An Open Letter to the Women of Firsts

By Jessica Ruttenber

In every career field there is a generation of of Firsts followed by a generation of Next. The security of opportunity afforded to the next generation is possible by the hardships endured by the women of Firsts. Although I am a women of Next, a second generation wave, I was raised by the generation of Firsts. I can look to my left and see beyond the perseverance of accomplished women that marked their place in history, to the pain of a generation of women who suffered in silence. Survival was priority, complaining was never an option.

Then I look to my right and see the women of Next and even the beginning of a third generation that is hopeful and not defined by gender. They at times take for granted the opportunities open to them. Unlike the Firsts with their “keep my head down” and excel mentality, the “Nexters” believe without question there is no reason they can not achieve their desired success. Because of the path cleared before them, they make no apologies speaking up to remove any barriers in their way. But the truth is that not all barriers are so obvious, they are hidden and often undetected by the women of Next. Their insidious nature can make progress even more difficult often manifested as a subtle impostor syndrome rather than a direct assault.

To the women of first thank you will never be enough. We see you. Some of you have ascended into positions of power, as few of you as there are. You hide your scars well and often play down your pain. Your generation taught you that standing out on the smallest of matters as a women had the potential to take away from your power and bring question to your competence and accomplishments. Each of you have adapted in your own way. Some assimilated into the collective that resented your mere presence or perhaps some of you now carry the sword and shield as a pathfinder for others. Many of you didn’t ask to be the first, you simply wanted to pursue your passion and along with it came the burden of discrimination and bias.

To the women of Next, continue to be unapologetic and ambitious. Maybe you have encountered a barrier or two along the way. Or maybe you have been fortunate to have a leveled playing field. I say to you now that the women of First may have shattered the proverbial glass ceiling, but it is up to us as the women of Next to pick up the pieces of glass that remain on the floor. Do not keep your blinders on. We are not done yet. So grab a dust pan and let’s finish sweeping up the tiny shards of glass up that won’t stop you from entering a race but will most certainly make it more painful to run it.

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