Power and Leadership: Storify Your #SummerofPower

Gloria Feldt TweetchatIn case you missed or want to relive our June 1 tweetchat, I’m pleased to share the Storify summary.  The tweetchat about women and power was incredibly fast paced — the tweets virtually whizzed by — and I had a great time answering as many questions as I could get to in our short time.

Feel free to send more or to comment on the conversation here. And consider joining me to learn your 9 Leadership Power Tools to Advance Your Career to energize your own #SummerofPower.

 


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.

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.


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.

Thank You, Maya Angelou, Phenomenal Woman, 1928-2014

Maya AngelouI remember the first time I read Maya Angelou’s book
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. It was the most searing yet beautiful prose I had ever encountered. And later, the phenomenon of her poem “Phenomenal Woman” invaded my consciousness and became a kind of anthem for women everywhere:

Now you understand

Just why my head’s not bowed.

I don’t shout or jump about

Or have to talk real loud.

When you see me passing,

It ought to make you proud.

I say,

It’s in the click of my heels,

The bend of my hair,

the palm of my hand,

The need for my care.

’Cause I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

And who can forget the distinctive, rich voice of America’s poet laureate reading “On the Pulse of the Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration?

“And still we rise.”

Like picking your favorite star from the galaxy, who can choose one from among Maya Angelou’s shining words? But it’s equally impossible not to try. Here are a few of our favorites in tribute to the woman who in the authenticity of her soul and the sharing of her wisdom  grew ever more beautiful with age:

I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels.

Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.

 ♦

You may encounter many defeats,

but you must not be defeated.

In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats,

so you can know who you are,

what you can rise from,

how you can still come out of it.

♦ 

The plague of racism is insidious, entering into our minds as smoothly and quietly and invisibly as floating airborne microbes enter into our bodies to find lifelong purchase in our bloodstreams.

 ♦

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” 

There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.

My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return.

Nothing can dim the light which shines from within.

And nothing will ever dim the words of this phenomenal woman. Thank you, Maya Angelou. May you rest in the peace of one whose words and deeds have made the world phenomenally better.

What are some of your own favorite Angelou quotes?


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.

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.


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.

Start Your Own Game: Muriel “Mickie” Siebert — Leadership Lessons for Women from Wall Street

muriel

A few days ago, I went to the best funeral I’ve ever attended.

It’s unusual to say that about an occasion normally considered sad and somber. But the memorial service for Muriel “Mickie” Siebert, a well-known finance executive in the U.S. and the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, goes down in my book as a perfectly delightful send off.

Mickie founded her brokerage firm, Muriel Siebert & Co, Inc. which became part of Siebert Financial and went public in 1996. She also served as New York State’s Superintendent of Banking (referring to herself in her 2008 autobiography Changing the Rules as the S.O.B.). Mickie’s career has lessons for all women, no matter their occupation:

  • Have a dream and go for it.
  • Start your own game if those in power won’t let you into theirs — or even if they will but you prefer your vision of how things should be.
  • No matter how high you climb, help other women rise and keep them close to support you.

muriel2Mickie’s was a life well and publicly lived. When Cantor Angela Buchdahl started belting out “My Way” to the mourners packing Manhattan’s cavernous Central Synagogue, a communal knowing smile spread as fast as spilled water. (This made me start planning what music I want at my funeral.)

And when Rabbi Peter Rubenstein observed that Mickie did not depend on God for anything, nor did she “suffer from undue humility,” laughter erupted.

There were many stories.

Her New York Times obituary headline initially said she was 80 at the time of her death. I told my husband she appeared to be somewhat older. Turns out my assessment was accurate. The Times later issued a correction.

For Mickie was actually 84. She gave her age as four years younger than she was. In fact, White House security once refused her entry because her birth certificate and driver’s license dates didn’t match.

