kirkman  16:20  
Absolutely. Knowing what your value system is so that you can set boundaries to say yes, I do want this in my life, no, I don't. But as a parent also stepping back and allowing that to play out. So then we can have a conversation that is more effective because she's got some real world examples of how this happened, what happened and how it affected her.

Marsha Clark  17:26  
So Zoe, I want to hear what that felt like from your side. And I want to make a couple of points. So by five, a child's brain is 60% developed. Those immediate and early neural pathways are being lain that are foundational to us for the rest of our lives, good, bad or ugly. By 10 values are typically established. And knowing those values is hugely important as you go into the middle years, where it's called the beginning of the individuation process which says our children are going to start moving away from what parents tell, and they're going to be more influenced by their peers than they are their parents. So you better have laid some of those good, strong foundational elements. And what I love about your story at five, and even going into middle school years, is that you didn't lay it off to she's a drama queen, right? You know, because that's what happens. I hear that all the time. And you recognize what was happening. And either thinking, isn't that cute, or isn't she precocious, or she used big words, or whatever that is, versus really seeing her as a human being. And this is a teaching opportunity and a learning moment in a meaningful way that will, I'm gonna bet, stay with you for a really long time. So tell us what it was like to be on the receiving end.

Zoe Bennett  18:48  
Um, so I'm 14 now, going on 15. But I think that the whole boundaries thing, this really played a huge part in my life, my 14 years of living.

Marsha Clark  19:05  
Ya got what ya got. I mean, yeah, pay attention.

Zoe Bennett  19:08  
But even recently, so when I was in eighth grade, I had moved school, home schooled for a year and came back. There was a group of girls that I was friends with, I really liked them. They were nice to me. But as we were friends for longer, I started to notice some behaviors, language that I didn't like and I didn't agree with it. I didn't think it was okay. So I first you know, started off with Hey, guys like maybe let's not say that. Here's why this may be offensive or, you know, we can find better ways to communicate. Because a lot of what was happening and this is typical with teenage girls, it was a lot of we're acting like we're friends around each other, but then like secretly behind our backs, you know, we like talk about each other. So I attempted to approach it from, like, hey, we can fix this. But as I was friends with them, I started to like, realize, like, hey, this is not something I can fix. And every time I do say something about it, it's like, oh, yeah, you know, you're right. But then the stuff, you know. Yeah. So it just got to a point where I just had to put my foot down. And I was like, I don't know if I can be around you guys anymore. And I wasn't nasty about it and make it into a whole situation. I just slowly distanced myself. And, you know, it was what it was. But I think that that was, I think that really will stick with me for a while. Because what I got out of that experience was knowing that it's okay to set your boundaries and to be very clear about maintaining them, and not allowing other people to affect your experience, how you experience the world, because...

Marsha Clark  21:14  
Dang. You're ready to start teaching, girl!

Zoe Bennett  21:20  
After that, it was like, I really got close with a girl who's like now literally, my best friend. Like, even after I left school there, you know, we still talk we still hang out. So I really got closer with her. I made a lot more good friends, friends that I felt like I could really confide in and friends that I could hang out with and not have to worry about oh, you know, is this one going to be upset with another one at any given time for any given reason? It can be small, it can be big. So I just really started to make good friends, like I said.

Marsha Clark  22:05  
And to know what good friends are.

Zoe Bennett  22:06  
Right. I think that was also one of the like, really big lessons that I had to take out of that was that, you know, Mom says all the time, everyone who is friendly to you is not your friend. And I think I really took that to heart. And I've taken it kind of into the school year back at Hockaday. You know, I've been with those girls, most of them, since I was in kindergarten, you know, fifth grade. And I think that it's allowed me to be a lot more intentional about the things that I let into my life. Saying, hey, maybe let's stop with that. Or like, hey, I don't want that around me right now.

