Leadership is first and foremost about developing others. I wrote this post to our fabulous and diverse and talented participants in our NEW Train-the-Trainer program (we held the training at the beautiful Omega Institute in May) to share why my core workshop is so necessary for women NOW—how their role as certified “Take The Leaders” can accelerate women’s advancement to leadership parity.
Meet the first class here and be dazzled by the range of expertise. You’ll want to book them to come to your company or organization to increase dramatically the pipeline of highly-skilled women leaders. And if you want to be considered for our October 22-23 Train-the Trainer program in Phoenix, Arizona, click here.
So here’s the story of why I liken my legacy to a pie. A chocolate cheesecake, actually.
If you said “Women’s Equality Day,” you’d be right.
And if you said it’s the 95th anniversary of the date in 1920 when women’s right to vote officially entered the U.S. Constitution, you’d be spot on.
But the greater significance of this day is not about looking backward at quaint sepia photo of suffragists picketing the White House (though it is notable that the suffragists were the first people ever to picket the White House), but rather looking at the progress we can see today and forward toward the work yet to be done for women to reach full equality and leadership parity.
My father, Max Feldt, stood 6’ 3” with a personality so big (and the towns we lived in so small) that the postal service once delivered a letter to me addressed only: “To the eldest daughter of Big Max, Stamford, Texas.”
Family lore says he roared, “Who said I wanted a boy?” when reminded that prior to my birth he’d boasted HE was having a son. (No ultrasound back then, folks.)
Daddy was the dominant influence on my life—eventually. It wasn’t till I delivered his eulogy, when I was 50 years old, that I realized he had given me an entire philosophy of life and leadership.
He had many aphorisms I refer to as his Maxisms, including this all-purpose one he repeated to me on hundreds of occasions:
You can do anything your pretty little head desires.
This was in my Twitter feed today to remind me it’s Equal Pay Day:
— Sheryl L. Axelrod (@sher_lawyer) April 14, 2015
I don’t know about you, but I’m sooo tired of hearing that same statistic over and over in the annual communal outcry about the lack of equal pay.
So being a practical activist, I put together these five things you and I can do today to bring about equal pay.
Dear Readers and Leaders,
It’s Women’s History Month and I have a personal question:
Are you wearing Spanx? Me too. And yes, there is a connection.
In the 1970s, feminist leader Betty Friedan urged women to throw away their girdles and we cheered. Today, Sarah Blakely has become one of the few female billionaires by getting us trussed up once again—in Spanx.
February is Heart Month. I had the honor of keynoting, and Take The Lead cosponsored, an American Heart Association Go Red for Women Leadership Forum event in New York. This disease is insidious. And because women are less likely than men to be symptomatic, it’s critically important to know our risks and symptoms. Here’s the essence of my speech.
I was in my office when I got the call. I heard the ambulance shrieking into the parking lot as I ran downstairs with my heart in my throat. Vicky, a devoted employee in her late 40’s had had a heart attack at her desk. All the right things had been done. But to no avail. Vicky died instantly, no previous signs of heart disease.
I’m as uninterested in summiting sheer granite cliffs as in having another root canal. Yet why was I so engaged, cheering the news that these two men had against all odds become the first to free climb the 3,000-foot vertical face of the Dawn Wall, dubbed one of the hardest climbing challenges in the world?
I mean, I could barely stand to look at their bleeding, skinned-up hands or wrap my head around the thought of 19 days without a shower. I definitely didn’t want to know their often-reported bathroom details—though that had to be yet one more example of how much easier it is to be a man than a woman in this world.
(Incidentally, the first woman to scale El Capitan via a different route called The Nose was Beverly Johnson in the 1970s—you knew I had to look that up. She was also the first person to cross the Straits of Magellan solo in a kayak.)
My newfound fascination could be because sports professions have been on my mind since meeting U.S. Bouldering Team member and professional rock climber (who knew there could be such a career?) Sierra Blair-Coyle at the Play Hockey Like a Girl event cosponsored by the Arizona Coyotes hockey team and Take The Lead.