Oh, there were plenty of tears amid the laughter. The Kleenex boxes thoughtfully placed at the ends of pews traveled back and forth. Hundreds of women and men from various parts of Mickie’s life dabbed their eyes when U.S. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) talked about how Mickie “rewrote the rules to make them fairer.” And more tears as David Roosevelt recounted how his grandmother Eleanor had been a role model to the “pugnacious” Mickie, who had driven from Cleveland Ohio to New York in an old Studebaker with nothing but $500 and a dream back in 1954.

Speakers included people she had worked with, Friends in High Places (apparently her political friends were mostly Democrats though she remained a “bleeding heart” Republican), and women from “new girls’ networks” she’d started, and in which she remained active until her death from cancer.

That all her honorary pallbearers were women reveals why I frequently tell Mickie’s career story when I speak or teach about women and leadership. She realized it wasn’t enough to be a female “first.”  So what if you’re accepted into a formerly all-male bastion, you still need your network of women who support you. And you in turn have a responsibility to bring other women through the door you have opened.

As her friend, public relations executive Muriel Fox  said, “Muriel Siebert was one of the few prominent women in the business world who proudly said, ‘Yes, I am a feminist.’ Mickie proved that outspoken feminism is not a handicap, but is a powerful asset, in achieving business success.”

According to the Wall Street Journal , she was “…an outspoken advocate for financial literacy and for women’s advancement on Wall Street, she often did that both through encouraging others and bucking a system intent on keeping her at the margins.”

At the funeral, I sat with colleagues from the New York Women’s Forum in a section set aside for us. Though I had long admired her legendary shattering of that Wall Street glass ceiling in 1967, I knew Mickie primarily from the organization’s holiday parties. She hosted them every December, holding court with her beloved dog Monster Girl, in her elegant apartment on the East River.

Inevitably, Mickie, who famously loved to sing, would whip out song sheets. Everyone had to join in the anthem with lyrics by Forum founders including Siebert,  Fox, and Elly Guggenheimer. Sung to the tune of “One” from A Chorus Line, it starts, “We. Are. Feminist achievers, everybody knows our names (kick, kick). We are positive believers (kick) in the power of dames (kick kick kick)…”

Having seen her in that social setting, I was moved to hear a business partner Suzanne Shank recount how they’d started Siebert Brandford Shank  in 1996 and grew it to the largest women-and minority-owned finance firm. Others lauded Mickie’s commitment to transparency in finance.

These are not values normally associated with Wall Street. That her business associates chose to speak of them indicates that despite the kind of success that so often corrupts, and despite her vaunted toughness or perhaps because of it, Mickie retained her integrity and sense of social justice through a long and storied career.

What clearer evidence can there be that anything is possible if one has the vision to see the possibility, the courage to go for it, the will to persist, and the competence to carry on successfully? “The real risk,” she once said , “lies in continuing to do things the way they’ve always been done.”

The flags on Wall Street were flown at half-mast for Muriel Siebert on the day of her funeral.

“If you can’t play with the big boys,” she was fond of saying, “start your own game.”

Because she did it her way, women today routinely enjoy workplace choices she had to fight to attain.

Though Mickie’s voice is stilled, her impact — like the songs she loved — go on. We poured out of the synagogue, stepping into the bright August sunshine to the lively beat of “New York, New York.”

Be sure to watch this video on Mickie Siebert

(Originally published on www.TakeTheLeadWomen.com)


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.

Happy July 4! What Madonna Said About Voting and Sex Still True

So here’s the lesson for July 4, Independence Day 2012:

On July 1st, Mississippi legislation that mandates that all abortion providers be registered OBGY-Ns with hospital visiting privileges was to go into effect, because two of the three doctors at the only clinic providing abortion services in Mississippi do not have visiting privileges (undoubtedly yet another consequence of the war on women with abortion as its frontline).

Good news is, the Jackson’s Women’s Health Organization and the Center for Reproductive Rights have filed a suit and temporarily stalled the enactment of the legislation, which has nothing to do with medical necessity and everything to do with using the political process to restrict reproductive sell-determination for the women of Mississippi.

Photo Credit: Madonna dons an American Flag and little else in her 1990 ‘Rock the Vote’ campaign.