Marsha Clark  22:51  
And the lessons, the age that you're learning these lessons is extraordinarily important, too, because I'm not kidding you Zoe. We have women coming in their 30's, 40's, 50's and even 60's who have not yet learned what you just described, and the clarity, the courage, the boundaries, knowing what real friendship is. And I think about who you can trust and who you can't trust because that's what I, the minute I hear they're talking about others behind their back, well, that means they're probably talking about me behind mine but that doesn't really build trust within a relationship.

Zoe Bennett  23:27  
That was like the number one thing for me because I'm like, if you can feel comfortable talking about someone who you've been supposedly best friend's with since seventh grade, sixth grade, even, what does that say about me, someone who just came into the group? And yes, I am kind of opinionated. And so I might not mesh well, like, I might not agree with you all the time on everything. So I was just like, I don't know if I want to be around them.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  24:01  
Right. Right. Those who will talk to you are almost always talking about you.

Marsha Clark  24:05  
Right. Nice. Wendi-ism. Wendi-ism.  

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  24:09  
So let's put it on a magnet.  So Zoe, when you hear the phrases "stepping into your power" or "being on a path of authentic, powerful leadership",  what does that mean to you?

Zoe Bennett  24:23  
I think that what comes to mind is just being your authentic self. And, you know, I've talked with mom about this a couple of times. What being a leader, at least for me, really comes down to is not allowing yourself to be swayed by other people, not allowing yourself to make decisions that go against your values and what you consider to be right and really staying true to who you are as a person. And knowing what you want. That's a big thing because to me, you can't lead someone on their journey if you don't know where you're going, or at least you don't have an idea. You know, you don't have to have it all sorted out, because no one really ever does all the time. But you at least have to have some kind of conviction, some kind of, I know what I want to do and I know how I want things to happen.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  25:37  
Yeah. What about this word "powerful"? How does that impact you, because I haven't heard you respond to that yet. And then Mom, I want to hear from you.

Zoe Bennett  25:46  
Power to me, is no, it kind of goes back to what I was talking about earlier, being comfortable in yourself and being comfortable with the fact that not every decision you make is going to please everyone. Not everyone's going to like you. And it is power, to me, to be able to understand that and to use that to take advantage of your gifts and your abilities. Because I think that no one can really reach their full potential if you're trying to please this one, that one, you know, whatever.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  26:27  
Yeah, and that's giving your power away.

Zoe Bennett  26:30  
Exactly. You can really only truly be powerful if you're doing it for yourself.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  26:37  
Yep. All right, Denise.

Marsha Clark  26:39  
I am blown away. It's like you read and wrote the book, or wrote and read the book. I mean, it's amazing the wisdom that you have at age 14, almost 15. And the idea of giving your power away or holding on to your power is a huge lesson as well. So your clarity around that is impressive. Way to go, mom.

Denise Kirkman  27:04  
She came here this way. You know, I've kind of guided, but she has always had a very strong sense of what is right and what is not right.

Zoe Bennett  27:17  
So it's to say I'm a rule follower. (Yeah.)

Denise Kirkman  27:20  
But in terms of her connection to other human beings she's always been very sensitive to that. And kind. And so we actually did her StrengthsFinder. And so she is very strong, in connectedness, very strong in intellection, relator, those things and restorative. Those things are very important to her. And so I noticed how she is when she is working with others even at five, and we would talk about these disagreements that she would be having. And I would tell her well, you know, sometimes you might have to dial this back or dial. And she would say, but why do I have to change? Why do I have to become a different person when that person is not doing the right thing? And so I would have to check myself to say, you're right. You don't have to change. But that's in the perfect world. So in order to protect yourself, here's some things that you can do. But she's always had a very strong sense of who she is, what's important to her, and the importance of being kind and including everyone. Nothing I think gets her dander up more than to see people being mistreated and not included, you know, regardless of your race, your gender identity, your physical ability. She is very in tune to how you treat others and the impact that you have on them. (And the modeling that you're doing whether or not.) Absolutely and that it shows. I've had several moms from her school across the year come to me and say, when we talk about, mom talk, who is the nicer girl, she always comes up in that conversation. As matter of fact, I had dinner with a friend and her nephew goes to St. Mark's, it's just a brother school. They never really had any interaction with those boys, just you know, maybe one event here or there. She had just started middle school and the conversation that this person came back to me and said was our nephew said she is one of the nicest girls in the class. (Wow.) And so her reputation who she is being her authentic self, it just radiates.

