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Don’t Be So Darn Nice: Why Talking About the Hard Stuff Is Even More Important Than You Thought

Issue 54 — June 15, 2018

Riffing on Dante, my friend Jill and I used to speculate on what our personal levels of hell would be. Pervasive niceness was her deepest level of hellaciousness. She described it as a place where tough or controversial issues were never discussed and she would have to be blandly agreeable at all times. It would be terminally boring, she said; to her, that would be a fate worse than death.

As it turns out, when too much niceness takes the form of avoiding difficult conversations, it’s not just boring. It is detrimental to relationships and productivity in the workplace.

Embracing those conversations as a positive tool whose energy powers us forward to better solutions can make the difference between the organization that innovates successfully and one that stagnates in a culture of enforced amiability.

“Wear the Shirt” of your convictions to have authentic conversations

I’m not advocating for people to be deliberately unkind to one another. I am saying that it’s not kindness to withhold an honest opinion, or to shy away from sharing facts that could lead to better outcomes in order to avoid conflict.

Language is power.

Styles of language — the way we use it and our choices of what we talk about — are rooted in power.

Nowhere is this more evident than communication between men and women from the bedroom to the boardroom.

20 years ago, Deborah Tannen’s work on linguistic gender differences in her book You Just Don’t Understand and John Gray’s Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus got popular culture buzzing that men and women speak different languages and that causes conflict.

Is that true, and if so, what part of it is implicit bias-driven cultural learning that limits us? And what part is resistance to having the hard conversations across any divides that exist, whether of gender, culture, or life experience?

How have today’s #metoo and TimesUp movements challenged us to explore those divides and to tackle questions we’ve resisted about roles, relationships, race, privilege, power, and — gasp — sex?

And on the other side of the equation, how empowering have those conversations been for those who have experienced harassment or abuse? How have the astringent rays of sunshine purified and healed a long-festering sore? Isn’t it a huge relief to put ugly secrets out in the open and have real, authentic conversations about them?

An NBC survey in March found 51% believe that reports about sexual assault have helped address the gender gap. That’s significant. And the same dynamics apply to solving any complex problem in a way that creates sustainable change.

The Business Value of Bringing Everyone into the Conversation

Scilla Elworthy calls conflict “transformation”: a positive process in which everyone grows.

50 Women in Healthcare Leadership cohort discussing how embracing controversy leads to better discussions.

Writing in Fast Company, Knowlarity CTO Ajay Shrivastava suggests that the management tactic of avoiding hitting the controversy head-on by papering over differences of opinions and seeking compromise instead of the best solutions does a disservice to the company’s strategic alignment. It ultimately slows down progress, though it may seem to take more time to work through the differences at the outset.

In a diverse workplace, it can be tempting to avoid confronting differences rather than address gendered communication styles that may deter women in particular from actively engaging in conversations where their voices are not heard. Heaven knows, she might cry or something!

Women of color experience a double burden of being disregarded and undervalued, as Dr. Katherine Giscombe, Vice President and Women of Color Practitioner at Catalyst, shared from her groundbreaking study, “Women of Color in Corporate Management: Opportunities and Challenges” on my Virtual Happy Hour last week.

A report from Murray Edwards College in Cambridge, England on gender differences and behaviors at work concluded: “Women continue to report that they commonly experience behaviors and assumptions from male peers and bosses in the workplace that frustrate them and impede promotion by merit. These behaviors include being interrupted and talked over in meetings and being sidelined from many informal conversations where decisions are often really made.”

Lisa Mead facilitates expert panel of healthcare leaders sharing their tips and stories with our #50WomenCan cohort in #healthcare #leadership. L-r Mead, Gordon & Rees attorney Kami Hoskins (also a member of Take The Lead AZ Leadership Council), Banner Health Director, Diversity and Inclusion Jackie Hunter (also in the Healthcare cohort) Healthcare executive recruiter with Bileddo Associates Laurie Johnson, and Executive Coach, FrankCummins.

Take The Lead’s editorial director Michele Weldon concludes that engaging in difficult conversations is necessary to shift a workplace culture to one where everyone can contribute their best.

Fierce Conversations is a training company that teaches organizations how to have effective conversations, including the tough ones. They’ve recently done a survey in which they found that while people are talking with their friends and families about movements such as #BlackLivesMatter and #metoo, they are far less likely to touch on those issues in the workplace. On the positive side, the survey found that younger workers and women were more likely to discuss these topics and that employees, in general, feel more empowered to do so

I had a chance to interview Stacey Engle, Executive Vice President at Fierce, who told me that a common barrier to addressing inequality in the workplace is being “too nice.”

She gave the example of a Fierce client, CHRISTUS Health, where executives felt their organization had developed a culture of being too “nice.” As a result, their associates were mistaking the company value of compassion with avoiding difficult conversations and constructive feedback.

When CHRISTUS implemented four specific skills: delegation, team conversations, confrontation, and coaching, employees were able to overcome fear and address issues directly instead of avoiding difficult conversations. They were then able to transition away from simply being “nice” to feeling equipped to have meaningful, effective conversations.

In our aforementioned Virtual Happy Hour, my guest Dr. Michael Kimmel, an author, Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook, and leading expert on men and masculinities, wrapped it up succinctly when he said men need to listen more and women need to speak up more in order to have those productive conversations.

Now wouldn’t that be nice?

