The Evolution of Male-Female Relationships: An Interview with Leon Silver

I recently had a chance to speak with my friend and Take The Lead board member Leon Silver, co-managing partner of the Phoenix office of law firm Gordon & Rees. Leon is a lifelong supporter of women’s rights and co-founder of The Liberty Project nonprofit.

Gloria Feldt: You recently welcomed your first grandchild to the world, a baby boy named Greg. Looking forward to his future, can you tell me what you want the world to look like 25 years from now—in terms of gender roles and relationships both at work and at home?

Leon Silver: Simply put, I’d like for us to not to have to talk about gender roles. I would like to see an equality of judgment and an equality of merit. I don’t want Greg to live in a world where you are defined by your gender or by other people’s expectations for what you ought to be because of your gender. I’m not a fan of defined gender stereotypes or judgments or conclusions that get made based on gender differences.

G: In the legal field, women who choose to work and to be mothers often find themselves at a disadvantage. According to 2014 figures released by NALP earlier this year, only 17 percent of equity partners were women and only 5.6 percent were racial/ethnic minorities. What’s holding women back?

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The Power of the Infinite Pie: a Legacy Love Story

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.

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Quick! What’s Happening August 26, Really?

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.

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How “Play Like a Girl” Went From Epithet to Compliment

I’ve never been to a professional hockey game nor wanted to. I stay far away from sports bars.

But I do resonate with hockey legend Wayne Gretzky whose pithy leadership advice is, “Don’t skate to where the hockey puck is. Skate to where the hockey puck is going.”

I love the direction the hockey puck is going for women in sports.

That’s why why I’m excited about Take The Lead’s upcoming “Play Hockey Like a Girl” panel in Phoenix, AZ on November 11. More later on that.

My own sports story begins in elementary school. I was often humiliated by being the last person chosen for the softball team.  Probably today to make all children feel equally worthy, they draw lots or number off. But when I was a girl, I was the epitome of the dreaded epithet, “Play (whatever) Like a Girl.”

Except for the spelling bee. Everybody wanted me on their team for that. How “like a girl.” Another story for another day.

The more I failed to perform well at sports, the less I played, and the klutzier I therefore became.

I lived with three loving but busy adults for the formative first six years of my life and was rewarded for being quiet. Oh, they enrolled me in ballet and tap, in stereotypical girl child fashion. I was cute in my pink ballet tutu. But I was also the slightly chunky one on the end who was never quite on point. In tap, I was a total disaster, the top-hatted, foot-clicking version of Wrong Way Corrigan.

It was expected that my boy cousins and playmates on the block would be active and boisterous. I envied them. Tried to run after them, and have the scars to prove it.

My Turnaround

It wasn’t until years later, after I had children and was starting to thicken around the waist, that I was motivated to engage in any significant physical activity.

It started slowly with 10 or 15 minutes of exercises I learned from a women’s magazine. Periodically I would run laps around the nearby football practice field. (We lived a block from the real Friday Night Lights.)

Thank You, Jane Fonda

But I lacked the tenacity or lung power to stick with running. About when I hit 40, though, Jane Fonda released her exercise videos. I did one almost every morning until I got hooked on exercise endorphins and couldn’t start the day without feeling the burn.

Thank you Jane, for changing the lives of many women by showing us how to exercise like a girl and love it.

Here a shout out to Bernice Sandler is overdue–the “godmother” of Title IX, the 1972 legislation that had brought equity to girls in various aspects of education, but is best known for requiring schools to provide boys and girls equal access sports.

The value of participation in sports for girls and women is profound: learning leadership skills, physical discipline, teamwork, and how to compete in a positive way understanding that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, and you come back to play again another day.

I wanted to continue to improve rather than go downhill physically at middle age. So I hired a trainer and began to build upper body strength for the first time. Wow. What a difference it made. I began to feel a mastery over my body and my physical prowess that I’m guessing male children learn by the time they are five years old.