Zoe Bennett  30:13  
It stayed. Since you know, that happened in like sixth grade, I'm pretty sure even now, like I've had, among my friends at St. Mark's and Hockaday, we've had plenty, plenty of disagreements about various topics. But I always try to approach those disagreements from a not from an accusatory perspective, just have a, you know, if someone is objectively wrong, like, Hey, here's why this is wrong. And like, I'm not going to attack you for it. Because I understand that, you know, we all live different lives. And we all different factors play into how we formulate our beliefs and our values. But I've never come at it from an accusatory perspective. And, you know, the guys that I'm friends with at St. Mark's have told me like, hey, like, I think that you're one of the nicest people at Hockaday. Or like, you know, you're one of the nicest girls that I've met. And so it's something that I definitely pride myself on. (That's wonderful.) I don't want to ever be the person that people remember as this girl treated me horribly, because oftentimes, when people look back at memories, they don't necessarily remember... they remember the extremes. They remember, this person treated me very well, or this person treated me horribly. And I don't want to be on the opposite end of that spectrum.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  31:48  
Yeah. Well, something that I want to just offer our listeners very quickly is that I want to go back to Denise's point that she did the StrengthsFinder test with Zoe. I think for those of you moms, dads who are listening to this, how amazing to do that with your child and then cater your discipline, your the way that you're raising them, to what their strengths are. So I just wanted to like give that a little highlight.

Marsha Clark  32:19  
Yeah, a couple of things, too. You know, I think about the "Why do I have to change?" Again, I'm going to tell you that women come to the class, it's always an over under bet before the women say when are the men going to have to learn how to deal with that? So you know, that whole idea is something. What I want you, Zoe, and our listeners to hear is that I don't have to change myself, or compromise or violate my values. And yet there are many ways that I can deliver that, right. So it's not changing me. The what stays the same, the how is different because as the communicators, it's our job to communicate our intended message. You can't read my mind and you can't read my mind and you can't read my mind. So how do I speak about this in a way that you can hear and understand me in my intended message way. And then the other thing I wanted to say is that even as I heard you listing her strengths, the whole idea of emotional intelligence, EQ, and what the studies now show us is that EQ is a greater predictor of personal and professional success than IQ. And if you got going with physics and history, I'm just saying, you know, and you've got this relationship piece that's a that's a powerful speaking a powerful, a powerful combination.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  33:43  
So I want to jump real quick Zoe. I want to underline on this whole idea about being authentic. And I'm going to address specifically for those of our listeners who have children in your age range. Let's talk about Tik Tok and Instagram and all these feeds telling, especially girls but sometimes boys also, how they should look and dress and all of these things. Is it challenging for you to be yourself or do you just turn it off?

Zoe Bennett  34:12  
Social media conversation is definitely a dual edged sword. It's something that I've personally thought about a lot because I think that while Tik Tok especially has done so so much or diversifying and allowing people to see others that look like them, that act like them, you know, have the same values and views as them, it feels like an echo chamber a lot of times. And it's like the beauty standards that have been, you know, upheld for decades...(centuries).  It just feels like it's all condensed into this one little place and I think that Instagram, not so much. Instagram has kind of like, died out. But Tik Tok especially, it just creates an environment where I think that a lot of people feel like they have to keep warm, right? Yeah, um, you know, me personally, I don't know if I feel that because for me, it's always (it may sound silly), but for me, it's always been a matter of just turn it off. Yeah, like really, truly no one is forcing you to act a certain way, be a certain way. And I understand that there's societal pressure and peer pressure and all of that. But for me, it's just click off the screen, ya know, if you're getting hate comments, or, you know, you're not pretty, or you're...just click it off. Because, to me, it's just a matter of I'm not going to let someone who doesn't even know me to determine my worth. Right? (Amen.) There could be a multitude of things I've gone through that this person on the internet doesn't know. So to me, it's just I don't feel like I have to justify myself to that person because I'm never going to speak to you again. Like, I don't even know who you are.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  36:23  
Yeah. So Denise, as an observer, what do you see in terms of how Zoe's peers do or don't own their power? Does it like, does it feel like to you that we're making any progress at all in this area?