Desert Birds of Paradise blooming

Samantha Bee, Kate Spade, Bill Clinton, and Full Frontal Gender Bilingual Communication

Issue 53 — June 9, 2018

I’ve been toting my Kate Spade bag since her untimely death by suicide this week. I can’t tell you why it touched me so deeply but I can’t stop thinking about how she brought so much light, color, and beauty to the world but apparently didn’t always receive it herself. And now, Anthony Bourdain. Sad. My heart goes out to their families and especially the daughters they left behind.

These tragedies make it self-evident that it matters not what gender we are, we all can be susceptible to the same emotional turmoil. We all have the same human needs and demons.

It also means that we need to cut each other some slack and be there to help a friend in need, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or any other identifying factor.

And that in turn makes me wonder even more why we spend so much time thinking about differences when we have so much in common.

I’m thinking about this in a week when Samantha Bee has been in full frontal hot water for calling Ivanka Trump a female body part name that in its origin was simply a neutral description, yet has developed a vulgar meaning precisely because it is associated with women.

And a week in which #metoo rose to the top of the discussion charts again when Bill Clinton felt the need to mansplain in defense of his behavior with Monica Lewinsky (yes, he did have sex with that woman).

In 1998, the year the Clinton-Lewinsky affair became public and roiled politics, the majority of the public wanted to “move on.” In fact, the phrase spawned a political and social justice organization by that name. I was struck by how much things have changed as I observed younger female talking heads react with 21st Century disgust to Clinton’s rendition. They aren’t buying that “move on” stuff anymore.

Just as the pink hats of the Women’s March are a statement to reclaim the same body party that Bee used pejoratively, meanings of language can change. Meanings that sting in one era can become meanings that praise in another. They can become a badge of honor. New memes and tropes can open our minds to new ways of thinking: #metoo, #BlackLivesMatter, #TimesUp being some of the most recent.

My Kate Spade bag on stage with journalist Ruthie Ackerman (Forbes) and me at the Northside Festival this week

That leads me only slightly circuitously to the question I am often asked: Can men and women ever really talk to each other? That our country has a difficult relationship with sex and has only recently come to realize that sexual harassment and worse are about power at their core, not about sex, is one of the most important and difficult conversations that we must have in order to solve these systemic problems. They are rooted in power imbalances between the sexes. And those gendered power imbalances become ingrained in everyday language. That my grandson refused to wear pink shoes because they symbolized being female is one simple example.

These imbalances in turn have fostered the “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” approach to male-female communication. And yet, we do inhabit the same planet after all and therefore must learn to speak each other’s languages in order to thrive at our highest levels.

A new mug that Kerry Giangobbe gave me last night

In this month’s Virtual Happy Hour, “Speaking the Language of Power: Gender Bilingual Communication” I’ll get to dive into these questions and more with a man in the forefront of exploring gender. Michael Kimmel is the leading authority on men and masculinities, the author of books such as Angry White Men, Guyland, and Misframing Men, and Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook University. He shares his expertise with a side order of good humor.

Communicating across gender and culture requires exceptional skill, so I’m thrilled that Catalyst’s Katherine Giscombe, Vice President and Women of Color Practitioner, will bring her wisdom to the VHH as well on Wednesday, June 13 at 6:30 eastern time. She has authored the groundbreaking study “Women of Color and Corporate Management” and generates solutions to the subtle obstacles that still must be overcome for women of color and other marginalized groups to succeed in the workplace.

You’ll get to ask Michael and Katherine your questions directly if you tune in live, but do register even if you can’t join us live, and we’ll send you the replay, plus you’ll get access to a new set of juicy Gender Bilingual Communications tips I’ve developed for the occasion, and that you will be able to put to use right away.

Leaders inherently must grapple with creating an environment in which clear and respectful communication happens in the best interest of the individual people and the health of the organization. And both men and women benefit from learning the language of power so they can use it to get things done and in order to speak effectively across gender and culture.

Nobody ever said it would be easy, but if we remember that we are all in this life together, it gets a lot less complicated.

Here are a few hashtags to consider turning into powerful memes for good: #GenderBilingual #GenderEqual #ListenforaChange #KindnessMatters #YouAreNotAlone #FullFrontalRespect #LoveOverH8 #PowerTOnotPowerOver.

Equal Doesn’t Mean Equal Yet but We’re One State Closer: the ERA, Lessons Learned, and The Story…

Image by Patrick Randak wearing the AlalaxEME collection to raise funds and awareness toward ratifying the ERA

Issue 52 — June 1, 2018

Counterbalancing Roseanne Barr’s hideous racial slur, and on par with the good news of Starbuck’s anti-bias training for 180,000 employees in the US, the Illinois legislature voted to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment this week.

The amendment’s 23 words simply say: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex.”

“Who,” you might rightly ask, “would oppose that? And aren’t women already guaranteed equal rights?”

To answer those questions, I must tell you a story or two.

My friend Carol Jenkins, a board member of the ERA Coalition, told me over lunch almost two years ago about its revitalized attempt to get the Equal Rights Amendment into the U.S. Constitution. I also knew that filmmaker Kamala Lopez (currently a member of Take The Lead’s 50 Women Can Change the World in Media and Entertainment cohort, I am proud to say) had been using her filmmaking skills to call attention to the urgency to pass the ERA for years with minimal media attention.

“This is where I came in,” I said.

This renewed effort, founded in 2014, comes almost a century after suffragist leader Alice Paul drafted the ERA in 1923, and almost half a century after the ERA campaign fired up my activism as a young woman.

