The Sum – Meaning of the Week: Crossroads

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

Word of the week is CROSSROADS.

As in a junction where two or more roads meet, offering the traveler multiple paths.

As in an intersection, a point at which a crucial decision must be made that will have far reaching consequences (yep, I googled this one – small clue about my inspiration).

As in the moral crossroads of leadership. Where Google CEO Sundar Pichai stands at this moment.

Continue reading “The Sum – Meaning of the Week: Crossroads”


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

The Sum Volume #6: Diverging from Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading “The Sum Volume #6: Diverging from Freedom”


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

“Real” TED and TEDWomen: What’s Next?

I’ve been meaning to cross post CV Harquail’s excellent wrap up of the TEDWomen conference and the panel held in New York to discuss ways of fostering greater inclusion for women, people of color, and ideas that have not traditionally been chosen by the TED curators. Here is it is, full force and unedited.

My only additional comment is to suggest that the value of the controversy that emerged from TEDWomen has been significant. I hope that by raising consciousness we have opened up a path for gender parity in all such conferences and other “thought leader” events. Because after all, women do have at least half of the big ideas!

I’d love to know your thoughts now that the conference is over and we’ve all had some time to process it.

“Building on TED and the TEDWomen Conference: How Can We Make Conferences More Inclusive?”

We made a big start towards answering this question at our roundtable conversation after the TEDx636 NYC/ TEDWomen simulcast event. Our panel, organized by Natalia Oberti Noguera and sponsored by NYWSE, included  Brittany McCandless (moderator), Adaora Udoji, Liza Sabater, Ritu Yadav, and me.

201012131218.jpgThis post offers my personal, subjective summary of the conversation and the actions steps that were recommended. As my fellow participants, organizers, and allies share their perceptions of the event and ‘next steps’, I’ll share these ideas and resources too.

Although our panel was diverse in terms of age, expertise, professional domain, culture, and racioethnicity, we shared the same over-arching goal: inclusivity and diversity not only at conferences, but also in the larger ‘world of ideas’.

Liza Sabater led off by describing a history of her efforts with others to get more women onto panels at tech events. Liza noted that very early on, people created a wiki where women in tech with interesting things to say were recommended as speakers and panelists.  Adaora Udoji described a similar effort that she’s been involved in to create a directory of women and men of color for corporate board membership.  Activists in the tech community  and beyond continue to point conference organizers to these lists of available speakers, and generate new and up-to-date resources. Most recent is Sara Holoubek’s initiative, the Field Guild to Female Founders, Influencers and Deal Makers.

The sheer number of directories like these, and the sizes of the database of nominees they contain, puts the lie to the claim that “there aren’t ‘enough’ women”. If conference planners were to use these resources, they could find many qualified speakers from diverse groups. And, using these resources, conference planners could help to alleviate the tokenizing experience that both Liza and Adaora mentioned, where the same one or two women, or people of color, are being asked to represent over and over again.

Despite having an abundance of women available to speak, conferences still lack gender parity. So, there is still work to do to get these women into panels and onto speaker lineups so they can bring their big ideas into the conversation.

Four Strategies

We came up with four different, complementary strategies:

  1. Advocate for Gender Parity at TED and TEDx
  2. Advocate for Gender Parity at every conference, with a more general campaign
  3. Create alternative conference spaces built on inclusion and diversity as a foundational principle
  4. Create ad hoc, smaller scale opportunities for women (and men) to share their ideas publicly

1. Gender Parity at TED and TEDx

Taking ideas and comments from my own blog posts and from insights by Michelle Tripp, we’ve started a few microactions directed at influencing TED itself. Some tactics are loosely organized in the SHE Should Talk At TED campaign, (#SHEtalkTED), initiated by Debra Condren, Gloria Feldt and me, and anchored on Facebook. We are working on a button that can be shared to nominated women as potential speakers for TEDs and TEDxs. And, we will soon send a formal invitation to TED organizers to invite them to a conversation about inclusion. she talk ted.jpg

There is also the Dubai-based campaign sponsored by Susan Macaulay at Amazing Women Rock. Susan has been advocating for more women speakers at TED events for the past two years.

She has also posted more than 200 TED and TEDx talks by amazing TED women (http://www.amazingwomenrock.com/ted-talks/awr-ted-talks-list.html) on her site. She updates the list regularly, and tweets several TED women talk links daily on Twitter from @AmazingWomen (http://twitter.com/AmazingWomen).

Amazing Women Rock - Search_1292258742937.jpeg

2. Advocate for Gender Partity at Every Conference, with a more general campaign

Natalia Oberti Noguera has started a broad campaign for inclusion: #MoreVoices. #Morevoices includes a Tumblr, a hashtagging campaign, and an action on IfWeRanTheWorld: “add #morevoices to conferences”.