Denise Kirkman  36:39  
So in some ways, yes and in some ways, no. And I think I'm in a unique position, because she goes to an all girls school. And it's academically challenging. And so on the one hand, I do see girls who have this unfettered access to follow whatever it is that they that interests them, whether it's, you know, heavy in science, or heavy in the arts, or wherever it is, because they don't have that dynamic in the classroom.

Zoe Bennett  37:12  
You know, we have uniforms. No one really wears makeup because we're all too focused on other things to care. We have access to so many, you know, facilities. We have a planetarium. We have multiple 3d printers, we have, you know, all kinds of biology, chemistry labs, and that kind of thing.

Denise Kirkman  37:34  
But I was surprised when I had a conversation with the girls about, because now they're starting to interact with the boys more. Mixers. And so we had a conversation about Zoe's experience being in public school, coed, and what it's like, for them not being in classes with boys. And I was surprised, because I specifically asked the question, do you think if you were in class with boys, that it would have an impact on how you interact in class, would you be as apt to raise your hands and ask questions? I expected the answer to be well, yeah, I would, because they've been in this all girls environment, some of them since they were four. But the answer that I got was probably not so much.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  38:31  
Isn't that surprising? Like even today in 2022-2023 it's surprising to me. But then I'm not a parent.

Marsha Clark  38:40  
Well, but here's where I go with that and this is in most of our proposals and all of our literature. What we know is that the programs I teach could be taught to men as well as women. The difference when it's all women is we have different conversations, and we talk about things we wouldn't talk about if there were men in the room. And we ask the real questions, right. And so on one hand, it's surprising and on the other hand, it's not. The part that is a bit surprising to me is the innateness of it. Yeah, right. That's, I think your point, Denise, is that they have no experience upon which to draw. It is just a natural response that comes from somewhere.

Denise Kirkman  39:18  
So that to me, is the double edged sword. Just my experience with all girls education, because I think that there is a benefit for the girls to be in school with boys from the start. Yeah, it kind of demystifies the whole interaction. The girl boy, the coed, it demystifies that to me. The longer that they are in same sex education then the boys become these things that now they have access to, you know, because we're starting to do mixers and they're starting. But we got hormones and stuff going on, right? And so the focus at that age is hooking up, you know, I think he's cute, he thinks I'm cute, because they haven't had that experience of just platonic interaction with boys.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  40:18  
Right, when they were younger, just boys being friends.

Zoe Bennett  40:23  
Like that was the thing that I noticed when I went to public school. Like, when I first got there, I thought it was gonna be so much different than it was. And I was actually, I was friends with a lot of guys and it wasn't weird. It wasn't like, every time he said something, to me, that must mean that he wants to marry me. I was in history class last year, and I was at a table with three other guys. And like, we just like talked, and it was like, they were actually really funny. I think that, that's the one thing that I've noticed is just that on the boys side, too. It's almost like, the girls don't know how to interact with the boys and the boys don't know how to interact with the girls. And like the difference that I've seen, so you know, St. Mark's and Hockaday get a new kind of batch of students in fifth grade and in ninth grade. So this year, I've, you know, I've met some new people, football games, that kind of thing. And the difference that I've seen and how I interact, there's one guy that I'm friends with, (He went to public school for all his life up until this year) the difference in my interactions with him versus guys that have gone there since like fifth grade or something like that or even younger, it is so drastic. It's like everything has to be more than it is (exaggerated). Right. But you know, when I'm talking to my friend, you know, that went to public school it's just like I'm talking to one of my girlfriends. You know, I don't feel any kind of pressure, whatever doesn't feel awkward, it doesn't feel weird. And we can just interact and be friends without it being anything more than that.