Paul was one of the few suffragist leaders who recognized that getting the right to vote in 1920, after 77 years of trying, was not the end of the fight, but merely one necessary, albeit major, victory on the path to full legal and social equality for women.

Fast forward another 70+ years from the ratification of the suffrage amendment.

I was a young mom teaching kindergarten at Head Start in Odessa Texas. I met Texas State Representative Sissy Farenthold there, in a cavernous hall filled with supporters of her campaign for governor. I learned that the Equal Rights Amendment would be on the Texas ballot in 1972. Farenthold and Texas state senator and future first African American Congresswoman Barbara Jordan were leading the charge.

Barbara Jordan
Sissy Farenthold being toasted at the National Women’s Political Caucus gala in 2011 where I was the keynote speaker.

Though Farenthold lost her bid for governor, the ERA in both state and federal versions would sail through the state’s constitutional amendment process.

Looking at Texas red state politics today, many of my colleagues cannot believe the scenario. But I was a witness to this history. It taught me the power of grassroots activism and fired me with a passion for civic engagement that has lasted to this day. And the folly of ever thinking the job is done.

The story of the suffrage movement is equally instructive. Most of its leaders declared victory after the passage of the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote. They went on to other causes.

But Paul realized that in a democracy, no victory is secure without a vibrant movement to keep fighting forward. “It is incredible to me,” she said, “that any woman should consider the fight for full equality won. It has just begun. There is hardly a field, economic or political, in which the natural and accustomed policy is not to ignore women.”

I was called to action by learning that there was an utter lack of legal protections for me, my daughters, and all women. Since women were giving birth to everyone, doing most of the educating of the next generation, and beginning to show up in many if not most professions and yet (as happened to me) couldn’t get credit or a credit card without a male cosigner and wouldn’t be considered for certain jobs, let alone get equal pay — the ERA made perfect sense.

Over the years, we fixed many of those injustices. And yet there I was chatting with Carol about this “new” ERA movement, far across the country and a lifetime away from where I had made my first contribution to an ERA campaign, all of $3 tossed into a coffee can.

You might say, oh get over it, So much has changed and women have smashed so many glass ceilings.

That’s true. And yet, so much hasn’t changed or still needs to change, as the #metoo movement has poignantly shown.

In fact, as I look at the #metoo, Time’s Up, #blacklivesmatter, and the racism and sexism that bubbles beneath the surface threatening to erupt like Kilauea — or Roseanne — I feel like Cassandra warning that we should never take a single step forward for human and civil rights for granted.

It’s both a blessing and a curse that 80% of Americans think the ERA has already been ratified and 94% say they agree with it. The curse is that they think they don’t need to work for ERA anymore.

Yet according to ERA Coalition president, Jessica Neuwirth, here are a few of the reasons the ERA is still needed:

· It would lay the groundwork for stronger, more comprehensive laws and judicial tools to combat gender violence and sex discrimination.

· It would create a new basis to challenge unequal pay for equal work.

· It would strengthen protections against pregnancy discrimination.

With women woke and all data pointing to the social and economic value of gender equality, this is the moment. It’s way past time. I’ve joined the Advisory Council of the ERA Coalition, to work alongside Neuwirth, Jenkins, Gloria Steinem, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Lopez, and other notables to take Alice Paul’s statement of simple justice for women across the finish line.

Kamala’s amazing shoes — bold like the woman wearing them

This is where I came into the women’s movement. And this is where I intend to go out — knowing that my life’s mission to advance women to full equality is safe because the women of America have the Equal Rights Amendment. Sometimes leadership is simply about showing up and never giving up.

In case you are wondering, states that have not ratified the ERA are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia.

We only need one more to put women into the U.S. Constitution at last.

Ready to organize?

Meghan’s Veil

Meghan Markle might never become Queen of England, but she rules the world through the power of the symbols she chose for her wedding.

Literally, every minute act and every tangible article in any royal wedding is imbued with symbolic meaning whether intended or not. But there is no question that this bride and groom thought through each nuance in exquisite awareness that the unique characteristics of their marriage ceremony gave them a historic opportunity to make symbolic statements about gender, race, and justice, thereby changing how people globally would feel and think about these pivotal issues.

Let’s start with the most enduring and in my opinion most important symbol: the titles they chose to denote their status hereafter: Duke and Duchess of Sussex. By taking their titles from an antislavery predecessor, Meghan and Harry staked out an ethic of social justice as their abiding value. That symbolic value guided the rest of their wedding choices, from music to their mothers’ roles: Harry by leaving space literally for his late mom Princess Diana and Meghan by having her African American mother taking space visibly if not centrally in the church.

More importantly, by the use of these symbols in ways that the most effective leaders do, they signaled how they intend to live and lead.

And while it was obvious that this couple approaches their lives together through an egalitarian lens, any leader can learn important lessons by observing their wedding. Meghan Markle’s intentional use of symbols to communicate a new dispensation and bring a traditionally hidebound culture along with her is especially instructive.

Here are four ways leaders can, or rather should, use symbols:

1. To create a framework of shared meaning that enables people to coalesce around an idea or action.

The late Warren Bennis, himself an iconic symbol of leadership experts, often said that the first responsibility of the leader is the creation of meaning. Hearing him say this when I was early in my CEO career was probably the most useful piece of advice I ever received.

Simply being in a leadership role sends symbolic messages in and of itself. People change how they look at you. Every word, every act is imbued with meaning. If you are not aware and intentional about the symbolic meaning you want to communicate, you will be defined by other people’s fantasies about you. In the absence of deliberate information, people fill in the blanks. Certainly, that was obvious in the media’s incessant parsing of every observable element of the wedding.