 Therefore, the only solution to these assaults on women’s freedom and equal rights is participation in the political process. This to me is what Independence Day celebrations are all about—or should be. And as we enjoy those barbecues and fireworks, remember what Madonna says about voting being as important as sex.

Because as usual, the Material Girl tells it like it is.  As do my great colleagues Molly Dedham and Christine Eads. I’m fortunate to be a “Regular Broad” on their terrific Sirius XM radio show called “Broadminded.” The interview excerpted below is from my first “Broadminded” interview.  We talked about a range of political issues, including the imperative to harness our sister courage—joining with our sisters–as we use our cherished American liberties to influence the policies we want.

Q: Gloria Feldt is an amazing woman, she’s definitely an unbelievable broad. She was the former CEO of Planned Parenthood, she’s a professor of women’s studies. She wrote a book No Excuses: Nine Ways Women Can Change the Way We Think About Power. Gloria, welcome to Broadminded, we’re glad to have you here.

Rutgers Center for Women in Politics said women in politics is going to happen again, the last time it was so ripe and it was this exciting it was 1992. What sets the stage for this coming back?

Gloria: If you remember 2010 was called “the year of the conservative women” and that sort of fizzled. What happened in the 1992 “year of the woman” is an object lesson.

Because that was the year that women were really ticked off…about Supreme Court rulings   that threatened to take away their reproductive rights. They were ticked off about Anita Hill and how she had been treated by the guys in the senate when she said that she had been sexually harassed.

And so women voted in droves and elected a record number of progressive women to Congress.

Well guess what? In 1994 we got the Gingrich revolution.

So the object lesson is that in 1994 women stayed home from the polls in exactly the same numbers that additional women had come out in 1992—and lost many of those seats.

Q: Let’s think about that. You’re saying we’ve got to pay attention to 1992 and you just explained why. So what’s happening here is politics comes in, people come in, and it changes women’s rights. We don’t use our power. Why does it work in 1992? Why does it change in 1994? Now we’re in 2010, so can you kind of speak to that to kind of bring it all to one spot.

Gloria: It’s always easier to get people activated when they’re angry about something specific and you can mobilize that anger. But politics and also advancement in the workplace are things that you have to sustain. People do not give you power. Why should they stand aside? You have to claim the power that you have. And in politics the power of the vote is the first and most important citizen power.

Women don’t run for office in the same numbers men do. I wrote an article in 2008 thinking I was going to be talking about how women were coming to the fore in politics, and that was going to be a year of the women. And everyone was saying it then because Hillary Clinton was supposed to be a slam dunk to become the Democratic nominee, and on track to become the first woman president. Well guess what, that didn’t happen, did it?

Because if women don’t pay attention, then nobody is going to step aside for them. The doors are open, but nobody walks you through them but yourself.

Q: Can we just concentrate one second on voting. It drives me absolutely crazy. A woman who calls herself an advocate, or stands for something but doesn’t do something as simple as go to the polls and vote, cast a vote. I don’t understand that.

Gloria: Right Christine. It’s become easier to do that. You can do early voting, you can find ways to cast your vote.

Q: There is no excuse.

Gloria: There is no excuse. And we need to tell that to our sisters. People are busy. Women have extremely busy lives. And so it is very easy for something to come between you and voting. And also, you hear politicians trying to persuade us that, oh it won’t really make a difference. But it does make a difference.

Q: I want to say too that this is important, you’ve got to be careful about, a lot of women don’t realize how powerful the vote is. So before we start blaming, they’ve got to understand how important it is. I really didn’t figure that out until I was older. I didn’t really get it until I was in my late 20s, maybe early 30s, about voting and how important it is. I had passion about things, I would get mad about things I could definitely point the finger and say, “that’s wrong” but how do you make the difference? And it comes down to the vote, and voting records of the people that you are going to vote for.

Gloria: It comes down to voting not just in the general election, by the way, because most races are determined in the primary, especially state and local races. And even congressional races. They are decided in the primary because most districts are either heavily democratic or republican. So if you don’t cast your vote in the primary, only, at most, 25 percent of the voters do, you have lost your voice.