Understanding the Role Confidence Plays
Would workplaces become more balanced and society more equitable if women exhibited more confidence? Katty Kay and Claire Shipman created a stir with their book The Confidence Code and their article, “The Confidence Gap” in The Atlantic. To continue this important conversation, we were honored to have Shipman speak to the Take The Lead community in July about how personal confidence relates to women advancing in the workplace and in society. Yes, women face very real barriers, no matter how confident we are, but leading with confidence expands our possibilities in ways that change our lives and the lives of other women. (Like this quote? Tweet it!) Did you attend this event with Shipman? What did you learn? This confidence question will surely be an ongoing conversation, so we’d love to hear your thoughts!
The Solution to Feeling Stuck: Get a Coach!
At Take The Lead we teach women to define their lives and careers on their own terms. But history has also told us how crucial it is to seek help when we need it. That’s why we were so excited to gather some of the best coaches we know for an event in NYC sponsored by the fabulous ALEX AND ANI. Alisa Cohn, Robyn Hatcher, Bonnie Marcus, Dana Balicki, Audrey S. Lee, Maggie Castro Stevens, and Leslie Grossman joined us to share their wisdom and generously donate hours of coaching time to attendees. See photos from the event and learn more here.
One way we achieve leadership parity at Take The Lead is by working with women across all backgrounds, generations, and professional fields. And we’re proud to collaborate with a larger resurgent women’s movement. One way we create connections among women is through our online Take The Lead Community. If you haven’t signed up yet, please do so to network and get honest, actionable advice from other accomplished women having valuable conversations. Soon we’ll be adding a mentoring component you won’t want to miss.
Gearing Up for 2015
Stay in touch with Take The Lead by signing up for our newsletter, and following us Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Thanks again to everyone who joined us this year and stay tuned for exciting developments in 2015!
Remember! Please take a moment in the comments section to tell us what’s bugging you, highlight learning topics you want to see in our webcasts, courses, or blog, and suggest experts you admire. You can also tweet us at @takeleadwomen using the hashtag #takeleadwomen2015.
If you’re moved by the work Take The Lead does to give women and men true parity across all sectors, it’s not too late to donate to enable us to Teach, Connect, and Present to more people next year. Read more about our strategy for change, Take The Lead’s 4 keys to leadership parity, here.
When Shirley Chisholm broke both racial and gender barriers to become the first Black woman elected to Congress in 1968 and later the first Black woman to run for U. S. president, she leapfrogged over more barriers to power than any woman considering a run today can even imagine.
Was she conflicted in her relationship with power? Just the opposite as the quote above indicates. How did she get that way and what can we learn from her on Election Day 2014?
My systematic research into many women’s ambivalent relationship with power began during the 2008 election season, when I wrote an article for Elle magazine about why women do—or as I came to find out, more often don’t—run for office.
At the rate women are advancing in Congress, it will be 60 years before gender leadership parity is reached. But more astounding is what I found in 2008 that stopped me short: it’s no longer external, structural barriers, though some do still exist, but internal ones that hold women back from fully embracing their political power. And there are far more similarities than differences in how this dynamic plays itself out in the seemingly divergent realms of work, politics, and personal relationships.
The personal is, was, and always will be, political.
I wanted to learn more: to understand what internalized values, implicit biases, assumptions, and beliefs about ourselves we as women haul around, like worthless cargo, hindering the full attainment of our potential as leaders and doers—what intricate personal and cultural constructs of power, the silent sinews that bind not only our political intentions, but our work lives and even our love lives.
Paradoxically, I’ve spent most of my adult life working for justice and power for others—African Americans, poor kids, other women. Not, as Jerry Seinfeld would say, that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, I feel blessed to have been able to make my life’s passion for social justice into my life’s work. And my path is not so different from gendered behavior regarded (and rewarded) as laudable—being nice, putting the needs of others first.
Which is the point. Fighting for others seemed worthy. Fighting for myself, or something I wanted, did not. And many younger women today tell me they experience similar reticence, even as they seek role models and mentors to teach them differently.
Yet all effective leadership is rooted in the language of power and the willingness to embrace the power one has. If women are ever to complete our staccato journey to equality, we must join the discourse and become deliberately fluent in power’s meanings and nuances.
While the men around us operate as though they own the world—because, for the most part, they do—women have to work consciously to assume that place of intentional power and agency. Women’s inner struggles parallel the pushme-pullyou history of our social and political advances.
It’s this relationship with power—almost a spiritual factor, rarely acknowledged by the metrics or even the philosophers, which I’ve witnessed in myself and countless other women—that fascinated me and propelled me to undertake writing my book, No Excuses, ultimately leading me to cofound Take The Lead. For until we redefine our relationship with power, we will stay stuck in our half-finished revolution.