Brands, avatars, and team mascots are the most obvious symbols leaders use to keep people feeling connected and aligned. While Arizona State University’s Sun Devil mascot has always been prominently featured at sports events, I have noticed that recently everyone employed by the school features “Go Devils” in their email signoffs, presumably a deliberate strategy by leadership to create visible symbolic cohesion.

And humans love symbol-rich stories like Star Wars; their characters soon become memes and metaphors that in turn become organizing principles for ideas.

2. To enable people to grasp a new idea or adopt a possibly controversial course of action.

That Markle wore a veil at all, not to mention the white dress and tiara, was a symbol in itself that she would respect tradition in a culture that values its history and has a strong sense of propriety. But it was the obvious and subtle departures from tradition that most defined the meaning of this royal wedding and demonstrated how an entire culture can be led toward change in a non-disruptive way. Or at least it is possible to disrupt without distressing people by connecting the old symbols with the new ones you want to prevail.

Markle’s very being as a biracial woman signals a dramatic shift in the notions of who owns power and privilege in Western society that has been held in white male hegemony for so long.

Seeing a biracial woman in the role of British royalty, the ultimate symbol of white privilege makes all of us who have been outsiders to the predominant culture smile. But for Black girls and women, it’s a total game changer in how they can see themselves in the story of social acceptance and leadership opportunities.

Jamia Wilson, Executive Director of The Feminist Press

Successful rebranding efforts use this principle too. While Ford plans to discontinue all passenger cars, it is keeping the Mustang because it says, “Mustang means freedom.”

3. To call people to higher (or lower) values.

Once I was engaged in a heated conversation about what course of action a coalition group of peers should take in a challenging situation. There were multiple opinions and since no one was in charge of anyone else, there was no leader with the legitimate authority to call the discussion quits and choose a direction. Then one woman pulled out a bag of marbles and asked each one of us to take one. “This is your touchstone,” she said, referring to our shared mission. Such a simple action enabled the group to test courses of action back to the values we felt most passionate about and to let go of ego and individual agendas. The group quickly came to a decision and the conversation could proceed to the assignment of responsibilities for getting to the ultimate goal we all wanted to accomplish.

Religious symbols carry immense power to call people to their higher selves, and quasi-religious symbols such as Ku Klux Klan hoods can equally call people to their most base values and intentions. The results are all in the intention of the leader.

Markle and her prince articulated so many positive values around justice: having Bishop Michael Curry deliver his sermon about love in Black church tones rather than the British accent usually heard in St. George’s Chapel, and the Kingdom Choir singing “Stand By Me”–can’t get more symbolic than that — it was my favorite part.

4. To shape cultures.

Markle said she is proud to be a woman and a feminist and all of us who have been fighting the good battles for gender equality weep with relief while closet sympathizers suddenly feel safe to express their true thoughts. Next, if one is cynical, we will surely see more soaps and cosmetics take on girl power themes because feminism sells now.

The British Commonwealth countries plus California were woven into Markle’s stunning veil, so long and diaphanous it reminded me of a Disney Cinderella in which the bluebirds (symbolic of happiness) gently picked up the ends of her train. It’s been pointed out that the veil’s reflection of all the Commonwealth countries is fraught with negatives as well as beauty: she was trailed by the whole mess of colonialism and all the suffering it carried.

Match your bridal style to a Disney princess

But cultures are complex and each symbol tells a story or part of one. Humans learn through stories, and these narratives help us make sense of the world. For a leader, symbols are shorthand messages that allow followers to see themselves in the stories she tells about her vision, the new initiative he wants their support for, or simply to enable people to collaborate on their work despite different interests and opinions about the best way to reach a goal.

The bottom line is that a leader starts with the power of position. But what you do with that positional power is up to you and how you create meaning for others through the use of symbols.

Meghan’s diaphanous veil holds all of these symbolic complexities and leadership principles within it. I can’t wait to see what she does next with them.

The Whole World Is Getting a Spring Cleaning.

I was never much of a housekeeper. “Shmutz,” my husband lovingly calls me while he cleans up the place. I long ago decided I’d rather spend my precious time changing the world than vacuuming it.

But even I have to admit spring cleaning brings a special lightness to the spirit. This spring, in particular, feels like the whole world is getting its closets cleaned, as women speak in their liberated #metoo voices and transform their newly found #powerTO into a quest for — no, a Time’s UP demand for — equality, including leadership parity everywhere.

Seems everyone has finally realized that sexual harassment and abuse are actually about power, and more specifically imbalance of economic, social, and legal power between men and women.

And so our spring cleaning this year is about creating or restoring (depending on how back in history you go and whose rendition of it you believe) a new balance of power, one where women are not just seen but also heard and not just doing but actually leading. And we are finding all sorts of crevices and closets to clean out.

There’s nothing like a tinge of anger to make you sweep out those dust bunnies of discrimination from every corner of every social institution. They were built for men by men who had women at home taking care of, well, just about everyone. When I saw the 82 deliberately intersectional women the likes of Cate Blanchett and Ava DuVernay leading the charge for more recognition in the film industry, I reminded myself just how pervasively culture has bound our brains. The women chose the number 82 because it represents the number of female directors who have had films in the main competition — compared to 1600 films by men. As if only the male gender has something to say. No more. Net-net? A pledge by the Cannes festival and its two main sidebars to bring in more films by women.