Q: Remember when Madonna came out with that flag? And she did that campaign about voting? That was in the 90s, and that just went right over my head. I think for most people it did because we were in our 20s, we were thinking about boys and drinking and college and partying. If you think about it, that was a major statement for women back then. It’s also an age thing too, you know so much more, I think, women are getting smarter. Some of the best ages, late 30s and early 40s, we start really coming into our own and understanding power. You’ve studied this so you should know.

Gloria: I’ve studied it and I’ve lived it. One of the things you were just saying made me think about, ‘my vote does count.’ My vote counts but my vote counts more if you and I go vote together and our two votes count yet more if we each take another sister with us.

Q: Look what just happened; you’ve got 6,7, 8,10 people. The three of us, if you took somebody and they took somebody, and that all adds up.

Gloria: It all adds up, that’s right. One of the things that I talk about in No Excuses, one of the nine power tools I share with women, because I didn’t want to blame women for not doing these things, I want to help inspire them and give them the tools to actually do these things. It is the power of the sisterhood. I call it “sister courage.”

Very often women isolate themselves because they are so busy. We’re dealing with our kids, we’re dealing with our work, we’re afraid if we take time off for the kid that we’re going to be treated badly at work. We’re afraid of all kinds of things. So we think we have to solve our own problem ourselves.  We are responsible to deal with our own problems, but if we look around us we will most certainly find at least one other person who shares that issue and who is willing to talk with us and then if we join together and strategize with courage to put the issue out there, we can usually make some change.

Q: And so that’s leadership skills?

Gloria: That’s leadership.


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.

Will Equal Pay Make You Submissive in Bed?

I raise this question because today I experienced the disorienting juxtaposition of Equal Pay Day with the retro notion that women’s growing economic power makes us want to be dominated during sex.

Equal Pay Day marks the day in April when women wear red to signify we’re in the red, earning (by 2011 calculations) but 77.4 cents to men’s $1. And for African-American and Hispanic women the differential is significantly more extreme.

This marker of financial non-power came just after Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker disappeared the state’s equal pay law. It also coincided with author and journalism professor Katie Roiphe’s implausible analysis of the S and M-loving novel Fifty Shades of Gray.

A paradox in her own mind, Roiphe opines:

“It is intriguing that huge numbers of women are eagerly consuming myriad and disparate fantasies of submission at a moment when women are ascendant in the workplace…when—in hard economic terms—women are less dependent or subjugated than before.

It is probably no coincidence that, as more books like The Richer Sex by Liza Mundy and Hanna Rosin’s forthcoming The End of Men appear, there is a renewed popular interest in the stylized theater of female powerlessness…We may then be especially drawn to this particular romanticized, erotically charged, semi-pornographic idea of female submission at a moment in history when male dominance is shakier than it has ever been.”

Really? And whose preferred narrative do we think this zero-sum “power-over” social model is?

Even if we bought the logical framework, assertions of female dollar dominion are greatly overstated. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 28.9% of wives in dual income families out earn their husbands. If my elementary school math holds up, that means more than 70% of men still out earn their wives.

And because women don’t negotiate as aggressively as men and don’t toot their own horns as flagrantly, each woman who works for pay outside the home (note the language here, Hilary Rosen) gets ever-farther behind in the paycheck race, amassing a half-million dollar average deficit by retirement age.

Here’s a dandy little chart created by Catalyst that lays it out starkly.

Men Hold the Vast Majority of Positions of Power (and Remuneration) in the United States.

Table: Percentage of Women and Men in Positions of Power in the United States, 2011

Women Men
% of CEOs in the Fortune 500 3.4% 96.6%
% of Top Earners in the Fortune 500 7.5% 92.5%
% of Executive Officers in the Fortune 500 14.1 % 85.9%
% of Board Seats in the Fortune 500 16.1% 83.9%
% Working in Congress 16.8% 83.2%
% Working in Senate 17.0% 83.0%

Sex and the Power of the Paycheck

For men, the “mine is bigger than his” ideal, whether we’re talking paycheck, possessions, or penis, isn’t mitigated by any cultural narrative of a presumed desire for powerlessness. So why should a desire for powerlessness be inherently true for women?

