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

GLORIA FELDT is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a sought-after speaker and frequent contributor to major news outlets, and the Co-Founder and President of Take The LeadPeople has called her “the voice of experience,” and among the many honors she has been given, Vanity Fair called her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers,” and Glamour chose her as a “Woman of the Year.”

As co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a leading women’s leadership nonprofit, her mission is to achieve gender parity by 2025 through innovative training programs, workshops, a groundbreaking 50 Women Can Change The World immersive, online courses, a free weekly newsletter, and events including a monthly Virtual Happy Hour program and a Take The Lead Day symposium that reached over 400,000 women globally in 2017.

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.

GLORIA FELDT is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a sought-after speaker and frequent contributor to major news outlets, and the Co-Founder and President of Take The LeadPeople has called her “the voice of experience,” and among the many honors she has been given, Vanity Fair called her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers,” and Glamour chose her as a “Woman of the Year.”

As co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a leading women’s leadership nonprofit, her mission is to achieve gender parity by 2025 through innovative training programs, workshops, a groundbreaking 50 Women Can Change The World immersive, online courses, a free weekly newsletter, and events including a monthly Virtual Happy Hour program and a Take The Lead Day symposium that reached over 400,000 women globally in 2017.

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.

GLORIA FELDT is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a sought-after speaker and frequent contributor to major news outlets, and the Co-Founder and President of Take The LeadPeople has called her “the voice of experience,” and among the many honors she has been given, Vanity Fair called her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers,” and Glamour chose her as a “Woman of the Year.”

As co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a leading women’s leadership nonprofit, her mission is to achieve gender parity by 2025 through innovative training programs, workshops, a groundbreaking 50 Women Can Change The World immersive, online courses, a free weekly newsletter, and events including a monthly Virtual Happy Hour program and a Take The Lead Day symposium that reached over 400,000 women globally in 2017.

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.

GLORIA FELDT is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a sought-after speaker and frequent contributor to major news outlets, and the Co-Founder and President of Take The LeadPeople has called her “the voice of experience,” and among the many honors she has been given, Vanity Fair called her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers,” and Glamour chose her as a “Woman of the Year.”

As co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a leading women’s leadership nonprofit, her mission is to achieve gender parity by 2025 through innovative training programs, workshops, a groundbreaking 50 Women Can Change The World immersive, online courses, a free weekly newsletter, and events including a monthly Virtual Happy Hour program and a Take The Lead Day symposium that reached over 400,000 women globally in 2017.

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. “

GLORIA FELDT is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a sought-after speaker and frequent contributor to major news outlets, and the Co-Founder and President of Take The LeadPeople has called her “the voice of experience,” and among the many honors she has been given, Vanity Fair called her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers,” and Glamour chose her as a “Woman of the Year.”

As co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a leading women’s leadership nonprofit, her mission is to achieve gender parity by 2025 through innovative training programs, workshops, a groundbreaking 50 Women Can Change The World immersive, online courses, a free weekly newsletter, and events including a monthly Virtual Happy Hour program and a Take The Lead Day symposium that reached over 400,000 women globally in 2017.

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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GLORIA FELDT is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a sought-after speaker and frequent contributor to major news outlets, and the Co-Founder and President of Take The LeadPeople has called her “the voice of experience,” and among the many honors she has been given, Vanity Fair called her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers,” and Glamour chose her as a “Woman of the Year.”

As co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a leading women’s leadership nonprofit, her mission is to achieve gender parity by 2025 through innovative training programs, workshops, a groundbreaking 50 Women Can Change The World immersive, online courses, a free weekly newsletter, and events including a monthly Virtual Happy Hour program and a Take The Lead Day symposium that reached over 400,000 women globally in 2017.