Once recognizing the inequities, we are on a mission to vacuum up those implicit biases that continue to mess up our heads long after we changed laws that either ignored women completely or made us second-class citizens. “It’s hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head,” Sally Kempton famously said. This is the mental detritus that saps women’s confidence, lowers our sense of self-value, and makes us spend inordinate amounts of money on beauty treatments on the impossible task of perfecting our bodies. And voila, the notorious likes of Uber open up to sunshine disinfectant by getting rid of mandatory arbitration in alleged sexual harassment cases.

The spring cleaning extends to calling for body shaming no more by outing made-up ways of judging women’s appearance such as selling cure for cellulite.

We are sweeping up the shards of glass from the ceilings broken by brave and visionary women who could see themselves in the leadership story even when others could not, and who made it past that thick layer of men at the top to claim their rightful share of powerful positions. Rightful share, I said, not all leadership positions. Bella Abzug said famously, and said only slightly tongue in cheek, “We want it all but we’ll take half.”

Half would be amazing. Earth-shaking. So revolutionary that the very idea terrifies many men and even some women who feel safer under the protection of Big Daddy, frightened and angry.

But women have never aspired to take over the world, only to have the same opportunities to succeed or fail on their own merits as men have.

That’s why we’re scrubbing all vestiges of male privilege from the crevices of the culture during this spring cleaning session.

I mean the kind of privilege that bullies and harasses and abuses women, and less powerful men too. And I mean really scrubbing it with a fine brush and disinfectant. Even from places hailed as advances because they are showing women as strong warrior types.

At the same time, we are taking the strong soap and water to our own culturally learned penchant to ask for and accept less money than men for the same job, to stay in the secondary sidekick role, or to fail to see ourselves as the capable leaders we are. As one woman in a 50 Women Can Change the World program declared at the end of it, “I now have the courage to admit I am ready to lead my organization.”

Profound change is in the air and it smells like lilacs and freshly bathed babies.

Things I never thought I’d see in my lifetime are happening every day. Christiane Amanpour has replaced the eponymous television anchor and everyone’s (formerly) favorite celebrity interviewer, Charlie Rose.

Male politicians, comedians, and businessmen, felled by their own privilege-powered inability to behave in ways that every kindergartner has been taught are appropriate, are falling at warp speed and being replaced by women so often that Take The Lead feels the wind under our wings. It’s hastening our mission of leadership party by 2025. Nobody believed when we started that we would make it by 2025. Now I think it could happen even sooner.

“If we want to change the world, we should invest in the women who already are,” Melinda Gates has said.

Powerhouse gathering: Gloria Steinem, Teresa C. Younger (Ms. Foundation), Ava DuVernay, and Tarana Burke

I’ll take that affirmation for world-changing over vacuuming and encourage all my sisters to persist as well. This current brand of spring cleaning is actually fun.

How to know the future

Issue 49 — May 11, 2018

I attended “The Future of Everything” conference this week. Hosted by The Wall Street Journal, it featured an array of speakers as sparkling as Sarah Jessica Parker’s shoes, in short panels that provided just enough fodder to get your brain synapses firing like popcorn.

Futuristic speculations are as addictive as popcorn to me, and I really, really love popcorn.

I attended the Equality Track. It started with a look at the future of men and ended with a ringing affirmation by Sarah Jessica, rocking her glittery SJP shoes, that the future of women in society and the workplace has been irrevocably changed by #metoo and Time’s Up. As a student of movement history, I am not that sanguine that progress always goes in a straight line, but let’s go with it for now.

While there were many nuggets worth chewing on during the conference, those two sometimes divergent bookends stood out most for me.

In between the bookends, we heard Tracy Chou of Project Include opine that companies get the best bang for their Human Resources buck by focusing on retention: nurturing and creating cultures in which the women and men already in their workforce can thrive. We were treated to a lively look at Marvel Comics superheroes present and future by their Vice President for Content and Character Development (what a fun title that is!), Sana Amanat. I asked the panel whether simply creating female superheroes in the male model changed anything culturally. Can’t say I got a satisfactory answer. What do you think?

Actor/activist Amber Tamblyn delivered a paean to women not just finding their voices but asserting absolute right to speak and assert our truth and she offered the opinion that men not only can be feminists but must if they want to survive.

And what of the future of men?

Here’s the topic description:

“From the bedroom to the boardroom, definitions of manhood and masculinity are rapidly evolving. Women have spent the last 50 years redefining their role in domestic and professional contexts, yet modern masculinity remains a Gordian knot of conflicting expectations. What ‘future of masculinity’ are we shaping today at home, at work, and in culture?”

Inevitably, I have found, discussions about gender roles break down first to “But what about sex?” as though humans are essentially walking genitals and we have to get that out of the way before we can deal with the rest of the issues.

Not surprisingly, “What is the future of sex?” was, in fact, the opening question from the moderator, WSJ’s Live Journalism Editor, Nikki Waller.

Panelist and pundit Baratunde Thurston didn’t seem too worried than men and women will stop being romantic in the #metoo age, despite all the handwringing about how men don’t know how to act toward women anymore. He believes we will find new, and we assume healthy, ways to play.

Thurston and the other panelist, psychotherapist Esther Perel bantered in good humor about the often fraught topic. But I thought Perel’s serious observation that “Powerful men seduce. They don’t harass. Insecure men harass,” was intriguing.