And that matters for two reasons.
First, we will remain able to excuse and justify our lack of progress by pointing outward rather than owning our part of the responsibility to take the harder road of pushing forward courageously as Chisholm did.
Second, until we can stand confidently in our own power, we won’t be able to lead ourselves or others with intention. If we allow that to happen, both women and men will remain constrained within lives of limited gender stereotyped possibilities, lives that keep us all from achieving our full human potential.
The Right Honorable Kim Campbell, former prime minister of Canada (and the first head of that nation’s government), put it this way: “Look, power exists. Somebody is going to have it. If you would exercise it ethically, why not you? I love power. I’m power-hungry because when I have power I can make things happen, can serve my community, can influence decisions, I can accomplish things.”
Why not you, indeed? Why not any one of us?
And if a courageous woman like Shirley Chisholm could blast through seemingly impermeable barriers to run for president half a century ago, surely each and every one of us can at a minimum honor her memory by voting today and every Election Day.
A big barrier to women’s leadership parity was overlooked in the recent brouhaha about Facebook and Apple covering employees’ insurance for egg freezing.
These companies are not, as headlines screamed “paying women to freeze eggs.” And I see nothing wrong with covering fertility treatments that though still far from fully effective, can give women childbearing options men naturally have, and often exercise with trophy wives.
But next to quality child care, flex time–much more than high tech fertility–is the most effective benefit companies could give women, and increasingly, men as well, to enhance opportunities to advance their careers while garnering better retention rates and job satisfaction without compromising productivity.
October 21, has been declared National Flex Day by workingmother.com for good reason.
As negotiation expert Victoria Pynchon put it in her Linked In Pulse post, “You deserve a family-friendly workplace, not an egg-farm.”
Much has changed for the better
When I entered the paid employment world after my three children entered elementary school, neither egg freezing technology nor flex time were options.
One day during my first full year of work teaching Head Start kindergarten, my seven-year-old son, home from first grade with the flu, called to say he’d caught the toaster on fire and I’d better come home right away.
I raced home wild with fear that I would find him injured, that the house would burn down before I arrived, that most of all I was a BAD MOTHER.
This was before cell phones. So I couldn’t find out more till I arrived home. Acrid burnt toast odor met me the door. My eyes watered as much from relief as from the fumes, upon finding that my son was in need of hugs, but sustained no injuries, and there were no irreparable property damages.
His dad was due home from working his night shift shortly. I had taken a chance that I could safely leave my son for an hour while I rushed across town to fulfill my work obligation. I loved my job and the income was important to our family’s ability to pay our basic bills.
These are the kinds of choices workers still face every day. True, some jobs are more amenable to flextime than others. In my case, twenty children arriving at school that morning had to be greeted by an adult. And certainly the children in my class were from homes where their parents were even less likely to have flexible jobs. So they needed a teacher to arrive on time as much as I needed to be able to go home to take care of my child.
Given that teachers are predominantly female, and women still are the predominant caregivers in most families, it would have made sense for my school to buck the budget pressures and hire a floating teacher or substitutes for such situations. Because they’re bound to happen to all human beings at some time or another.
Too much is still frozen in time
Things have not changed sufficiently, despite important progress and examples of creative flex time policies reported by the Wall Street Journal.
According to MomsRising.com “Mom’s Manifesto”,
From the highly paid to those making minimum wage, far too few women in America have flexible work options—almost three-fourths of working adults state they don’t control their work schedules…The lack of flexible work options often leads women to quit needed jobs.
This is a problem because most families need two working parents to support their family, many women want and need to continue their careers, and when women take time out of the workforce they face huge wage hits, or pay cuts, when they later return (as 74 percent do within two years). These wage hits take a life-long toll: On average, women take an 18 percent cut in their pay, a significant wage hit, for an average of 2.2 years out of the labor force—with women in business sectors taking an increased hit of 28 percent. For those women who stay out of the labor force for three or more years, the news is even bleaker: A 37 percent loss of earning power.
Designating a day to promote flextime is a step forward. But let’s not rely on Karma to make the real deal happen, as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella advised women regarding their pay raises. No, it’s time to campaign hard for policies that allow flex time, where the work delivered is more important than time spent behind a desk.