The definition of “play like a girl” was clearly changing. When my husband and I were visiting friends around the 30th anniversary of Title IX, their nine-year-old daughter Sarah came racing home breathless and sweaty from her soccer practice. My husband said to her in his old-fashioned “like a boy” way, “You must be a tomboy.”

Sarah looked at him like he had two heads and replied, “What’s a tomboy?”

That was when I knew a true shift had taken place. And the trajectory has continued. Parity in funding and public attention to women’s sports has not been reached–far from it. But the days when Billie Jean King had to play a man to get attention are long gone. Over a third of high school and college women participate in sports. Women’s college basketball teams often play to sellout stadiums, and women are making a living in every sport from rock climbing to car racing , as well as in other professions that support sports, such as media announcers, team administrators, sports medicine, and much more.

Women in sports is a big deal now. As the much touted Always advertisement illustrates, “Play like a girl” is no longer an epithet but quickly becoming the best compliment we can give.

If you’re in Arizona, come join Take The Lead and a panel of distinguished women in sports, sponsored by the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes.

Ticket purchase details are here.

Sponsorship opportunities are here.

 

 

How to Keep Women from Leadership Parity

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

ladders wcf avisShe’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.)

if yu don't know your own valueInstead, 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.

I shared 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 practical leadership Power Tools that help you overcome these three ways to keep women from leadership parity, and to advance your own career while improving your company’s business results, enroll now in my next signature online certificate course, “9 Practical Women’s Leadership Power Tools to Advance Your Career .”  Early bird rate through Sept. 16; corporate and group discounts are available for two or more from one organization.

PS. Next week I’ll tackle how to overcome the implicit bias that infects how both men and women think about gender and leadership and is the cause of these three ways to hold women back.

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Are Leadership Messes Women’s Opportunity?

BirdsFemale leadership firsts are trending. Especially when an organization is in big trouble, it seems. Often the choice of a woman appears to be an act of desperation. Fix us, clean up the mess and make it all work. Call mommy to doctor a skinned knee, soothe the troubled waters.

Marissa Mayer at Yahoo for instance, was brought in to stop the bleeding at Yahoo and set it back on a path to profits — when she was pregnant no less.

Chaotic moments can be enormous opportunities for women to move into leadership positions at organizations that have been impervious to women’s advancement due to what Secretary General of the Council of World Leaders Laura Liswood dubs a “thick layer of men” rather than a glass ceiling.

But the ugly underside occurs when women are called in as a Hail Mary pass after previous leaders have so messed up the system that the opportunity can be a set up for failure:

  • When the old systems, or leadership thereof, are corrupt as General Motors. Mary Barra didn’t have much time to celebrate her ascension to the first woman CEO of a major automobile company before she was faced with righting egregious safety wrongs, a moral bankruptcy more likely than economic bankruptcy to do the company in.
  • When an institution is shrinking like the vaunted Riverside a Church in New York which recently appointed its first woman senior minister, Dr. Amy K. Butler.
  • When scandal catapults a woman to a leadership role and being dubbed by Forbes the fifth most powerful woman in the world as it did Christine Lagarde, who became head of the International Monetary Fund in the wake of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrogant sexual behavior.
  • When a tanking economy causes companies to shed higher paid men and take on or retain women who still earn comparatively 25% less than male counterparts.

That’s why women going into these situations need a special set of tools to help them succeed. 

I started writing this post from the ship Isabela II in the Galápagos Islands of Ecuador. While observing first hand natural selection and evolutionary adaptation at work, I’m also reading The Beak of the Finch, a beautifully written narrative of how Charles Darwin and other less known researchers developed their scientific theories of change in the natural world. The tale is told through the work of professors Rosemary and Peter Grant who studied the finches extensively a century after the nondescript little brown birds first prompted Darwin’s idea of evolution of species.

Upon careful observation, the finches turned out to have at least thirteen different beak adaptations, each an exquisitely evolved tool enabling the birds to access the various seeds available in order to survive the harshest island environments.

Similarly, anyone going into an organization in dire need of change will benefit from having specialized tools to clean up the mess while righting the culture and creating a new strategy.