Shay’s Story: Struggling to Be Taken Seriously at Work

It’s been quiet here with the holidays taking people’s attention. And I’d just about run out of 9 Ways stories to tell. Then in the “what you need is there if you can see it” mode, Shay Pausa’s story landed in my inbox. Shay has a video production company, ChiKiiTV, and in full disclosure is currently making a new speaking reel for me. Trust me, if you have video production needs, hire her. She wrote to share how her experiences and feelings as a woman in the workforce matched my findings in No Excuses. Here’s Shay’s story:

Truthfully, I’ve never thought of myself as a feminist yet as I read your book and watch your presentations, I know that I am and always have been. I struggled from the time I entered the business world at 17 years old to be taken as seriously as my male co-workers. I made attempts to be unattractive so that my superiors would see that I was a smart, assertive hard worker. I was passed over for promotions and opportunities repeatedly. I was even once was told by the hiring manager that though I was the heir apparent, the executive team could not “picture” me in the job. They hired a man with 5 years less experience from outside the company. But I did not give up and I stayed at that company until I got the promotions. At a certain point, I brought up my concern that I was not being given deserved promotions based on my sex and age. I got the next one. What they feared even more than a smart woman who can call a spade a spade was a lawsuit.

As I worked my way up the corporate ladder, I found that my success was dependent not so much on the results I produced. but in demonstrating that I could act like a man. I never took a full maternity leave because though I had the legal right, I knew it would hurt my career. I took calls and had my laptop within 3 hours of giving birth. I had to work harder than my male counterparts just to keep my job. I felt I had to sacrifice being feminine to compete. And yet through it all, I believed that if I wanted it to be different, I was going to have to make a difference. I imagined that when I was the CEO of a publicly held company, I would change the culture and the unspoken rules. The laws were not my problem. I wanted real parity, the kind not forced because of law but accepted because it is true. Women bring skill sets to the workplace that produce results. These are natural skills and talents that make a difference.

I know that my experience is not uncommon. And I know that companies are not getting the most out of their employee base if the women in those companies feel as I did. Women are keeping and getting more jobs right now because we’re cheaper labor in a tough economy. And we’ll be the ones who turn the economy around but I fear if there is not a real change in core belief that women are equally valuable in producing profit, we won’t see those board room or management statistics change in any significant way anytime soon.

GLORIA FELDT is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a sought-after speaker and frequent contributor to major news outlets, and the Co-Founder and President of Take The LeadPeople has called her “the voice of experience,” and among the many honors she has been given, Vanity Fair called her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers,” and Glamour chose her as a “Woman of the Year.”

As co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a leading women’s leadership nonprofit, her mission is to achieve gender parity by 2025 through innovative training programs, workshops, a groundbreaking 50 Women Can Change The World immersive, online courses, a free weekly newsletter, and events including a monthly Virtual Happy Hour program and a Take The Lead Day symposium that reached over 400,000 women globally in 2017.

Listen to Gloria on Head Over Heels

Tuesday, 9/28/10 at 11 AM Pacific Time on VoiceAmerica Business Channel
Head Over Heels: Women’s Business Radio

Listen NowWomen’s Relationship to Power
and Leadership

Women have a very complicated relationship to power.  Is it possible that women keep themselves back from parity? My guest, Gloria Feldt, has studied this topic and it is the subject of her newest book, No Excuses:9 Ways Women Can Change the Way We Think About Power.
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Putting Your Purse Where Your Principles Are

Swanee Hunt sings the Mother Goose ditty, “The king was in the counting house counting out his money; the queen was in the parlor eating bread and honey,” to describe the gendered roles about money she learned at the knee of her Texas oil magnate father. Her sister, Helen LaKelly Hunt, talks about how her father brought her husband into his business because in the 1950’s it never occurred to him to hire his daughters.

How they went from that beginning to seed and lead the Women Moving Millions campaign which has thus far raised $176 million in $1 million+ gifts for women’s funds and organizations across the country reflects a journey often taken by women of wealth who want to use their money for worthy purposes. Indeed, while well-heeled men often go into politics or start businesses, women are more likely to start social movements or fund charities.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHEukF5oFOo[/youtube]

Moving Millions is a new twist on this common theme. “We’re not funding charity,” declares Chris Grumm, president of the Women’s Funding Network, the funding collaborative that has provided the structure through which the Women Moving Millions funds have been raised and distributed, “We’re funding change.” She says that networks and collaboration represent the ways women work, including how they feel most comfortable doing philanthropy.

