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October 13, 2011

News & Opinion: Iron Butterflies

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 6:35 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

I was raised in a single-parent household. This is not a stark revelation at this point, same as the fact that my mother raised us in poverty – with some tremendous help from my grandparents, to whom I will always be grateful.

The reason I bring it up is because of the amazing things my mother was able to accomplish despite limited financial resources but with the unlimited resources of inner strength, caring and tough love. She single-handedly gave my brother, two sisters and myself the gift of self-sufficiency and sense of family that has resulted in each of us becoming productive members of society who are caring and dependable as well.

This was the type of tale that Birute Regine, a developmental psychologist, author, executive coach and international speaker, was searching for when she wrote Iron Butterflies: Women Transforming Themselves and the World.

Regine’s inspiration for the book comes from a poem, included in the book, about an iron butterfly and its connection to feminine power by Janice Mirikitani.

Regine describes the inner strength held by Iron Butterflies:
Iron Butterflies… discover inside themselves the strength to persist in the most difficult situations, and like monarchs who fly two thousand miles to their destination, they persevere against all odds. Strong women stand up for themselves and protect themselves because they know they are worth it, and they stand up and protect others for the same reason. When Iron Butterflies challenge the status quo, they are immediately vulnerable. As they learn to deal with fear, to take risks, to handle unpredictability and uncertainty, they become stronger.

Regine has structured the book so that 12 chapters deal with what she’s uncovered – having interviewed more than 50 women – as the most effective traits possessed by Iron Butterflies. As she weaves the explanation of each trait throughout the chapter, she uses vivid and powerful examples of actual Iron Butterflies to emphasize those traits and illustrate how they were used to affect change.

The women’s stories range from victories in their personal lives, such as Dr. Justina Trott, an accomplished educator and government advisor, who, as she prepared to go on to college, told a friend that she wanted to be an orchestra conductor. He innocently told her that he wasn’t aware of any female conductors. Trott said she “…effectively shut down the creative part of me…” and instead pursued hardcore science.

Though her contributions to education cannot be denied, one can only guess as to the artistic beauty that may have been created had Trott not been discouraged by her friend’s innocent appraisal of gender bias. That was not the case with Pat Mitchell, who would rise to become the CEO of PBS. While working in her first job in television, Mitchell knew that 52% of viewers were women, but management discouraged the reporting of topics related to the important challenges women and children were facing, including abuse and divorce. She and several colleagues convinced management to offer an entire day of programming directed toward those issues, but only after they secured their own funding. That was in 1974. Since the 1980s, women’s television programming has grown to include programs on major networks as well as several cable channels.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Iron Butterflies has a decidedly feminist approach and tone, but that is useful in Regine’s effort to enlighten, encourage and empower women to continue to make the valuable contributions to the world as they have for millennia.

It’s a book I will give to my daughter to read, if for no other reason than for her to know that she can be or do anything and is limited only by the level of her own inner strength and courage.

About Dylan Schleicher


Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.