Rachel Sklar’s #ChangeTheRatio effort, begun last year, is one we should continue to embrace. #ChangeTheRatio includes a Tumblr and a speaker series, as well as a @ChangeTheRatio Twitter account and hashtaging. Rachel’s efforts are targeted more at tech events, but the awareness of a need to #ChangeTheRatio of men and women, to achieve #GenderParity, is something that helps not only the tech community but also the larger public community involved in discussing ideas.

Sara Holoubek’s initiative, the Field Guild to Female Founders, Influencers and Deal Makers, has a web page where people can nominate interesting women and keep track of the growth of the Field Guide.

3. Create alternative conference spaces built on inclusion and diversity as a foundational principle

If you were designing, from the ground up, a scalable conference about ideas that embraced inclusion of women and men, and people of different cultures, races, abilities, and orientations, it would probably not look like TED.

Sure, it might have strong branding, a great reputation, a significant online distribution, and weighty influence in the tech, entertainment, and design world conversations, but it might not be organized around a ’singular, great, individual giving a speech’.A Field Guide.jpeg

An inclusive conference might include team presentations, interactive conversations, tummeling, unconferencing, and a whole range of learning and discussion strategies that are implicitly less hierarchical than having everyone watch the ’sage on the stage’. It would not depend on the transmittal model of learning (where wisdom flows from the speaker to the passive, receptive audience) and involve more co-learning, facilitated discussions.

Conference spaces themselves would be designed to facilitate interaction, many modalities of learning, opportunities for reflection, and even opportunities for practicing new skills. Liza Sabater continues to look for funding for a conference along a more inclusive model, focused on tech. There are surely others with a similar interest– and you should follow Liza on Twitter @blogdiva.

TED is a terrific event but it is not the only way great ideas can be shared, be spread, and become influential. There are other models, and new conferences can and should be created along these additional models.

4. Create ad hoc, smaller scale, frequent, local opportunities for women to share their ‘Big Ideas’

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One argument that is offered to explain the under-representation of women at TED and other conferences is the belief that women are scared or otherwise ill-equipped to speak in large events like these. I grant that there may be some truth to these claims of reticence, despite the presence of truly outstanding women presenters like the women who graced the TEDx636 stage last week.

Certainly, the kind of ’sage on the stage’ presentational style expected at TED is something that is learned. And, other modes of public idea facilitation are also learned– one may be born with the inclination, but the skills themselves can be taught, learned, and developed.

To develop their presentation skills, women could participate in ongoing public events like IGNITEnyc, FRED Talks, CreativeMornings (events and videos sponsored by Emily Cohen), NerdNite, and more. (Send me links and I’ll add them here).

This strategy also helps directly with the main goal, getting women’s ideas into the larger conversation.  At these ad hoc events, we can present ideas to each other, talk about them together, and then share them more broadly with our own networks.

There is an abundance of terrific women, with great ideas worth sharing. And, there is an abundance of tactics and strategies for working towards the overarching goal: gender parity, diversity, and inclusion in all conferences and in influential conversations about ideas.

Whether you gravitate towards a TED-specific effort, a broader inclusion effort, a ‘we can build it’ effort, or joining ongoing programs to add you own and others’ voices, there is a way for you to join in.

Hit those links, above, and get on Twitter, Facebook, and the blogosphere. Let’s hear you — add to the #morevoices for #genderparity in the world of Big Ideas.

See Also:
Speak Up, Speak Out, Take The Stage: The World Needs More TED Women at AmazingWomenRock.com

Embracing Controversy Means Standing By Your Convictions

Tuesday’s elections were disappointing, to say the least, for me as a progressive woman. But this isn’t the time to throw up our hands in defeat. It’s time to regroup and lead ourselves forward. Today I listened and tweeted up with the Name It Change It campaign. I learned that their polling data backs up my contention that it’s a good thing to embrace controversy, rather than run away from it, if you’re a woman in politics (Republican or Democrat–as pollster Celinda Lake commented “Sexism is one of the very few bipartisan things”).:

Celinda Lake, of Lake Research Associates, spearheaded research measuring how gender-based attacks negatively affect voter perception of female candidates…Lake explains, “Up until this research was conducted, I often advised women to ignore toxic media sexism. But now, women candidates are equipped with evidence that shows they can recover voter confidence from sexist media coverage by directly addressing it, and standing up for all current and future women leaders.”

Isn’t it great to know that if we stand firm in our convictions, we not only gain supporters but maintain our own integrity and get to express our true beliefs?

Let’s encourage the women in our lives to embrace their power. Download the No Excuses postcard and send it to 10 women in your life. It’s time for us to embrace our power, step up and hold the Democrats accountable for squandering the past two years.