The best way to predict the future is to create it. — Steve Jobs

Which is exactly the message I got from Tina Tchen, a founder of Time’s Up and former chief of staff to Michelle Obama as she crisply ticked off Time’s Up’s short and long-term goals:

— The Legal defense fund

— Intersectionality in everything, including the plus one principle- take someone who might not have had access along to powerful events

— the entertainment industry’s pledge of 50–50 Leadership gender parity by 2020

Tchen and the optimistic actor/businesswoman/activist Sarah Jessica Parker of the sparkly shoes closed out the conference but not before SJP confessed that “Sex and the City” would probably look a lot different if it were reprised today.

All in all an uplifting day.

Despite the bad news we are bombarded with daily, I was reminded of Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

Here’s myself brazenly quoting myself: “Don’t follow your dreams — lead them.” To me, that truly describes the possibilities for the future of everything.

Networking When You Hate It

It’s gala season. I was getting ready to go to the Ms. Foundation’s 30th annual Gloria Awards dinner yesterday and fretting about — almost everything.

What to wear. No, I can’t wear that red silk jacket that I wore the last two years again. I know everyone will be there in sparkly evening clothes and I don’t even have those in my closet.

More, stomach-churning: Who do I need to be prepared to meet to make the best of the occasion (Ava Duvernay, please please please!)? How will I do that elegantly? Who will greet me, whose name should I remember but will be embarrassed to have forgotten? What if I end up standing alone in the back of the room?

It doesn’t seem to matter that I have had the opportunity to meet people from the grassroots to the highest halls of power during my career. I never get over the insecurity before an event, large or small.

My anxiety elevates hourly. I can already feel the crush of people, the buzz in room where everyone but me seems to be engaged in scintillating conversation. Yes, FOMO — fear of missing out — is rampant.

I imagine myself oblivious to the person standing right next to me. You know, that person who looks equally uncomfortable, perhaps wishing someone would come up and talk to her, but you perceive vibes that say “I really wish I weren’t here” so you leave her alone, later learning she was exactly who I wanted to meet.

It should be networking heaven, but it’s actually personal hell.

What to do?

I start with a step back. I believe passionately that the world turns on human connections. There is huge value in being among people, especially when you are on a mission, as I am, to accelerate women to leadership parity in my lifetime.

Marley Dias, the most amazing 13-year-old, founded #1000BlackGirlBooks when she was just 10.
Marley Dias, the most amazing 13-year-old, founded #1000BlackGirlBooks when she was just 10.

It is so important to show up in this world as the authentic person you are or want to be. It’s so important to connect and deepen relationships with others to be able to accomplish your work and to have a fulfilling life. You simply can’t accomplish that much alone. Everyone gets where we are with the support of others whether we know it or not.

The Future is Female

All of this is why I’ve become increasingly aware of the power of the cohort. Of groups of women and men who intentionally support, sponsor, and elevate each other. Like the 50 Women Can Change the World cohorts that form organically during our signature training programs we have done for women in nonprofits and currently for women in media and entertainment. Proximity helps to animate that mutual support based in trust. And trust is the essential heart of any positive human connection.

With Alyson Palmer of BETTY and her daughter Ruby
With Alyson Palmer of BETTY and her daughter Ruby

So I start to change my mindset. And I focus on techniques I’ve used successfully over time.

The easiest way is to help organize or to be on the program at events so that most people attending will already know who you are. That’s not as hard as it sounds. You can be the one inviting others in your field to dinner or a mixer. You can be the connector, assembling the people you want in the room or the people you want to have in your longer-term cohort for mutual support. That way you can also set the stage and create the ambiance where you feel most comfortable. At a large event you can be the table host.

I didn’t organize the gala I’m going to tonight, but I can organize my experience in advance by sending a few emails to people who will be in attendance and let them know I’m looking forward to seeing them so we will seek each other out. And yes, I was so brazen as to ask my table host if she would please introduce me to Duvernay. “I wish I could meet her too,” she replied wryly. But at least I know I’ve put the intention out into the universe.

#metoo founder Tarana Burke presented Woman of Vision award to the amazing director Ava Duvernay as Ms Foundation president Teresa Younger and Gloria Steinem look on.
#metoo founder Tarana Burke presented Woman of Vision award to the amazing director Ava Duvernay as Ms Foundation president Teresa Younger and Gloria Steinem look on.

I don’t have to meet everyone at the event. I’ll instead concentrate on meeting or building deeper relationships with a few people I most want to get to know.

As Selena Soo, a brilliant connector of people says in this podcast, the fastest way to reach your goals is through relationships. She organizes amazing events with carefully curated invitees who are sure to find mutual interests. The atmosphere is always comfortable, not forced.

Dorie Clark says in an article on “Personal Branding for Introverts” in the Harvard Business Review that there is a difference between being an introvert and being shy. This distinction can be helpful:

“Despite the common misperception that all introverts are shy, and vice versa, they’re two very different phenomena. (Author and introversion expert Susan Cain defines shyness as “the fear of negative judgment,” while introversion is “a preference for quiet, minimally stimulating environments.”) I actually like giving talks to large groups… I’m happy to mingle and answer questions afterward. But at a certain point, I’ve learned through experience, I have to get away and go somewhere by myself.”

That sounds a lot like me.

If you too cringe at the idea of networking, or if you like it well enough but want some new tips for networking more powerfully and productively, then I invite you to join me for my next free Virtual Happy Hour. Here are the details of who will be there and what you will get from “The Power of the Cohort: Your New Networking Secret.”