Grumm points out that many of the organizations that receive these funds are advocacy organizations or do both service and advocacy.

Helen Hunt adds, “We see ourselves transforming gender roles as we’re transforming the amount of money going to women and girls. We’re funding women’s voice in society. Women are the strategic way to fund in the future.”

But empowering women through nonprofit organizations isn’t the only way women to day are leading strategically with their purses.

Philanthropy to Business
Michelle Robson is one philanthropist and community leader who turned businesswoman to solve a systemic problem that affected her personally. Robson, who lives in Phoenix AZ, suffered in silence with a variety of severe health problems for over a year after a hysterectomy, yet found that despite her more than ample resources she couldn’t get the information and proper care that she needed. A big part of the problem was that she felt helpless within the medical system and had to learn for herself how to question medical professionals, find sources of accurate and complete information, evaluate alternatives for her unique circumstance, and advocate for her own needs. Her experience fueled a passion for making sure other women can get unbiased information about health; she put her purse where her principles are to the tune of investing $8 million to start up the women’ s health information website EmpowHer.com.  She’s put together a team of leading medical experts along with media and technology experts to help her expand her vision of “improving women’s health one woman at a time.”

Nor has Robson been reluctant to take on the powerful to make sure women’s health isn’t subject to censorship. During National Women’s Health Week last week, she withdrew her funding and sponsorship from the Women’s Health Expo & Conference being organized by the Governor’s Office for Children, Youth, and Families after Governor Jan Brewer exclude the preventive health information provided by Planned Parenthood Arizona and condom information and distribution by a county health department HIV/AIDS program. “Women’s health shouldn’t be a political football,” she says.

Business to Philanthropy

Jackie Zehner and Lilly Ledbetter

Thanks to advances women have made in the last four decades, younger women like Jacki Zehner have made it in the formerly boys-only world of finance. She was the youngest woman, and first female trader, to be invited into the partnership of Goldman Sachs. After leaving the firm in 2002, she became a Founding Partner of Circle Financial Group, a private wealth management operation. Zehner is now a frequent media commentator on women’s leadership and success in the workplace, and their relationship to wealth, investing, and social change. She’s a venture capital investor in women-owned startup firms through the angel investor group Golden Seeds. Her Purse Pundit Blog shares her knowledge and her enthusiasm for both the business and philanthropic worlds and is a contributor the Women Moving Millions campaign.

All these women exemplify leadership through the power of their purses and why so many women feel the urgency of women’s economic power to achieving full equality not just for themselves but also to rebalance the economy and the culture as a whole.

As Helen Hunt observed at a Women Moving Millions briefing for media recently, “Something isn’t working in the world.” To which her sister responded in that sweet-tart Texas voice, “That’s because it wasn’t Lehmann Sisters. But a new form is arising.”

GLORIA FELDT is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a sought-after speaker and frequent contributor to major news outlets, and the Co-Founder and President of Take The LeadPeople has called her “the voice of experience,” and among the many honors she has been given, Vanity Fair called her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers,” and Glamour chose her as a “Woman of the Year.”

As co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a leading women’s leadership nonprofit, her mission is to achieve gender parity by 2025 through innovative training programs, workshops, a groundbreaking 50 Women Can Change The World immersive, online courses, a free weekly newsletter, and events including a monthly Virtual Happy Hour program and a Take The Lead Day symposium that reached over 400,000 women globally in 2017.

Was Wooly Bully a Woman?

The recent New York Times article entitled “Backlash: Women Bullying Women” instantly reminded me of the 1960’s song, “Wooly Bully”*. Its logic was garbled and its presentation just plain silly, but it was nevertheless so entertainingly in tune with the culture of the day that it became a big hit.