Stepping up to such challenges first requires courage. The courage to embrace power in ways few women have historically done. I’m heartened when pop culture celebs like Kerry Washington encourage women to take more risks. Her “badass” message applies regardless of sector.

Being courageous in an intentional way requires employing practical leadership tools to leverage the opportunity–to “carpe the chaos”—one of the power tools I’ll teach in my
9 Practical Leadership Power Tools to Advance Your Career certificate course. It’s a four-week course, entirely online so you can do the work at your convenience, starting July 16. I’d love to see you there. (You can still get the early bird price for a few more days.)

The course is packed with helpful specific tools and tips. Plus the big bonus is the support and insights you get from and give to other women. We make the online platform surprisingly human.

Let’s face it, if women are ever to take their fair and equal share of leadership positions across all sectors as Take The Lead’s mission Intends, we must step up, even if the opportunity is rooted in chaos and the risk of failure is high.

If you have taken on a leadership challenge during a time of crisis and chaos, or are considering doing so, please tell us about it. Your story will inspire someone else. For each act of courage makes the path easier for the next woman.

Jill Abramson and Gender Bilingual Communication

Jill AbramsonWith hindsight, this 2013 article all but predicted Jill Abramson’s unceremonious fall. Though according to the New Yorker  rendition, her demise was precipitated when Abramson, the New York Times’ first female executive editor, confronted her boss, publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., after learning her pay was significantly less than her predecessor, I point the finger of firing fate much toward implicit cultural biases that influence behavior much more than any of us want to believe.

Daily Beast columnist Keli Goff asked me whether I think Abramson’s firing will deter women from seeking top jobs. I have in the past made the naïve assumption that once doors are open, women will inherently want to walk through them.

But I’ve come to realize that women have been stuck at under 18% of top leadership positions across all sectors because we too often resist the hard knuckle fray or don’t even apply for positions for which we’re technically qualified because we lack the confidence to do so. We literally speak a different language from the men who make up the majority of the prevailing corporate culture and have learned that when we ask, we are less likely than men to get, and thus it’s safer not to ask.

Even though we’re all speaking English, there is cultural and linguistic gender bilingualism. Women typically use more words than men, for example, more adjectives, more body movements, less directness. And while men might (and often do) complain about that language pattern, the truth is that when women violate the familiar norms, they are treated even worse. Wise insights about this reality in journalism are offered by Newsweek’s first female Senior Editor Lynn Povich.

Not adhering to that stereotype, not being willing to play the nice girl, was Abramson’s real Achilles heel. I seriously doubt that Sulzberger even knows what he doesn’t know about his own biases. His privilege runs so deep that he has never needed to understand them.

Tech journalist Kara Swisher describes a deep-seated problem for the Times if these gendered biases are not openly addressed, however.

Let me see if I can say it more simply than Sulzberger: She was a real pain in my ass and so she had to go.

I can relate, to say the least. As one of the few top editors in tech journalism who is a woman and, even from my many years of reporting before that, I cannot tell you the number of times that I have been called a pain in the ass for my aggressive manner. Silly me, but that kind of tonality is exactly what makes for a successful journalist — you know, afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted — and what is more often than not needed in the sometimes rough-and-tumble world of media.

Take The Lead blogger, Susan Gross nailed the grey lady to the wall with this relevant bit of research:

Abe Rosenberg was the top editor of The New York Times for 17 years. The Times own obituary of Rosenberg described him as an “abrasive man of dark moods and mercurial temperament,” who had a “combative and imperious style” and was known for “driving his staffs relentlessly.”  Yet there was never any move to force him out. Instead, when he retired Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, then the publisher of The Times, declared that Rosenberg’s “record of performance as executive editor of The Times will last as a monument to one of the titans of American journalism.” The abrasive Rosenberg got plaudits. The abrasive Abramson got the sack (emphasis mine).

So what’s a woman to do? To speak the language of leadership, women still have to navigate the double-edged sword. The plain truth is that the group with less power always has to learn to speak the language of the group with greater power. You have to know the rules of the game before you can change them. While it is exhausting to be relentlessly pleasant as women are often advised to do, we always benefit more by respecting others’ communications patterns and “languages” than not.