If you missed them earlier the 9 Ways blog posts earlier this week, here’s more discussion of Power Tool #4: Embrace Controversy, and Different Approaches to Controversy Yield Different Results.


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

Different Approaches to Controversy Yield Different Results

I can’t think of a better example of controversy well-taken than then-presidential candidate Barack Obama’s thoughtful speech exploring the role of race in American history, delivered in Philadelphia in the spring of 2008. In response to exploding controversy around his relationship with his pastor and mentor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who had made inflammatory (and frankly racist) remarks in his sermons, Obama rode directly into the wave of controversy. He didn’t deflect or minimize it, but took the festering issue of race in America head-on, thus defusing criticism, positioning himself as a courageous truth-teller, and building respect and enthusiasm for his candidacy among voters hungry for change. He turned a powder keg of a controversy that could have exploded his presidential campaign into a brilliant platform to teach about a subject so sensitive that it is often avoided in public discourse.

I sincerely doubt Obama or his campaign advisers would have sought out this controversy, but when it came up, they realized they had been handed a priceless moment to demonstrate genuine leadership. I believe this was the turning point that led him to victory, and that if Clinton had treated the equally vicious sexism thrown at her with the same directness and candor that Obama confronted race, the outcome might well have been different.

Sometimes we embrace controversies that have turned up on their own. And at other times, we need to create our own controversies in order to get things moving. In other words, there are controversies we make and controversies we take.

What are your own examples of embracing controversy? Did you make the controversy or did you take a controversy that came to you? What did you learn from your experiences?


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

Power Tool #4: Embrace Controversy

Controversy. Does it make you run for the hills, or charge into the fray?

Watch the video and find out what feminist activists Jodie Evans, Gloria Steinem, and Shelby Knox have to say about their relationships with controversy.

Controversy gives you a platform, and it also give you an opportunity to define your values. Controversy can nudge you towards clarity. And it can also become a source of strength. What are ways that you have embraced controversy in your life in order to make a positive change?


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

The 7 C’s of Why We Must Embrace Controversy to Change the World

I have the pleasure of speaking to each “class” of Progressive Women’s Voices, an exciting program of the Women’s Media Center, where I serve on the board. This started during the first class two years ago when I was asked about the lessons I learned leading a social movement where I worked a great deal with the media and messages as vehicles of social change. My comments have evolved over time from the conversations I’ve had with PWV participants and Heartfeldt Politics readers. So as I prepared today to speak to the final 2009 class tomorrow evening, I decided to share the latest iteration here on my blog. Please let me know your thoughts.

The angry, gunslinging, mobs opposing President Obama’s healthcare plan at town halls have created quite a stir. Screaming confrontations aren’t just great political theater that captures media attention, did you know they literally make your blood pressure rise and cause other involuntary physical anxiety-fear-pain-fight-flight reactions?

If you’re a live-and-let-live sort of person, as most Americans are, your first reaction to public controversy might be a racing heartbeat, but it won’t be long before you’ll probably want to race away. We have millennia of rape and pillage warnings in our brains, after all. Who needs it?

Well, actually you do if you’re interested in getting health reform in our time, or if you’re advancing any personal or organizational mission that you care about through the democratic process. Your voice is essential.

Public disruptions succeed not because they are necessarily proposing valid points of view, but for two other reasons:

  • The people are organized, passionate, and persistent. They know that if they can cause enough discomfort, the rest of us will probably back away, go silent, and leave the field to them.
  • They take charge of the conversation, frame the issue as they see it, and change the terms of the debate.

Let’s look deeper at these two dynamics.

With regard to public discourse: You can’t change eggs into omelets without breaking them. It’s not surprising that change will always upset some people. That causes controversy. It’s just the nature of the beasts social change movements have to dance with. As Dr. Joycelyn Elders, the former Surgeon General who was pushed out of her job when she said controversial things about the positive value of masturbation, told me one time, “When you are dancing with the bear, you don’t get to sit down until he’s ready.”

Since we can’t avoid controversy when we’re changing the world, we have to learn to love it, embrace it, not back away but rather use the energy to advance our cause.

Sometimes we even ask the bear to dance ourselves. Like Rosa Parks and Margaret Sanger did. And then be prepared not to sit down for quite a while if we want to get our ideas into the cultural and political bloodstream where they can really make a difference.

Second, with regard to taking charge of the conversation: Soon after we arrived in New York, my husband Alex and I were on the corner of 57th and 8th talking intensely with our realtor about our apartment sticker shock. A homeless man approached us and asked, “Will you give me the money for a lobster dinner?” We paid no attention and went on talking about our apartment options.

“Will you give me the money for a lobster dinner?” the man repeated a little louder. Again, we didn’t respond. Again the man made his request. At this point, my Brooklyn born husband quipped back, “What’s the matter, a hamburger isn’t good enough?” The man pulled himself up to full height, puffed out his chest, and enunciated every word precisely as he retorted: “Answer the question as asked!”