Wednesday, May 9th at 6:30 pm ET, find out how to power up and network with purpose so you can build your cohort and accelerate your career with ease and grace. Take The Lead Leadership Ambassadors Felicia Davis, Founder of the Black Women’s Collective, Lisa Mead, President of Crown Healthcare Advisors, and Yesi Morillo-Gual, Founder of Proud to Be Latina are experts in building this new kind of network for women across industries. Tune in to this discussion jam-packed with useful information and moderated by Take The Lead President & Co-Founder, Gloria Feldt, (that’s me.)

Find out what makes a cohort the must-have new power-building block for women and learn:

  • How to create a community for yourself by crafting solutions that matter
  • 3 keys for networking with purpose to help you excel in your career or industry
  • Steps you can take to find or build cohort of your own without embarrassment or fear

There will be useful freebies you won’t want to miss! If you can’t make it on May 9, be sure to sign up anyway because we will send you the link to the program and the freebies afterward.

The Power of the Cohort: Your New Networking Secret
Wednesday, May 9th at 6:30 pm ET

Sign Up Now and here’s a video that tells even more:

The Ms gala was inspiring, and I had a great time in spite of myself. I wore a different red dress, my signature color. I didn’t aim to meet everyone but I had meaningful conversations with a few new people and some I wanted to meet. I supported a cause I believe in. I didn’t meet Duvernay but more importantly, my younger colleague did.

Ava Duvernay and Rhea Beddoe
Ava Duvernay and Rhea Beddoe

How to Keep Women from Leadership Parity

I once led a women’s executive leadership workshop on “Women, Power, and Authentic Leadership”. A business school professor presented just before me, so I arrived early to observe her segment.

She’s a highly skilled communicator who presented terrific content. Her elegant attire and direct but modulated self-presentation perfectly mirror how women are advised to look and speak to succeed in the business world. I know she’s passionate about advancing women in leadership and I was eager to garner some tips from her.

During the Q and A, Sarah, I’ll call her, was asked how to handle male colleagues’ informal gatherings — golfing, going out for drinks or afternoon coffee. Sarah acknowledged that these groupings are where relationships are formed and business decisions often made and that when women are excluded, it can mean they also lose out on promotions. At a minimum, it keeps them from being recognized as full partners on the work team.

She gave the example of several men in her department who go for coffee every afternoon and never invite her, despite officing in the same hallway. She rolled her eyes and said, “Whatever. I don’t let it bother me. Occasionally, if I have something I want to discuss, I’ll invite myself along. They never reject me — they just don’t think about including me. I don’t think they have ill will. It’s more like they don’t quite know what to do with me.”

I cringed, wishing she had let it bother her and had done something to change the dynamic. Because the first way to keep women from leadership parity is to keep them excluded from the informal relationship web.

I made a mental note to share with participants my friend Nathalie Molina Nino’s technique. She worked globally almost exclusively with men senior to herself in age and position. When she was excluded from the men’s golf games, she didn’t learn to play golf as many women are counseled to do. (Not that there is anything wrong with golf; some women play for business relationship building because they like the game. I myself would have failed golf in college had there not been a written test.)

Instead, Nathalie staked her position on the team by doing something she enjoyed and inviting the others in. Before business travel, she researched restaurants, cuisine, and wines of the area. She planned a memorable dinner and invited all the men. This positioned her as a leader, not a follower begging to be let into the cool kids’ circle. She became the cool kid everyone wanted to be with. Sharing meals, and a little excellent wine, opened lines of communication; the men then felt more comfortable working with her as an equal in other settings as well.

The second burning question from a participant was whether she should join the women’s workplace affinity group at her company. Sarah advised against it, saying it pigeonholes you as a “woman professional” instead of merely a “professional.”

No one countered that advice, whether from intentional complicity, that pesky niceness that women are socialized to exhibit, or lack of awareness that she had implied women are less valuable than men.

And here, Sarah had just excused the men in her department for going off together as an all-male group for coffee! Men have been doing this forever and been applauded for it. This is in fact how most business gets done.

Again I cringed. During the break, I told Sarah that I would be giving a different point of view because I didn’t want her to be surprised. She was most gracious about it and I intend to continue the conversation with her since as a professor in the business school her influence can be widespread. The second way to keep women from leadership parity is to avoid joining with other women in order to advance us all.

I asked the participants to think through why employee affinity groups were formed in and what their purpose is — mutual support and to make up for the disadvantage of being a member of a group that has been traditionally less privileged or discriminated against. No one says LGBTQ people shouldn’t join affinity groups — and look at the progress they’ve made in bringing equal treatment to their colleagues in the workplace in a relatively short time.

That’s why Take The Lead’s 50 Women Can Change the World programs create cohorts of similar interests. The impact is immediate and apparent. We’ve done them with nonprofit women leaders. We are wrapping up another with women in Hollywood — our 50 Women Can Change the World in Media and Entertainment. And we are readying for as many as seven new ones this year including healthcare, human resources, finance, tech, and child care policy. Cohorts organically build networks for mutual support. They are your new superpower.

Like Valerie Brown’s story of using her role as chair of the African American affinity group in her company to differentiate herself and get the promotion she sought. She set the group’s agenda around how demonstrating their value to the company by bringing in business and making sure they got credit for it.

We are what we are, and we are at our best when we can be authentically ourselves. Declining to join a women’s network out of fear of being pigeonholed as a women is as ludicrous as men declining to wear pants because it might pigeonhole them as men.