Which doesn’t mean women don’t experience real power ambivalence issues, as I found in my research for No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power.

It’s hard to change a culture while you’re living in it, and there’s a big risk in upending any power structure. You lose the comfort of familiar misery. People say bad things about you. You have to actually think. To make choices and take responsibility for what you choose.

Co-option becomes rampant on all sides of this equation. The rewards of living within the patriarchal narrative are so high and the benefits of bucking it so low. Why else would Tina Brown publish Roiphe’s logically torqued submission theory?

But think about the alternative to embracing the power of the paycheck:

Think of all those freezing days in January, when the dark comes early. Those miserable gray mornings in February, when the ground is covered in slush and the car refuses to start. Those blustery days in March when spring seems like it’s refusing to ever come. Think of working all those days for nothing, zilch, nada. That’s what pay disparity looks like.

The late Nobel-winning economist Paul Samuelson quipped that “women are just men with less money.” That’s not funny if you’re a woman struggling to raise a family on your own, and it’s not right or just regardless of one’s financial position.

So it’s incumbent upon women to do as PBS “One-on-One” host Maria Hinojosa said as she wrapped up a New York Women’s Agenda panel on equal pay with an exhortation to action, “You have to learn to eat your fear, to turn the tables on the power relationships.”

Pay Disparity = Power Disparity

For as long as women are paid less than men for the same work, women will have less power in politics, in the workplace, and in personal relationships.

Economic inequality narrows the possibilities to define our lives at work, in politics and civic life, and in our relationships. True economic equality, on the other hand, would allow us to redefine the meaning of consent, sexual and otherwise, and create healthier relationships that are mutually rewarding in all spheres of life.

This kind of power to, not the domination-submission framework of power over, is what our country needs to assure that the intelligence and capabilities of all our citizens are used most effectively. Even those—male or female, high earners or not—who like to be spanked now and again during sex.

I hate to throw water on Katie Roiphe’s latest feminist-disparaging theory, but I feel a lot sexier after I’ve earned a nice book advance or a fair speaking fee than during an economic dry spell. And after I’ve deposited my money, I’ve never once had a fantasy of being submissive. Not even when I’ve out-earned my spouse.

Personally, I find paycheck power—mine, that is—quite an effective aphrodisiac, with no concomitant need to be subjugated or humiliated. But I do get off on verbally spanking legislators who don’t support equal pay policies.

Here’s a link where you can use your power to tell your members of Congress to vote for the Paycheck Fairness Act. Maybe our collective voices will whip them into submission.

Do it right now. I promise you’ll get a thrill.

And then, walk through the doors of power that have been opened for you; join me on Thursday, April 19, 2012, in a teleconference event, Sister Courage: How Movement Building can Break Glass Ceilings and Change the World. This Ten Buck Talk is sponsored by The Daily Thrive, a She Negotiates project.


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.

Rometty’s Epic #FAIL to Lead at Augusta

Talk show bloviator Rush Limbaugh calls 30-year-old Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a slut for advocating insurance coverage of contraceptives. Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus compares women to caterpillars. And the Augusta National Golf Club’s perfectly manicured greens remain firmly planted among those last bastions protecting male hegemony over society’s most powerful economic and political institutions.

The all-male golf club, based in Augusta, Georgia, has failed once again to award its coveted green jacket to a woman who clearly deserves club membership—IBM’s president and CEO Virginia “Ginni” Rometti. IBM is one of three major corporate sponsors of the club’s vaunted Masters golf tournament, and Rometty is Big Blue’s first female CEO.

But as much as I’ve excoriated Augusta’s male leaders for perpetuating this exclusionary practice, and as much as I believe IBM’s board is culpable for not standing up for their own CEO, I’m even more distressed over Rometty’s failure to take this unprecedented opportunity to lift up not only herself but all women aspiring to the upper echelons of corporate leadership.