The lesson is this: when making change—and Progressive Women’s Voices aims to change the way the media portrays women and women’s stories and issues–we do not answer the question as asked. We determine what we want the question to be and start the conversation there.

Here’s why: Politics writ large is the clash of uncertainties from which social realities are constructed (as I’ve quoted political scientist Walt Anderson many times).  We are groundbreakers. Our mission is creating new social realities. Learning to walk into the wave of controversy and ride it where we want to go rather than backing away from it is by far the most important communication lesson I learned in my four decades on the frontlines.

We must learn not just to deal with or dodge but to embrace controversy. Controversy is our friend.

Think of 7 “C’s”:

Controversy is the

Courage to risk putting your

Convictions out to the world, Because it gets people’s attention. It gives you a platform to present your

Case.  To teach, engage people, define, persuade. Often this causes

Conflicts—the clash of uncertainties—which forces people to

Clarify their values and beliefs, and that leads to

Change.

Your passion for your substantive areas of expertise and the power of your knowledge are key elements to enable you to frame the questions as you think they should be. Keep clear about what are the controversies you take because they are there and the controversies you will make because the system needs to be challenged.

Do not answer the question as asked unless it is the question you want to answer.

Embrace controversy–not for its own sake but for what it can do to create those new social realities through the democratic process. You will tick some people off. That is a good thing.

For as Martin Luther King said, “The true measure of a man (and I am sure that today he would add ‘or woman’) is not where he stands in times of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of controversy and change.”

And just so I end with a quote from a woman, I love Eleanor Roosevelt’s attitude and I hope it will inspire you as it has me:

“Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway.”

PS For fun, take a gander at Rachel Maddow taking a whack at the anti-healthcare folks. It always helps to have your facts lined up when you are countering controversy aimed at killing an initiative.


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

THE 6 C’S OF WHY WE MUST EMBRACE CONTROVERSY

Recently I spoke to the first “class” of Progressive Women’s Voices, an exciting new program of the Women’s Media Center, where I serve on the board. I was asked about the lessons I learned leading a social movement where I worked a great deal with the media and messages as vehicles of social change. Here are my comments:

Once, soon after we arrived in New York, my husband Alex and I were on the corner of 57th and 8th talking rather intensely with our realtor. A homeless man approached us and asked, “Will you give me the money for a lobster dinner?” We paid no attention and went on talking about our apartment options.

“Will you give me the money for a lobster dinner?” the man repeated a little louder. Again, we didn’t respond. Again the man made his request. At this point, my Brooklyn born husband quipped back, “What’s the matter, a hamburger isn’t good enough?” The man pulled himself up to full height, puffed out his chest, and precisely enunciated every word as he retorted: “Answer the question as asked!”

The lesson is this: when you are making change—and with Progressive Women’s Voices (PWV), we’re changing the way the media portrays women and women’s stories and issues–we do not answer the question as asked. We determine what we want the question to be and start there.

Your passion for your substantive areas of expertise and the power of your knowledge are key elements to enable you to frame the questions as you think they should be. That’s the obvious part.

But the most important thing is that you must also learn to embrace controversy, not run away from it if you want to use your message to get your ideas into the political and cultural bloodstream. Here’s why:

Politics writ large is the clash of uncertainties from which social realities are constructed (as I’ve quoted political scientist Walt Anderson in my podcast).  You are groundbreakers. Your mission is creating new social realities.  We tend to recoil from controversy, women especially. Learning to walk into the wave of controversy and ride it rather than backing away from it is by far the most important political communication lesson I learned and that I want to impart to you.

Like Margaret Sanger and Rosa Parks, we are revolutionaries. We are insurgents. We are a movement. And a movement has to move. Forward. More or less together. And when we do that we will make some waves. We will create some controversy. We will tick some people off. That is a good thing.  Parks and Sanger had to do civil disobedience—so our task is easy, we just have to use our freedom of speech.

We must learn not just to deal with or dodge but to embrace controversy. Controversy is your friend. Think of 6 “C’s”:

Controversy is the
Courage to risk putting your
Convictions out there to the world, using the controversy strategically, because controversy is a Clarifier—it gets people’s attention so you can use your platform to present your
Case at a time when people are paying attention, and therefore controversy is a
Change agent—because to make change you have to make people think  differently, learn new things, and clarify their values.

Martin Luther King said, “The true measure of a man (and I am sure that today he would add ‘or woman’) is not where he stands in times of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of controversy and change.”

So learning to embrace controversy–not for its own sake but for what it can do to create those new social realities—is the most important lesson I’ve learned.

Do not answer the question as asked unless it is the question you want to answer.


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