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

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

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

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

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

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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.

Questions for Democrats Post Election

What If?

In many ways, today is like where I came into national leadership. It was 1996, after the1994 Gingrich revolution Republican sweep of Congress, in a huge Tea Party-like backlash against the progressive initiatives of President Bill Clinton’s first term.

While I’m processing the key question in my mind–why do the Democrats never learn????–I want to share questions that Political Voices of Women’s Pamela Kemp put forward last night:

This election has been all about the economy but What If?
What if the Obama administration had realized from the beginning that the kids across the aisle just don’t play nice?

What if, in 2009, the newly inaugurated Obama administration had responded to calls from the Democratic base ( aka the professional left ) to investigate the misdeeds of the Bush/Cheney administration?

What if for the past two years the American people had been reminded that the Bush administration inherited a budget surplus from the Clinton years which they, in turn, squandered, leaving the largest budget deficit in history?

What if for the past two years the national political dialogue had included a real discussion of the cost of the Iraq war (which was entered into under false pretenses) and how those costs contributed to the national debt?

And what if the American people had been reminded day after day that the corporate friends of Bush/Cheney (Haliburton, Blackwater, KBR, et. al) made billions from the government contracts secured during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?

What if the Democrats had reminded the American people that the bank bailout was a parting gift from the Bush administration?

And what if the Democrats had reminded the American people day after day after day that the deregulation policies of the Bush era lead to the housing crisis and the great exodus of US jobs to foreign shores?

What if the Obama administration and the 111th Congress had realized early in the game that when you have an opponent on the ropes, you keep him there.

I hope that President Obama and the Congressional Democrats left standing will ask themselves these questions. And that they answer them with the same spunky attitude that Kemp begins to use here (big shout out here to the inimitable Barbara Boxer):

Today’s reality is that the Democrats have two years of landmark policy accomplishments to their credit but weren’t able to convince much of the American public to stay the course.

Yet, what if, it’s true that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.   As Senator Barbara Boxer told her supporters after winning her bid for re-election, her opponents threw everything at her but the kitchen sink, with money from known and unknown sources. Yet she overcame it all.

So what if, in some strange way, this all works to the Democrats’ advantage. After all, now the Republican controlled 112th Congress will have to “man-up” and put up or shut up. And best of all, the Republicans won’t have Nancy Pelosi to demonize in 2012.

What if, having to survive near death political death during campaign 2010, it’s just what the Democrats’ needed to re-energize the base?

What if indeed. I suspect that we the people, in particular we the progressive women, will to have to lead ourselves and the Democrats forward if we want any of those “what ifs” to become future reality.

And that future starts today, the first day of election 2012.

It’s Time for Women to Step Up

Nicole Baute from The Star asked me to share some of the central messages of No Excuses when she interviewed me last week. Here is an excerpt from that interview.

You called your book No Excuses. Do you think that women are coming up with excuses for why we aren’t getting a little more power and a little more pay?

The honest truth is that my title was Unlimited and the publishers made me change it. They wanted something more controversial. I tend to take the positive approach. I think this is the moment for women, but I did want to sound a clarion call to women to say, this is a moment, but you have to take it. Things won’t just happen.

Why would you have preferred Unlimited?

Because I am hopeful, I am optimistic and I believe that this is just an incredible time for women.

Why is now an incredible time?

Well, the rest of the world knows it. I’m not sure we always do. For example, the World Bank has done studies that found that Parliaments that have 30 or 40 per cent women on them make better decisions, they have less corruption, the performance is better. Marketers know that women buy 85 per cent of the goods.

That old thinking, why is it still persisting?

It’s hard to change a culture while you live in it. And by the way, it’s easier sometimes to change the law than it is to change a culture. We’ve been able to change most of the laws, we’ve removed most of the legal barriers. It’s the cultural barriers that are difficult to contend with now.

You wrote about how your life changed a lot after getting married as a teenager and having children young, and that you realized that you could have more control over the car you were driving, and turn it around. How did you make that happen?

You do it by doing it. First, I started college and just being with other people who were learning and doing things changed how I looked at everything. I immersed myself in reading and I became involved in the civil rights movement. I realized at one point that women have civil rights, too. That was an epiphany.

You got fired up.

I got fired up. There’s nothing better than being ticked off about something to fire you up.

Come back on Thursday, when I’ll share more of the interview here on the 9 Ways Blog. If you don’t already have a copy of No Excuses, The Progressive Book Club is giving away free copies of my book to readers who join the book club by October 27th.

I’ll be speaking on Book Talk Radio tomorrow with’s Joe Conason. RSVP to join the discussion. And if you’re in Arizona, join me this evening for a No Excuses event at Changing Hands Bookstore.