Marsha Clark  42:11  
I've heard I've asked this question and been asked this question a lot of would you recommend sending girls to all girl schools? And to me, there's trade offs with every decision that you make, because if I'm not having to compete with boys, either for the teachers attention or because there's, you know, stuff, the hormonal stuff going on, or whatever, then I can just be myself and I can put myself out there and not be afraid of being too much, very much. And yet that trade off is I don't get you know, this natural interaction. And therefore every interaction I do have with someone of the opposite sex becomes bigger than life and that exaggerated form. So it's a trade off situation. But I do appreciate where the same gender or same sex schools do have mixers so that there's at least some opportunity to have those exchanges without it being, to at least make it more natural.

Zoe Bennett  43:06  
Yeah, I think it gets better as we get older because, yeah, you know, there are football games, Homecoming and winter formal and all this other kind of stuff. So it does get better as you get older. But I think that first kind of initial like, we're taking steps, is very weird.

Denise Kirkman  43:22  
I think the answer is, it's yes. I do think that we are making impact. I think this generation and their view on things, has a lot to do with it. But there's still that, that biology piece that comes into play that I don't think that you can avoid. But think in terms of girls, young women, feeling like it's okay for them to speak what's on their mind. For them to go for what it is that they want. I do think that we've made some progress because they don't know anything different.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  44:02  
Right, right. Right. Right. So I'm going to ask you both this question, Zoe and Denise, what do you think is the biggest obstacle young girls are facing today when it comes to feeling powerful and staying true to themselves and being authentic? Zoe, I'm going to let you go first.

Zoe Bennett  44:19  
Okay. I honestly think that the biggest obstacle and this can go two ways, you know, like we were talking about earlier, I'm gonna say social media. Like I said, dual edged sword. Yeah, it is a real source of like reassurance because I did kind of struggle a lot with like, as far as physical appearance goes, I struggled a lot with like, you know, how I look and am I pretty and all that other kind of stuff. But as I saw more representation of girls that look like me, girls that were interested in the same things, the more comfortable I became in myself and I needed less reassurance from outside sources of, you know, am I pretty, you know, will this guy like me, XYZ. Um, I think that it can definitely be beneficial. But I also think that that aspect of Tik Tok being an echo chamber, it just, it's so polarized to the point where if you don't look like this, if you don't, you know, act like this, dress like this, I feel like, you become like an object of ridicule. And we've, like, I've seen it so many times, you know, with the whole stuff with Dream. He was like a Twitch streamer and he didn't show his face for a long time. Like, he had been famous for several years. And he did not show his face because he didn't want people to judge him because of that. And he got to a point this year, and he was like, okay, you know, I'm ready to show my face. And then he just got completely ridiculed on the internet. And I just, it was like, for at least two weeks, it was like all people could talk about and, you know, people have their own issues with him, because he said some controversial things. But it's just like, if you can see that about like a stranger on the internet like that, you know, yeah, it's even more amplified for women. So I think that social media really is a big, it plays a big role in people's lives, positive or negative.

Marsha Clark  46:51  
Yeah. So I want to if I may, Denise, just to talk about some of this. I did a book review, On The Nightstand book review podcast on The 5 Disciplines of Inclusive Leadership. And one of the really, I thought, strong points that this book made was that, as human beings, we are looking for those places where we are connected. So this goes to the, I want to see people on there who look like me to know that I'm not alone, or that it's not just happening to me, or I'm not the only one thinking or feeling this way. So we're looking for those places of connection. And yet, in the spirit of diversity, we're going to have some differences. And rather than ridicule or blast or shame people for those differences, if I'm comfortable in who I am, I can let you be comfortable in who you are. And we can see those differences. And we're not going to do all the ugly things that we can do if we're only living in our echo chambers. So that balance is a fine balance and it's a both/and not an either/or.