Why would women so undervalue themselves that they would decline to join with their sisters to help each other, and themselves, out? Because the third and most effective way to keep women from leadership parity is to undervalue ourselves even though the rest of the world recognizes their leadership value, not raise our hands, not stand out as women to leverage the unassailable data that women in leadership are good for the business bottom line.

To learn more about the power of cohorts and why they are the new superpower women can bring to their careers, join me May 9 for our monthly Virtual Happy Hour. Take The Lead Leadership Ambassadors Felicia Davis, Founder of the Black Women’s Collective, Lisa Mead, President of Crown Healthcare Advisors, and Yesi Morillo-Gual, Founder of Proud to Be Latina, are experts in building this new kind of network for women across industries. It’s going to be amazing!

3 Things I learned this week (and one sneak preview)

Did you know that only 2% of women’s businesses crack the $1,000,000 revenue mark?

I learned that this week when I had the pleasure of speaking at Kristi Hall’s 2% club mastermind group.

While it’s not easy for any entrepreneur to build a business, according to a study by EY, businesses owned by men are 3.5 times as likely to reach that million-dollar threshold.

Kristi, founder of Conscious Connections, an 8000-member strong network of “business-savvy women who lead first with heart, consciousness and the unwavering belief that everyone is destined to find and profitably do their right work,” had invited me to share some tips with the group of women who have been meeting together for two years to support and learn from one another.

Because I know entrepreneurs have to be scrappy innovators, the Power Tool I chose to share with them was #3: Use what you’ve got. The resources you need are almost always there if you have the wisdom to see them and the power to use them.

Here’s one of the exercises we did — try it out and get deep into appreciating your own points of power.

I learned this week that the gentlemen in Congress finally realized that they had better not mess with Mother Nature, and especially not with human mothers in their midst. In a rare bipartisan general consent vote, newborns under one year are allowed on the U. S. Senate floor AND can be breastfed there.

Michele Weldon, Take The Lead’s Editorial Director, has written this piece for our newsletter next week — Power of New Working Moms: Beyonce, Pulitzer Winners, Political Leaders Shine — and I want to share it with you in advance because the title is everything. From New Zealand to Coachella and to the Senate floor, women are taking on a new power to get things done. Michele points out how that while women in the spotlight can afford things like childcare, these activist moms are “are also shedding light on the need for paid parental leave policies and adequate, affordable child care so that all working mothers can achieve their goals and fulfill their creative and professional ambitions.”

Can I love this hashtag via Elisa Kreisinger’s Pop Culture Pirate newsletter any more? (And you should totally subscribe.)

#RealBabiesBeforeManBabies

As CNN reported:

llinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who gave birth this month to her second child, becoming the first US Senator to do so while in office, spearheaded the push for the rule change and applauded her fellow lawmakers who she says helped to “bring the Senate into the 21st Century by recognizing that sometimes new parents also have responsibilities at work.”

Um hum. And perhaps we should ask: what would our institutions look like if women had created them? It’s not like having babies is anything new. We would have figured out how to manage childcare and work a long time ago.

I couldn’t resist tweeting this only slightly snarky response to another example of women figuring it out.

This week I relearned the power of the cohort to capture imaginations and move women farther faster to leadership parity.

I met with Take The Lead AZ’s Leadership Council and briefed them on the progress of our #50WomenCan Change the World programs for women in nonprofits and Media and Entertainment, plus the equally exciting ones upcoming for women in healthcare leadership, Human Resources, finance, childcare policy, and tech.

(If you are an AZ friend and want to know more about our one and only local chapter Take The Lead AZ, tweet me @GloriaFeldt and I’ll connect you. )

Wow, we were immediately off and running with ideas to do them for women in education, entrepreneurship, executives across sectors, and on and on.

Leadership parity moment is now and making it happen is just my cup of tea. (This photo courtesy of my lovely daughters and sister who took me for a birthday tea at the iconic AZ Biltmore.)

I hope it’s your cup of tea too because my sneak preview is to get ready for Tiffany Shlain’s 50/50 Day. I’ll be sharing from their feeds all day and Take The Lead is proud to be among the many sponsors and partners. You can learn more and join up here.

Till next week, power TO you!

“You had the power all along, my dear” — Glinda the good witch to Dorothy in The Wizard of OZ.

But as Dr. Susan Wilder, founder of Lifescape medical practice said at the mastermind, “You have to believe you deserve to commit. “

What Makes You Happy on Your Birthday?

What Makes You Happy on Your Birthday?

Issue 45– April 13, 2018

You guessed it: it’s happy birthday to me today, Friday the 13th. A day to think about what makes for happiness.

For me, it’s a day to be grateful for the many gifts I’ve received all year —the love of family, an amazing husband, an opportunity to do work I’m passionate about, good health, and friendship to name a few.

The Power of Gratitude — and Handwritten Thank You Notes

This week, I hope you had a chance to tune into my Virtual Happy Hour.

I had a vibrant conversation with three women — all of whom are changing the odds to speed gender parity, one in business, one in politics, and one in media. They are:

Tiffany Shlain, filmmaker, activist & Founder of the global 50/50 day movement;

Glynda Carr, co-founder of Higher Heights, a nonprofit dedicated to building a national infrastructure to harness Black women’s political power and leadership potential;

• and Kathy Coover, cofounder and executive Vice President of Isagenix, a billion dollar business, and direct sales expert.

Continue reading “What Makes You Happy on Your Birthday?”