Though the piece began by acknowledging that men are the majority (60%!) of workplace bulliers, that fact was quickly dismissed. Why wasn’t it the headline? Because it’s so obvious. It’s not a “man bites dog” story.

Instead, the reporter zeroed in on the finding that of women who do bully, 70% choose other women as their targets. Then the article proceeded to analyze this through the lens of a recurring cultural narrative, far too often embraced by even the New York Times despite evidence to the contrary, that women can’t get along, that women don’t support other women, that women are their own worst enemies when it comes to fostering workplace advancement.

These stories overlook important dynamics:

  • Men still determine the workplace culture in most instances, because they hold the majority of top power positions. We’re still in the midst of an unfinished revolution after all.
  • Though women now hold about half of management and professional positions, they tend to be the junior partners and when it comes to the top positions with the most clout, women lag far behind men: for example, still just 15% of Fortune 500 top officers and board members. So plain and simple, the men at the top have more choices of whom to bully.
  • Bullies will always pick on those with less power. And since more women work in the lower echelons of power (who still holds the majority of administrative assistant jobs, for example?), women who are more likely to hold the lower-status management positions are not likely to bully someone with more power, but rather to pick on someone closer to their own size if they are the bullying kind.
  • People who are oppressed tend to oppress others. That is the behavior they have learned from the dominant culture.
  • One highly effective way the prevailing culture can keep women in their traditional place, and men can keep their traditional power, is to belittle women; that is, to keep these stories of the lack of female cooperation perpetually bubbling like warm yeast sponge.

So what’s the big story that women, who are less powerful already than men, are more likely to bully other women if indeed they bully someone? It’s a statistical artifact.

This doesn’t make it right, nor am I in any way condoning bullying, but a look at these factors does begin to point us to where we need to go to correct the problem.

And, wait, there’s more to consider: studies of management decision making groups have found that where there are more women, there is actually better behavior, better decisions, and less corruption.

In “Women Matter,” a study published in 2007 by McKinsey &Co., the management consultants, asserts that companies employing at least 30% female executives–not just a token woman here or there–perform better than all-male outfits. Female managers are more likely than men to make collaborative decisions, to behave as role models and to consider the ethical consequences of their acts, McKinsey’s study found. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to make decisions on their own and then order the troops to carry them out.

Now tell me, why isn’t this the story grabbing the New York Times headlines? Because it is revolutionary, whereas the “women bully women” story is just titillating–like female Jello wrestling, or “The L-Word”.

Cultural myths, whether true or not, are hard to change. That’s why when I speak to women’s professional and leadership groups, I tell them they have the responsibility to create a new narrative. I encourage them to act with what I call Sister Courage.

Sister Courage applies movement building principles to making positive change in the workplace, and it has three parts. First, be a sister proactively–ask for help when you need it and reach out to other women when they need you. Second, have courage to talk about the workplace problems that need to be addressed; this can be done in professional and appropriately assertive ways by marshalling facts and offering proposals. Passive aggression gets you nowhere. And finally, join together for greater influence using the Sister Courage techniques of movement building that I teach. This behavior is how to make the workplace more conducive to productivity and humanity and to lessen the probability that anyone, male or female, will become either the perpetrator or the recipient of bullying.

And that’s no bull.

*Here for your viewing pleasure in all their silly glory, Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs singing “Wooly Bully”.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHF558u6Q_8[/youtube]

GLORIA FELDT is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a sought-after speaker and frequent contributor to major news outlets, and the Co-Founder and President of Take The LeadPeople has called her “the voice of experience,” and among the many honors she has been given, Vanity Fair called her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers,” and Glamour chose her as a “Woman of the Year.”

As co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a leading women’s leadership nonprofit, her mission is to achieve gender parity by 2025 through innovative training programs, workshops, a groundbreaking 50 Women Can Change The World immersive, online courses, a free weekly newsletter, and events including a monthly Virtual Happy Hour program and a Take The Lead Day symposium that reached over 400,000 women globally in 2017.