Denise Kirkman  48:05  
Absolutely. I think for me, I think the biggest obstacle that young girls face today is balancing the messages that they get from society. Because on the one hand, you have a very powerful feminist message that says you can be what you want to be. But then there's the social piece of it, right, that is much as we lift women up and celebrate the progress that they've made. There is this countervailing pressure that says, but if you don't have children, but if you're not too successful, but too ambitious, because we are still the, in some instances, a lot of instances, the caretakers of male psyche. And so you see this backlash to what has been this progress for women and celebrating that, the backlash, and it's become, you know, social, it's become political around what women, what's the traditional role and what women should be. (Yep. Should be.) Exactly. What we expect to be, what they were and you throw in politics, you throw in religion, and so country cultures, exactly. You throw all of that in, and they're, they're battling, and I think that that pressure has always been there. I think even more so now, because of how polarized things are. That it definitely is an obstacle these girls, young women, still have to choose to a certain degree. They have to choose who they want to be. So the obstacle is going to be how do we help them navigate those pressures that are coming in, to still get to who they are as authentic people, how they can live out their authenticity, and manage all of those other voices that are saying, here's who you should be.

Marsha Clark  50:21  
Yep. And figuring out which battles to fight and win, because there's a place to stand. And so Winston Churchill, the courage to know when to stand up and speak and the courage to know when to sit down and listen, and that's gonna be different for different people for different reasons now. And yet the clarity of that, and the intentionality I think you hit on that, the intentionality of it all is really going to be critical - is critical.  It's not going to be, it is critical.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  50:48  
So Denise, as we start to wrap up here, for all the moms or mentors of young women out there listening today, what words of wisdom do you want to leave with them in terms of raising and supporting this next generation of powerful and authentic women leaders?

Marsha Clark  51:06  
Besides cloning Zoe?

Denise Kirkman  51:07  
I think I have to go back to helping them be clear on who they are. And one of the things that my mom did for my sister and I was, it was important to her that we be kind, it was important to her that, she used to always tell us, there's nobody out here that's better than you. But you're not better than anybody else out here. So having a clear sense of that, and tying it to having a sense that there is something or someone that you are accountable to whether that is faith, whether that is a belief system, whatever you want to call it, value system, you are accountable to someone and something else. And that was the grounder from a behavior perspective. And everything else just kind of sprung from that, right? Having a clear understanding of who you are. The thing that I've learned from working in my Master's was, who are you and what are your motivations? And really being clear about that and the point at which you work those things and you have those conversations, it's going to change because they're not going to be able to understand it depending on how old they are and the age appropriate appropriateness of it. But I heard something on the radio today that said, we are at a point where we value self expression over self control. And so working with our young girls, around self control, self awareness, and then self expression, what is appropriate. And impact, I think as well is very important. So if I had to give those words of wisdom as you're raising young girls, and you know, wherever it is in that point where they start to identify who they are, what their value systems is, is really important to help them stay in touch with who they are and what they want. And one of the things that we learned in Power of Self was use your voice.

Marsha Clark  53:39  
Amen. I love that you're having very deliberate conversations with Zoe. And I think that's another one. These are hard conversations, and you don't always know what to say. And that's why it requires you to be clear about who you are. The fact that you can be clear about who you are, Denise, makes it a whole lot easier to have those conversations with Zoe. And I think we've got to do some self work (Absolutely) before we can do parenting work or friend work or daughter work or sister work or anything else.

Denise Kirkman  54:04  
It's like Zoe said earlier, as a leader, and parents are leaders, I can't take you anywhere if I don't know where I'm going. If I don't know who I am, and what's important to me, how am I going to teach her to walk her authentic path? I can't. And so that's work that we have to do and we have to peel off all of the things that we've been told about who we are and who we should be. And just get to the nitty gritty of who are we and what do we want?

Marsha Clark  54:38  
Yep, who do we choose to be? To me it's not just who we should be. It's who do we choose to be and how do we choose to show up in the world bringing clarity and intentionality.