Power Tool #3: Use What You’ve Got

In No Excuses, I share a dream I had one night. I was in my out of control speeding car, and I couldn’t stop it. I slowly realized the keys to the car were in my hand, and they had been all along.

You don’t have to sit in the shrink’s office to figure out the metaphor in that dream! Have you ever had a similar experience?

To be able to use power, the first thing you’ve got to do is realize that you have it. I’ve found in personal life and in meeting challenges at work that what you need is usually there if you can only see it and have the courage to use it.

Here are just a few examples women shared with me about how to use what you’ve got:

• Know Your Value. Honestly assess your talents, skills, experiences, and capacities—how can you best demonstrate your special expertise? Women have clout, clout that we haven’t fully leveraged. Who values you, who wants you on their side, who needs your skills and talents?

• Toot Your Own Horn. If you don’t, who will? And instead of getting stuck in the weeds of self-reproach, ask yourself: What did I do right? What experience did I gain that will improve my abilities and chances next time?

• Give Yourself a Whack on the Head. Author Roger von Oech says, “‘Only the most foolish of mice would hide in a cat’s ear,’ says designer Scott Love. ‘But only the wisest of cats would think to look there.’ Don’t miss the obvious. What are you overlooking? What resources and solutions are right in front of you?”

Women collectively need this metaphorical whack to get us out of stale thought patterns and help us realize what incredible power we have at this amazing moment when all signs point to a world that wants the qualities we bring to life and leadership.

What keys do you hold in your hand? And how can you use what you’ve got to get what you want–your goals, aspirations, the power to use your gifts?

Interested in learning more power tips and tools that have worked for other women? Find them here in No Excuses.

Time to Change How We Think About Power

Check out this piece I just wrote for on why it’s time for women to change how we think about power. I am posting it here to encourage you to share your stories right here on the 9 Ways blog.

I want women to reach parity while I’m still alive to see it. But at the rate we’re going, that will take 70 years.

Google “women and power conference” and you’ll get over 50 million results. Google “men and power conference” and you get 49 million. But a quick scan through the top-ranked conferences tells you that the majority of the latter are actually conferences about women and power that happen to mention men.

Full disclosure: I have attended many such events, including a few years back the invitation-only Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit during my 40 years of activism for women.. I believe in celebrating successes along the bumpy path to equality, and my new book, No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power , exhorts women to embrace their power and blast through the doors now open to us. I want women to reach parity while I’m still alive to see it. But at the rate we’re going, that will take 70 years.

Women are 60 percent of college graduates, 50 percent of the workforce, and yet according to the White House Project, constitute a mere 18 percent of the top leadership roles across all sectors of business and political office. So I get a bit testy about the proliferation of conferences that exist to puff up women’s egos around how powerful we are yet have no agenda to break through the remaining barriers, advance women who are not so powerful, or even to use their positions systematically to bring other women through the doors we’ve struggled to open.

Some remaining barriers are external. For example, hiring officials often assume resumes bearing women’s names represent less competence than the same resume with a man’s name attached, and the physical appearance of women running for political office comes under greater media scrutiny than that of men.  Still, in my research, I found that with legal barriers down and almost every position having seen a “first woman,” most of the barriers that remain are culturally induced, They are lodged now within ourselves and how women think about and engage with power in our own lives.

To Fortune’s credit, they live-streamed this year’s Most Powerful Women Summit, which took place on October 5-6, making the keynote speeches available to the powerful and not-so-powerful alike. Still, everyone knows the value of these conferences is not in the speeches but the spaces in between, not in the conference rooms but in the hallways, ladies’ rooms, and social events.

The problem is equal parts how the self-proclaimed cultural arbiters like media giants Forbes and Fortune define women’s power and how women allow themselves to be co-opted by accepting as gold standard the definitions of power those entities create when they produce their top power lists.

Forbes magazine published its Most Powerful Women list this month too. This year they ranked Michelle Obama at the top. She has powerful arms and is married to the most powerful man on earth. But does that make her powerful? It gives her power, to be sure, yet she has not chosen to use that power to be a policy leader like Eleanor Roosevelt, or even a role model to the many women struggling for work/life balance as Jill Biden is doing. She’s designated herself the Mom-in-Chief, and in that role she has taken on laudable but non-controversial causes such as childhood obesity.

Has a man ever made a most powerful list simply because he is married to a powerful woman? I can hear chortles at the very thought.

Forbes ranks women in part according to their “buzz factor.” That’s about who you know and whether you are mentioned in the A-list places—how others regard not so much your work or accomplishments but your cultural attractiveness, reiterating the tired message that women are arm candy rather than leaders. That’s how Hillary Clinton and Lady Gaga are ranked almost equally—a juxtaposition simultaneously laughable and outrageous.