NEW! Listen to this TakeAway podcast with Gloria Feldt and Nicole Neily : Accusations of Sexism for All Male Augusta National Golf Club.

Rometty missed a historic chance to “sit in the high seats,” as Frances Perkins described it when tapped by President Franklin Roosevelt to be the first-ever female cabinet secretary in 1933, the same year Augusta National Golf Club was founded. Perkins took the challenge visibly as a woman because of her sense of obligation beyond herself. “I had a kind of duty to other women to walk in and sit down on the chair that was offered,” she said, “and so to establish the right of others long hence and far distant in geography to sit in the high seats.”

Women have advanced tremendously since Perkins’ time, not because high seats were offered but more often because women themselves opened doors, broken through glass ceilings, challenged discriminatory laws, brought their own chairs in, and risked being ridiculed in the ensuing controversy.

Rometty herself stands on the shoulders of those brave women, whether she acknowledges it or not.

Thus far, she has not. Her response to calls for comment about being excluded from the golf club have been met with “no comment.” What a shame. And what a missed opportunity to sit in the high seats on behalf of women now and those yet to come.

For until women have reached full parity in top leadership positions across all sectors, each of us—especially a woman like Rometty who has broken through that proverbial thick layer of men to earn a place at the top of a major corporation—still bear responsibility to other women to take every opportunity to push the fulcrum of justice toward greater fairness and full equality.

Kathy Groob, publisher of ElectWomen Magazine says we should call Augusta’s exclusion of women what it is: sexism.

For years, women have been excluded informally from golf course business deal-making arenas because women typically didn’t play golf and golf courses have been somewhat of an all-male sanctuary for men. The number of women golfers is increasing as women now make up approximately 22% of the golfers in the United States.

Rometty happens to be among that 22% of women who golf. But whether she plays golf or not is not the most relevant factor. The power of access and access to power are.

Because the symbolic importance of that green jacket is not about golf, as Martha Burk, the former head of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, is fond of pointing out. It is about power.

When power brokers hang together, they naturally do business deals together. So it’s a big deal negative for women when power-brokering sources like Augusta National hang out the “No Girls Allowed” sign.

Sure, women have single-sex clubs too, but rarely does any man clamor to get into, say, the Junior League or Business and Professional Women or even a Curves workout studios that might be conveniently located in his neighborhood. The stature of Augusta’s all-male entity comes from its power and influence that no women’s group to date is perceived to have.

And while Augusta as a private club might have the legal right to discriminate, it’s still wrong for them to exclude women. For in doing so, they keep women from accessing a main source of power in business: the human connections that are made when 300 of the nation’s most powerful business leaders bond on Augusta’s greens and in its clubhouse.

As a woman who has more than earned the right to be among them, Rometty should stand up and speak out now for the inclusion of women.

She can start by signing this petition that has been started to get her into Augusta.

This article originally ran in a blog post for FORBESWOMAN. Check it out here.


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.

Does the GOP have a caterpillar problem?

Politico Arena asks:

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus caused a small uproar among Democrats yesterday after he compared the Republican Party’s female gender gap issue to a caterpillar problem.

“..If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars, and mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we have problems with caterpillars,” Priebus said on Bloomberg TV. Democrats quickly seized on the comments, accusing Priebus of comparing issues of women’s health to an insect infestation.

Are the chairman’s comments a sign that the GOP is truly not concerned about the gender gap it has with women? Or was it simply a poor choice of words that Democrats have blown out of proportion?

My Response:

Caterpillars? How much deeper can the Republicans crawl into the muck?

Priebus’s remarks are just one more example of how the last bastions of sexism—and male hegemony over society’s powerful institutions—think. Or fail to think. Their disrespect for women is profound. Priebus’s unrepentant disregard for women’s intelligence and humanity will cost his party dearly in November.


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.

Are You Angry Enough to Embrace Your Power To Act? (3 Signs You Are)

Get power-to without leaving home!