But we won’t succeed by trying to “go the way of the man” as a colleague recently described those women who adopt male characteristics to be heard and promoted. To the contrary.

We must remain aware that all those little mincing steps we learn as women–the suppression, silence, overcompensation that are so deeply ingrained–are cultural ways of controlling women and keeping us in a subordinate space. And we must not let anything stop our full expression of who we are and what we want. Authenticity in the end draws people to you and allows you to demonstrate your unique value. The solution is to be smart and strategic and unleash our authentic selves while speaking in tongues others can understand.

Write on, Jill, and speak on. I believe the media firestorm this episode wrought has created an inflection point, and that if women keep speaking up now, we’ll keep on moving up, thanks in part to your willingness to self-advocate. My guess is that though you might think being executive editor of the New York Times was the pinnacle of your career, you’ll soon find a higher peak, right around the next switchback.

“Born Leader” Betsy Rafael Is GoDaddy’s First Female Board Member

Betsy RafaelWhen GM’s new, and first female, CEO Mary Barra moved quickly and publicly to recall cars with the company’s potentially lethal ignition switch problems her predecessors had known but failed to address for a decade, you could feel the fresh air.

It would be foolhardy to say her gender made her act in this ethical manner, or to assume a man would not. Still, you can’t help but notice that Barra straight-up owned the problem in a way startlingly distant from the public relations posturing typical of Fortune 500’s protecting their fortunes.

This happened shortly after I’d interviewed GoDaddy’s first female board member, Betsy Rafael as a follow to my post on Blake Irving last week. I’d had that same airy feeling when I talked with her.

What was your life and career path?
My dad was a human resources executive; my mother owned an advertising agency. Dad told me I might as well focus on a degree that’s practical, where you can get a job, like engineering for accounting.

I got excited about technology in my first job with Ernst & Young. Apple had been a client, then I went to work there. I developed expertise in bringing organizations to scale. I’m a good coach and mentor. All along, I used my background in finance and the numbers of business. I’m goal oriented and liked being closer to the action than auditing the numbers.

You sound very intentional about what your career choices…
I didn’t have a long-term goal of being CFO. Careers are journeys in how you get from place to place. The core is I was a natural leader, a natural delegator, good at communicating and getting people to move in a direction. I keep teams connected. Everything you do as a leader is about connecting with people.

I’ve talked and worked with many women leaders and you are the first who ever said, “I’m a natural-born leader.” Tell me more.
Not only did I feel I was a natural leader, I also invested in my own leadership. You have to invest in yourself. I read every leadership book early on—I wanted to be better, to develop, to grow. To know how do you work through obstacles.

Was any training was particularly helpful to you?
There’s no silver bullet, but every quarter I did an offsite with extended leadership team with outside experts. Even if we only learn one thing each time, we get better. The key is knowing yourself which sometimes executives don’t do, your strengths and weaknesses. And you have to be your own advocate.

You also serve on the boards of Echelon and Autodesk. Why did you join the GoDaddy board?
It’s one of those special companies with a unique global built platform. It has the power of an established company with the energy of a start-up. I was drawn to help them scale.

Only 17% of Fortune 500 boards are female and in Silicon Valley that number hovers at 10%. Why do you think, or do you think getting more women on boards is a good idea?
Yes  —  I do, actually. I’ve always been a believer in my responsibility to help other women. Women always want to be so pure and say we just want the best person, whereas the men help each other. You show the value of diversity when women get onto the board.

What’s your advice to women interested in serving on boards?
I was fortunate that after 2002 when Sarbanes- Oxley came into effect, it put requirements on boards to have people who are qualified, especially in finance. Coming from a background in finance made me stand out as someone who had the experience to be in that capacity. The first thing to understand is your value proposition: finance, legal, securing funding, for example. At the end of the day, they’re looking for people who are experts in their field.

The second piece of advice is to have a network and to understand the people who are going to be making decisions about who joins the board. Are there ways you can get experience relevant to board service without being on a board? Are there ways to enhance your viability as a board member?