Which again points to the fact that there exists a “most powerful women” list when no such list exists for men. These lists reinforce the idea that when it comes to power there are people and there are women. Women remain separate but definitely not equal.

Forbes’ real list, its “most powerful people in the world” list,  includes just three women out of 67 individuals (two of whom are popularly known in puerile fashion by their first names: Hillary is #17 and Oprah #45; Angela Merkel made #15). Apparently the list-makers assume men are inherently powerful while women are waiting in the wings for power to be bestowed upon them based on how loudly the buzz meter clangs when their names are called.

In my research, I found that women have an ambivalent relationship with power. Clearly, though, ambivalence about powerful women is also reflected in the ways women are regarded within the culture—a sure-fire reason if not an excuse for Michelle Obama’s reticence to take on more controversial topics.

But it’s up to women to resist being co-opted by the shower of “you are powerful” affirmations lavished by media like Forbes and Fortune. At this critical moment when nearly all of the external barriers to women’s achievement have been removed, we’ve proven that we can play by the men’s rules and master the game when we need to. But too often, in our pursuit of success, we’ve failed to question the rules themselves.

Until women are willing to embrace power, and define it on our own terms as the expansive power to accomplish what we think needs to be done in this world rather than a reflection of the approbation of others, we will remain stuck in our half-finished revolution. Rejecting the outdated oppressive model of power, what I call “power-over” and in its place setting forth the transformational leadership idea of the power to (to accomplish good things in the world and for oneself) will allow women to lead powerful lives that are not determined by Forbes’—or anyone else’s—judgments about the merit of our buzz factor.

What Does Power-To Look Like?

On Monday I asked you when you first realized that you had the power to . . . And I gave you a brief glimpse at my definition of what power-to looks like. Check out this piece I just wrote for on why it’s time for women to change how we think about power.

Here’s another No Excuses look at what power-to means:

Power-over focuses on tactics for gaining compliance, while leadership focuses on getting answers and solutions in order to be able to accomplish something for mutual good.

Power-over makes people feel powerless. Even if it isn’t force or brute power, but a manipulative power such as political dominance, the feeling that one has no control over one’s choices makes her disgruntled, angry, or passive-aggressive.

Power-to makes us feel powerfull.

Power-to supports and enhances whatever power the individual brings to a project, workplace, relationship, or civic activity. It abhors coercion. It opens up the possibility of choices; the ability to choose is what makes us human. Choosing is the basis of morality.

Power-over is amoral. Power-to is responsibility.

Power-over is oppression. Power-to is leadership.

What are your thoughts about this definition? How does it change your ideas about power and leadership? Can you give examples of the use of either definition of power?

Was There a Moment When You Knew You Had the Power To?

Most high school debaters can tell you that the first person to set the terms of the debate usually wins. That’s because when we allow someone else to define the terms, we allow them to set the framework that constructs our thoughts. Just think about how power has typically been defined, as an oppressive power-over model. If we shift the definition of power to a power-to model, suddenly the discussion is about leadership, and the ability to get things done. As I say in No Excuses.

Almost anyone can employ power-over, but it takes skill to employ power-to. It takes a skill to lead others rather than to force, requires, coerce, or lord over them. Leadership power is much different from the use of force to gain acceptance of a goal.

Watch feminst icon Gloria Steinem, CODEPINK founder Jodie Evans, young feminist leader Shelby Knox, El Diario/La Prensa editor-in-chief Erica Gonzalez, and others talking about their power-to moments, both personal and interpersonal.

Was there a moment when you knew that you had the power to . . .(you fill in the blank)? What was it? And how did you feel? What did you do? If you didn’t have one moment, was there a process that led you to that awareness? What can you share with other women that might help them on their journey?

Please use the share buttons to invite women you know to join the discussion.

Women’s Leadership to the Fore at 21st Annual Bioneers Conference

I am extremely pleased to be speaking at the 2010 Bioneers Conference. If you’re unable to attend the conference in person, you can watch live webcasts of my keynote address, “Riding the Leadership Wave,” as well as the afternoon panel discussion that I am participating in, entitled “Moonrise: Women Leading from the Heart.” The webcasts will be available right here on my website, so grab a latte and enjoy the discussion!

If you’ve been following my Heartfeldt Blog or my 9 Ways Blog, you know that I’m very passionate about encouraging women to embrace their power and step into positions of leadership – now! I invite you to join the discussion by leaving a comment – and don’t forget to come back often, because the 9 Ways Blog will be featuring a different discussion topic each week.

For over twenty years the Annual Bioneers Conference has presented change-makers, innovators and leaders from a staggeringly diverse range of disciplines from environment to social and racial justice, education and localization, and the preservation and celebration of indigenous knowledge to the nurturing and acknowledgment of youth and the leadership of tomorrow.