Denise Kirkman  54:45  
You choose. You do have power in choice.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  54:56  
Alright, Zoe. Your turn. What advice do you have for young women out there?

Zoe Bennett  55:01  
So I think that the biggest piece of advice that I can give, and I'm sure that this is not the only time that this has been said, but remembering that your mother is also a person.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  55:15  
Ah, listen to her!

Zoe Bennett  55:19  
No, my mom and I, we had our little rough patch. But I think we had a rough patch earlier than most people have their rough patch, like 6th/7th grade.

Denise Kirkman  55:30  
Yeah, from 10 to 13.

Marsha Clark  55:32  
That tweener.

Zoe Bennett  55:33  
Oh, it was rough. Yeah. But I think we both got a lot out of that, learning how to communicate with one another and learning how to be empathetic with one another, you know, not just on her end, on my end, too. Because, you know, even when it comes down to the small, nitty gritty stuff, like, you know, my mom is a single parent. And it was like, I would complain about doing the dishes about, you know, cleaning, that kind of thing, doing chores. And it's just, it makes, I realized that it makes her life a lot harder when I don't do what she asks. And it makes our day to day interactions a lot more stressful than they need to be, you know, things as simple as getting up for school in the morning. (Yeah, on time.) It was like, it was a battle every single morning. But, you know, I think that really having empathy for your mother and also knowing how to communicate yourself clearly, you should be able, or I hope, I hope that everyone is able to build a relationship with their mother where they feel comfortable saying, 'Hey, you know, when you did this, it made me feel this way', and being able to have an open dialogue about that. Because there have been times of course, where, you know, something upsets me but I feel like, I feel comfortable talking to my mom and saying, "Hey, Mom, you know, this kind of upset me. Can we talk about it?" And she's receptive to that information. And she comes with, "Hey, you know, I wasn't intending to make you feel this way". And I also now understand that there are so many other factors in my mom's life that play into how we interact. We don't live in a vacuum. You know, it's not just me and her. She has work, she has, you know, other stuff that she has to deal with like my extracurricular, she has her relationship. So she has all these other things that she has to deal with. And I have a bunch of other things that I have to deal with - friends, school, extracurriculars. And all of that plays into how we interact with each other, and those little short offhanded comments, or you know, being annoyed, or those kinds of things. Even just acknowledging it and saying, "Hey, I didn't mean to come off this way. I didn't mean to, you know, take this tone with you" or etc. Even just acknowledging that and not just brushing it off as oh, well, you know, she'll know. She'll know I didn't mean it like that. Because it means a whole lot more, like you said earlier, like, we're not mind reader's. (That's right.)

And I specifically remember one time I was in the car, we were in the car on the way home. And it was right after first day of tryouts for rowing. And now we have to run. I'm not a runner. I am not a runner. That's why I signed up for rowing. I did not know we were going to have to run. So we ran our little mile. I came in like, second to last. And I was really, really upset. I was very upset. I was nervous. Because when I tell you 30 girls tried out for the team, 15 made it in the end. And he told us he was going to take anywhere from well, to 16. So I was like, "Oh my gosh, oh my gosh." So I'm freaking out. And I don't remember what happened. But you know, I think I was late to coming out to the car. I told her that I was going to be out at a certain time. But um, you know, something, we were still finishing up with the trial. And she was like, "No, you told me you were going to be out at this time. Why weren't you out at this time?" because it had been like 10 - 20 minutes later. And I just gotten so frustrated with her and I was just, it was not my best moment. I think she noticed that something was wrong. Because like, I don't at least I'd like to think I don't usually act like that. And she asked me, she was like, did something happen at trials? What's wrong? And I explained to her and I told her, you know, I don't feel like tryouts went very well today. And she apologized. She was like, I'm sorry for being so you know, strict when you were, you know, feeling this way. And I told her, I was like, I'm sorry because you couldn't have known that trials didn't go well, because I didn't tell her anything about trials until she asked. So that just goes to show that there are always two sides to the story. And recognizing that there are two sides of the story, and allowing that to affect your interactions with your parents, whether it be your mother or your father or any of your family members. That is so important. And that is, once again, the biggest piece of advice that I can give.