What do you do when you’re not working?
I’d like to think I’m a golfer. My husband and I play golf, and we have two dogs that are spoiled rotten. We have 3 out of 4 parents who need some assistance. I serve on the board of trustees of Santa Clara University where I went to school.

Postscript:The press release announcing Rafael’s appointment plays the gender card. But Rafael isn’t just varnish for the company’s image. She sounds solid, matter of fact, well grounded. When she says she’s a natural leader you don’t hear ego — it’s just a fact, ma’am.

You can also imagine that like Mary Barra, Rafael keeps calm in chaos. You sense those studies finding the addition of women increases group intelligence must be true, and that you’ve just met the archetype of the woman whose risk aversion — a key factor in that vaunted better performance of companies with more women on their boards — is firmly planted not in fear but in intelligent consideration of evidence.

Let me know what you think:

  • Are Barra and Rafael examples of a core difference rooted in culturally baked in attributes of gender, or does this behavioral difference have more to do with their being self-selected “firsts?”
  • What would change about organizations if men and women held equal shares of leadership?

Bikinis and Bongos: GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving Beats the Drums of Change

Blake IrvingWhen you speak with GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving, it’s easy to conjure the teenage percussionist he once was, asserting his high energy drive with his drumsticks, and quite possibly driving his mother crazy by beating bongos while doing the split in the kitchen like Jean-Claude Van Damme in this classically weird GoDaddy ad.

I had a chance to interview the leader of the world’s largest and most controversial domain name registrar, not long after his first anniversary there.

This New York Times piece on GoDaddy’s changed advertising strategy had initially drawn my attention to Irving, who describes himself accurately as gregarious and easy-going. I was curious to find out about his leadership philosophy, and how he had quickly moved the company to a laser focus on the mission of serving small businesses, their core customer base, while deftly changing its public image with women.

Like many women, I’ve in the past been offended by GoDaddy’s sexist brand presence. Remember those Superbowl ads depicting “hot women” in scanty clothes, their come-hither messages aimed to entice adolescent boys — and men who think like adolescent boys — to use the company’s products? Eye rollers became deal breakers as they increasingly objectified women’s bodies, with ample breasts and bikinis splayed over the company website.

And then suddenly, there was the switch from boobs to those funky bongos. What had happened?

The timely confluence of three factors — economics, personal lived experience and women’s activism — I believe, propelled Irving’s successful change of course.

Baring it all: women, business and changing the core culture

I found Irving, who keeps a drum set in his office, straightforward about how he had approached the company. He’s big on doing the hard work of understanding the company and the culture before making decisions about where to take it, then being decisive and consistent about his vision. He likens the discipline of leadership to Jazz, saying that in both, one must simultaneously perfect performance while improvising.

One of the first things he observed is that women, lo and behold, had become GoDaddy’s core customer. “We conducted extensive customer research and found that 58% of our customers are women. Women own half of the businesses in the US, and globally, women are the primary business owners,” said Irving. “The values inside the company didn’t square with the ads that were in the marketplace.”

Careful not to disparage GoDaddy’s founder, Irving opines that Bob Parsons knew garnering attention could gain market share. But he acknowledges, in today’s economy, a successful company has to be inclusive of women, both inside the company and in its public face: “We value everybody. We allow women customers to pursue their own ventures. We do not want to objectify them.”

And Irving believes a successful company’s employee base has to match its customer base. GoDaddy’s leadership overall is 30% women, and they’ve just appointed Silicon Valley insider Betsy Rafael (about whom I will write in my next post) to their board. Though she’ll be their first female board member, one gets the feeling she won’t be the only one for long.

I’ve even noticed more female (and female-friendly) voices lately when I call GoDaddy for customer support.

So the marketplace has pushed GoDaddy, as it has many companies, to better serve women customers and better treat female employees. But other factors are also at play.

