Erasing Annoying Little Lines

“Stay between the lines,” the teacher says as the children concentrate on completing the task correctly and are careful not to let the crayon go too far.

At first, the children have a difficult time keeping the crayons on the page – let alone within the lines. They learn as they grow and are soon able to do what is expected and they color within the lines. They color the sky blue and the grass green.

Being inquisitive by nature, the children begin to ask questions, “Why does the sky have to be blue?” “Why can’t I stay up later?” “Who said milk is good for me anyway?”

They continue to grow and reach a point where coloring within the lines begin to feel restrictive. Some let the crayon slip and others color the sky purple and the grass red. They can do more than they were led to believe and find that going “outside the lines” can be exhilarating. They realize the only limits they face are those they place on themselves.

What a discovery!

Not before long though, they find that this is not necessarily the case. Rooted deep in our society, roles are defined and societal expectations are enforced. They find that socio-cultural “lines” can be much less tolerant of females than of males. Yet, there are women who overcome the system are are successful in erasing the “lines,” as evidenced by women in medical professions, top corporate positions, and in the military.


The paragraphs above are the introduction to a  paper I wrote, “Socio-Cultural Analysis of Combat Exclusion,” for a Masters class. It was written in 1993 when I teaching ROTC at University of Pennsylvania – and a lot less fun at parties.  

Nonetheless, it was on my mind so I pulled it out, dusted it off, laughed at the typewriter type, and began to wonder:

“Women of HR, what lines do we need to erase today?” 

So, I asked them. 

What you’ll read over the rest of this week are  a number of different perspectives. We’re going for awareness and strength. Read along and let us know what you think. 

Photo credit iStock Photo

About the Author

Lisa Rosendahl

Lisa is an astute Human Resources leader with more than 18 years of professional human resources experience with expertise in leading people, inspiring commitment and managing change. A former Army officer, Lisa is also a wife, mother, speaker and writer and authors a personal blog at



This is a great introduction into the constraints that society puts in place. Of course, there will always be people who draw outside the lines, but that is the freedom of expression that lives in all of us.

Lisa Rosendahl

Deirdre, we’ve progressed in some areas (typewriter font be gone) but not in others. Thank you for your contribution to the series and for being a Woman of HR.

Lyn, the deconstruction approach offers a wonderful perspective. Could be a great discussion – Atlanta – April – HRE?

Debbie, you are so right on. I don’t see things not going my way because of my gender, I see them not going my way because of something I did or did not do. I may be tripping over a line and I just because I don’t see it, doesn’t mean it is, or isn’t there.

Lee-Anne, beautiful.

Lee-Anne Ragan

Love your response Debbie.

Lines that are created with the intention of constricting, and controlling – those are the ones I want to get rid of.

Lines that are edgy, that lead off into the distance where the destination’s not quite clear are compelling.

Lines that bend, that are fluid and flexible are inclusive.

But the best kind of lines are on an older woman’s face – they’re a map of stories unfolding.

Debbie Brown

Sometimes you do not see the lines- those are the ones that need erasing !

Lyn Hoyt

I would love to see a “deconstruction” approach to this exercise. Deconstruction needs a comeback. 🙂 By exposing contradiction in our society do you better understand how some women are able to move past cultural expectations? Is it the difference between management as task within the lines vs VP/CEO out of the lines? The whole transactional vs transformational leadership style is what comes to mind for me. Are we seeing the source of that leadership as insignificant because it is the results that matter? Great post Lisa. I have more questions than than answers. BTW: I’m only in the lines when it is necessary.

Deirdre Honner

Love this. Looking back, I often think of the creativity it squelched. Along with good girls… [fill in the blank], the worst being “behave.”

No thanks. I always loathed those lines. Still do. 🙂 Thanks Lisa for putting this together. I laughed at my typewriter print too.


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