Marsha Clark  1:01:13  
So I want to call out one Power of Self thing that you probably don't even realize you represented and what you said, when you were talking about this is how I feel, you didn't deny her feelings. You didn't tell her she shouldn't feel that way. When she said, you said, Denise, I didn't intend, right. This is one of the things we teach, right, is that I can't tell you, you shouldn't feel a certain way. I can tell you that was never my intention. So you're practicing Power of Self language in that exchange and I just wanted to call that out.

Denise Kirkman  1:01:46  
Well, you know, like I said, you know, that rough patch for us from 10 to 13, we had to figure out another way to communicate. I didn't want her to feel like she couldn't talk to me.

Zoe Bennett  1:01:58  
Because there was no way we were getting from 10 to 18.

Denise Kirkman  1:02:04  
But I had to lead, I had to model it. (Yes, you did.) So, the behavior I had to come off my "you do as I say", and come down to say, "I need to understand. Help me to understand". We don't always get it right, and but using that model of feedback, you know, that feedback model, it allows us to get to a place where I can say well, okay, now I understand. And that was not my intention. What can I do to make that better? How could I have done it differently?

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  1:02:40  
And then learn. And I'm not a parent at all but I just want to say for the parents that are out there, that that conversation and the way you just framed that, Denise, that's not giving your power or your authority away as her parent, either. But it's fully acknowledging that you're trying to build a relationship here. That's not a helicopter mom, a catering mom, you know, it's none of that. It's respectful. But it's also with the intention of we're not going to continue to talk to each other this way.

Denise Kirkman  1:03:18  
Absolutely. And we own, we both own coming to a solution that works for both of us.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  1:03:28  
Well, Denise, Zoe, thank you so much for agreeing to be on the show today. This has been wonderful. It's been powerful. It's been inspiring and an enlightening conversation.

Marsha Clark  1:03:39  
I also just want our listeners to know I mean, Wendi, Denise, and I all have our little script notes in front of us. Zoe is sitting over here just winging it. Just winging the whole thing. No piece of paper in front of her. So when I watch that, when I experience that, I really, I mean, that is impressive. And it's real. It's real. It's authentic, it's sincere, it's genuine. And it comes from a place deep inside of you. Do not lose it. Please do not lose that. This is our future, folks. Yay! Yay is what I say to that!

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  1:04:16  
That's right. Well, thank you, listeners for joining us on this journey today of authentic, powerful leadership and you really got something special here today. Please download, subscribe and share this podcast. For those of you who are parents, why don't you listen to this with your kids. That would be amazing, or your grandkids, from wherever you like to listen to podcasts. And please visit Marsha's website at to sign up for her email list, connect with her on social media and of course get her book if you haven't gotten it already, "Embracing Your Power".

Marsha Clark  1:04:55  
Well, I want to thank you, Wendi, as always because you got us through these conversations. Denise and Zoe, amazing.  Love, love, love this conversation. And you know, my granddaughter is going to do a podcast. And I think we have her scheduled for April. And she's very excited about it. And I want her to meet you. She's 10. And I'm thinking you're a few years ahead of that. And now I can see a little bit of that crazy making with her mama going on, starting to creep in. And I just think that's a hugely wonderful thing for, just like we talk about women supporting women, this is girls supporting girls, right? I mean, we need to get on that one, Wendi! I think that it's really important in that regard. And she's not going to Hockaday or Ursula. She's going to a charter school in McKinney. And it's a K through 12 and it is coed but I mean, there's all the stuff. There's some, not all, some of the stuff you're going through and just the, it's the transition of life. It's the conditions of life, and no matter where you are, you're gonna go through it. So thank y'all very, very, very much. And you're perfect examples of women supporting girls, girls supporting women, girls supporting girls. And "Here's to women supporting women!"

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