The personal is still political

Often it’s soft hearts for their daughters that influence men to want women to get a fair shake. But Irving, who has sons and no daughters, says his views were shaped by his mom, wife and sisters — feminists all. And he was moved by the untimely death of his youngest sister, a leading researcher on the effects of women’s body image. He promised her he would do everything he can to get women into leadership in the tech industry. He’s making good on that promise.

At the root of social change is always the personal story, the most powerful driver in all realms. So for Blake Irving, commitment to advancing women comes from this deep well of lived experience.

But for changes in any field to occur and to stick, pressure for that change also has to come from outside.

How women are changing GoDaddy

GapAppIt’s said that the job of advocates is to make it impossible for decision makers not to do the right thing.

Women customers had begun beating the bongos of change at a volume impossible to ignore. Many were quietly voting with their mouse clicks, moving over to other web hosts. My female journalist friends launched a campaign to move their own website hosting to other services.

When I posted on my Facebook page about GoDaddy’s sponsorship of the Close the Gap App, a young woman entrepreneur quickly let me know her university still won’t use GoDaddy’s services because of its founder’s highly publicized ultimate macho elephant killing escapades in 2011. There’s even a hashtag #breakupwithgodaddy.

And if anyone thinks it’s hard to affect large systemic change like Take The Lead’s goal of reaching leadership gender parity by 2025, look at GoDaddy. Women, as purchasers of 85% of consumer products, now very much possess of all the power we need to achieve whatever we want.

Whenever I tell audiences that it’s time to change the narrative about women’s leadership from problems to solutions, they cheer. There is a readiness as never before, and clearly there are male champions like Blake Irving who will — and do — use their power to drive that change forward.

Mary Barra, First Female GM CEO, Takes The Lead

GM Mary Barra

Does it seem odd for Mary Barra, the newly appointed CEO of General Motors—the first woman to hold that top position in the male-dominated automobile industry–to be profiled as a “woman like you” by the nonprofit organization Take The Lead I cofounded in late 2012?

According to reports chronicling Barra’s career path, she fits the earthy description quite well. The daughter of a die-maker who worked for GM 39 years and who herself entered the company’s technical school at age 18 to become an engineer, Barra’s step-by-step journey up through the ranks might speak of authenticity, hard work, and focus.

In the midst of the media flurry about Barra’s new role, my friend Leslie Grossman tweeted: “Experience Trumps Gender!”

But what I gleaned from colleagues who know both Mary Barra and the auto industry, it took way more than experience for her to land this position. And her 30-year trajectory could be a textbook for women like you and me.

First, the published reports of Barra’s leadership style read like McKinsey studies of the characteristics of women’s leadership that result in higher return on investment for companies that have greater numbers of women in upper management and on their boards. She’s described as a hard worker, a consensus builder, a team player whose people skills are lauded as much as her intense competitiveness. That’s authenticity—not trying to be other than who you are.

Second, her colleagues observe with admiration that this female steel ceiling-breaker, as my friend and former Ford executive Anne Doyle calls it adeptly, walks the politically delicate line between using her advantageous timing as a talented woman in traditionally testosterone driven industry to propel herself forward while not pushing the gender stereotype envelope too far.

As one person said to me, “Mary is definitely one of those ‘Influential Insider’ (I’m no feminist but….) women.” Still, say others, Barra has helped women move up in the company: “She is playing the game quite well – her way!”

Third, Barra aligned with a powerful male sponsor. Her timing was right with that too, since her sponsor, who happened to be her predecessor, Daniel Akerson, left sooner than anticipated due to his wife’s illness. Thus Barra avoided the dangerous shoals of mentor/sponsor conflicts that have wrecked many a relationship when the mentor feels his position threatened, or the ambitious mentee chafes waiting for the sponsor to leave.

While it chills my hot feminist blood to hear her peers say she won’t discuss gender parity, Mary Barra’s personal story and humble beginnings give me hope that as she gains confidence from success as CEO, she will continue to grow in her commitment to advancing other women. That’s important to leadership parity because as Anne Doyle observed, having female role models boosts the talent pool of women who might not have previously seen themselves in the picture. It’s incumbent on women like all of us to support her and reward her for every step she takes in that direction.