The Sum Volume #6: Diverging from Freedom

“The first responsibility of leadership is the creation of meaning.”—Warren Bennis.

Welcome to the Sum, where I share my take on the meaning of sum of the week’s parts. I want your voice too. Leave comments here or @GloriaFeldt.

Word of the week is, as you would guess, freedom.

And it’s also divergence. As in how the country often diverges from the principles of freedom that we celebrate on July 4th.

I’m a sappy patriot. All four of my grandparents immigrated to this country to escape persecution and enjoy the blessings of a free society. I tear up at the sight of the Statue of Liberty even though I’ve seen it thousands of times, and I grew up believing in the words of Emma Lazarus’s poem at its base: “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

So I was especially moved by this commentary by Maria Harper-Marinick, Chancellor of the Maricopa Community Colleges. She sees the US from the perspective of an immigrant who grew up in a dictatorship. “I have a profound appreciation for what the Fourth of July represents. It is a reminder of how an open and inclusive society can thrive when it embraces the diversity of its people and promotes respect and responsibility.”

And yet we must acknowledge the divergence from these principles that existed from the early days of our country’s history when human beings were held in slavery and valued as only 3/5ths of a person while women were mentioned not at all in the Constitution.

But we grow, and we struggle, and over time we include more of us in the full measure of freedom.

Fifty-three years ago this week President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. “Let us close the springs of racial poison,” he said at the time in a short television address.

And yet…the divergence.  This new report from the Institute for Research on Women on the status of black women found that 8 out of 10 are the primary family breadwinners; for the last ten years the share of Black women with a bachelor’s degree or higher increased by 23.9% giving them the second-largest improvement; they start more businesses; outvoted every other group in the last two elections, and are in the workforce in numbers outpacing other women.

And yet…a quarter of them live in poverty, their median earnings in 2014 lagged behind white men’s by 62.4 percent.  Here is video of a panel worth watching from the IRC’s recent program–needless to say the title caught my eye:  Persistence to Power.  

We won’t be covering the G20 conference this week, but we do note the importance of the freedom to choose one’s socks. Nothing like a state visit to up one’s fashion sense.  This week Canadians (and Americans too) got to wonder what socks the Prime Minister might wear to meet the Queen; after all he had met his match earlier when the Prime Minister of Ireland out-socked the Canadian in their meeting. As it turns out, he was mum on the subject of what he had chosen for this august occasion—but isn’t it refreshing to have coverage of a male leading with his fashion?

I could almost believe that men are embracing their inner feminine and soon we will all be in balance.

And yet… another scandal out in Silicon Valley.  It’s where disrupting the status quo was a mantra that sadly devolved into some of the most antiquated behavior. The pattern of sexual harassment is one that women are all too used to—and tired of putting up with.  Brava to those who decided to push back, called the behavior out and moved forward nonetheless with their business plans. You are champions for the freedom of the women who will come after you.

The first MBA diversity and inclusion course is a sign that freedom from bias is a possibility.  I let out an appreciative whoop: Stanford University’s Business School is surrounded by Silicon Valley’s innovation—and missteps.  They created a 10 week course. “Building Diverse and Inclusive Organizations,”  that aims to look at the numbers and figure out how those starting those big idea start- ups can get launched without some of the problems plaguing the testosterone-driven firms today.

The course will tackle bias in job descriptions and manager evaluations.  Even more, it is looking to show how to create a culture that allows everyone to feel like they belong.  That’s a good thing, as Martha Stewart might say, if you intend to retain the women and minorities that research shows are the not so secret sauce that helps these businesses thrive in the long run.

The course’s existence illustrates the truth of my Power Tool 4: embrace controversy. Freedom requires courage to speak into controversy in order to lead the conversation rather than be buffeted or bullied by it. Embracing controversy takes the teachable moment and gives you a platform to share your point of view, present your case when people are listening. In fact I don’t believe democracy and freedom can survive unless we all become more willing to embrace controversy. We can’t make progress unless we can talk forthrightly about the tough issues.

For example, I had stopped watching Morning Joe because Mika was a wimp who let Joe, Mr. Bluster himself, talk over her. But after President Trump sent his tweetstorm after her, she spoke up and look what happened.  Behold, the show’s ratings were up by 70% and beat their competition—Fox & Friends.  One of those apparently watching and adding to those record numbers?  The President himself.

No one said freedom would be easy.  So, let’s toast our great country and keep working to merge, not diverge, our fundamental principles of liberty and justice for all.


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

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