Join me for a No Excuses Facebook chat on my fanpage Sunday, March 25, at 3pm eastern, 2pm central, 1pm mountain, noon pacific, etc. I’ll be on video, you’ll be able to ask questions and talk with others via chat box. It’s easy. Really. And there will be giveaways! Let me know if you’re coming here.

In decades of experience as a women’s advocate, I’ve learned people can be inspired to action by one of two things: anger or aspiration.

A roiling, boiling anger is propelling women — even many who’ve never been activists before — to embrace their “power to” to take leadership and make change. They’re making their voices heard over the din of political rhetoric they might shun under other circumstances.

There was no one trigger, rather a succession of insults. I talked with Richard Lui about them this week on MSNBC’s Jansing & Co. Here’s a smattering:

  • After 30-year-old Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke was denied the chance to speak about why contraceptives should be covered by insurance…
  • After the stunning optics of an all-male “expert” panel pontificating on women’s reproductive health before a Senate committee (also all-male because the women on the committee were so incensed they walked out)…
  • After shock jock Rush Limbaugh denigrated Fluke, calling her a slut and a prostitute (can one be both—don’t sluts give it away?) and demanding to see videos of her having sex…
  • After bills like those in Texas and Virginia forcing women seeking abortions to submit to 10″ ultrasound “shaming wands” (as Doonesbury dubbed them), an AZ bill requiring women to bring notes to their employers verifying they take birth control for health reasons not pregnancy prevention or risk being fired, and a Tennessee bill that mandates public reporting of the doctors by name and the demographics of each patient…

Women are rightly furious.

Why is this happening?

Writer Susan Swartz, who blogs at Juicy Tomatoes, notes, “It’s not just the warbling of a choir boy who believes that sex should only be for procreation and wants to turn the country into a theocracy. It’s a growing roar against women with one wild-eyed effort after another to attach new laws to women’s bodies.”

Hillary Clinton take at the Women in the World conference in New York recently was, “Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me. But they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim. They want to control women. They want to control how we dress, they want to control how we act, they even want to control the decisions we make about our own health and bodies.”

Have women finally stopped playing nice about all these “power over” affronts? Here are three signs that tell me the answer is a resounding YES!

  1. Individuals aren’t waiting for someone else to tell them to take action. They’re just doing it. Like Sandra Fluke—who now says she’d consider running for elected office. Go, Sandra, you’ve sure got my vote!
  2. Pro-woman legislators, previously silent, are filing in-your-face bills that smoke out those cruel and unjust measures that shame, blame, and make women barefoot and pregnant again. The antidotes? Requiring men seeking Viagra to first have a cardiac stress test and rectal exam or watch videos of treatment for prolonged erections to one that would restrict vasectomies to men who are at imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm.
  3. Between the spontaneous petitions, thousands of smart-ass but well taken questions on TX Gov. Rick Perry’s Facebook page (“What kind of tampons do you recommend, Gov. Perry?” “I’ve been researching chastity belts and would like your opinion.”), and constant chatter about the issues, I haven’t heard this decibel level of righteous anger since early 2001.

In my book No Excuses, I urge women to redefine power from the oppressive power over, rightly resisted by many women, to the expansive leadership implied by power to.

So yesterday on my Facebook page, I asked: “Are women finally getting angry enough to embrace their power to?”

Hong Kong spa director Shoshana Weinberg asked in response: “Why does it have to be anger? Can’t love get us there?”

My answer was:

Love without using our power to stand up for ourselves got us into this pickle. Anger is a good motivator to action. But you are right, anger isn’t enough. After we get riled up by anger, we need aspiration. Aspiration to use the “power to” for good. For me, that’s another, more intentional word for love.

More on aspiration in another post. But for now, I want to know:

What about you? Are you angry enough to embrace your power to? How?

And PS: Want to talk about the concept of power to and the Power tools in No Excuses? Join me this Sunday, March 25, at 3pm eastern for a chat on my Facebook page. It’s easy! Full info and instructions here.

This article originally ran in a blog post for FORBESWOMAN. Check it out here.


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.