The Bioneers will be webcasting selected content from the conference including special, live, web-only programming, Backstage@Bioneers, featuring change-makers from around the world in a special series of discussions, hosted by broadcaster and commentator Terrence McNally. Also featured will be clips from the Bioneers Moving Image Film Festival and exclusive highlights from behind the scenes at the Annual Conference.

The webcasts will also be featuring several, specially selected keynote speeches. On Sunday October 17th at 10:30 a.m. (PST) the webcast will present nationally renowned activist and author Gloria Feldt, whose passion for social justice has propelled her life’s work. Her new book, No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, was published by Seal Press in October 2010. It reveals why women are stuck at 18% of top leadership roles and, through both inspirational stories and practical tools, shows how women can redefine power, lead themselves with intention, and reach parity from the boardroom to the bedroom for good—their own and society’s.

On Saturday October 16th at 9:30 a.m. (PST) the webcast will feature Elizabeth Kapu’uwailani Lindsey, Ph. D., the first female and first Polynesian National Geographic Fellow. Elizabeth is an award-winning filmmaker and anthropologist, whose commitment to the conservation of vanishing indigenous knowledge and tradition not only provides a cultural record for present and future generations, but also serves as the foundation for a global, digital repository, an initiative that she spearheads at the National Geographic Society.

The Backstage@Bioneers special, live, web-only panel on women’s leadership will be broadcast on Saturday, October 16th at 2.00 p.m. and features Nina Simons, Co-CEO & Co-Founder of Bioneers, a social entrepreneur who translates her life experience into tools for serving the emerging leadership of others. Nina is also the editor of the recently released anthology Moonrise: The Power of Women Leading From the Heart, which explores how women are redefining leadership and how restoring the feminine to greater balance can make this transformational work more effective, joyful, and sustainable.

Joining her on the webcast panel will be Gloria Feldt, Elizabeth Kapu’uwailani Lindsey, Joan Blades, co-founder of, and also, which seeks to tap the power of online grassroots organizing for U.S. mothers and families; and Akaya Windwood, the Bay Area-based President and CEO of the Rockwood Leadership Institute, a non-profit founded in 2000 to provide individuals, organizations and networks in the social benefit sector with powerful and effective training in leadership and collaboration.

The Bioneers webcast and Backstage@Bioneers webcast programming is a first for Bioneers and is free to watch. For a full schedule of Bioneers webcasts please visit For more information on the recently released Bioneers anthology Moonrise: The Power of Women Leading From the Heart, please visit

Women, Power and the Transformation of Leadership

This was this morning published over at the Women’s Media Center.

Ever had the experience of awaking at night from a nightmare where you’re onstage to give a speech and find you’ve forgotten entirely what you had planned to say? It happened to me but I was wide awake.

Last January, I was slated to give a keynote to a packed house of activist women who had traversed winter snows to attend the SeeJaneDo Passion to Action conference in Grass Valley, California. The speaker to precede me was Bioneers co-founder Nina Simons.

I’d had a chance to meet Nina at breakfast that morning and was eager to hear her talk about the women’s leadership program she’s created within Bioneers, a diverse global coalition of environmental groups that connect to leverage their common mission, which is nothing less than saving the planet. Like so many social movements, Nina told me over hearty biscuits and country gravy, the majority of environmental volunteers doing on-the-ground work are women—but the leadership was primarily men.

Nina began her speech, and my wide-awake nightmare began to unfold. Yes, my notes were neatly tucked away in my folder, and yes, I knew exactly what I wanted to tell the women assembled. The problem? Nina was giving my speech. Almost word for word, and definitely idea for idea.

Her personal journey to leadership paralleled mine. She eventually recognized that she had spent many years subsuming herself to a movement and an organization that she loved beyond measure, but in a voice not sourced from the well of her own power or initiation. It was a mirror image of the wake-up call I had after I left my 30-year career of leadership with Planned Parenthood in 2005, and proceeded to continue my pattern of speaking in someone else’s voice when I co-wrote Kathleen Turner’s memoir, Send Yourself Roses, the year after that.

Nina’s call to women to redefine power on their own terms—she says “power with and through” whereas I say “power to” in contrast to the prevailing dominance model of “power over”—was almost identical to one of the “9 Ways” power tools in my new book, No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. I too was all pumped up to tell these women activist leaders that the first step to embracing our power is to define our own terms, before others define us.

“Women are negotiating power in new ways, understanding it as something sacred that runs within us each and all,” said Nina. “Our relationship with power is a spiritual one rarely acknowledged by the metrics or philosophers. Until we redefine that relationship, we will stay stuck in our unfinished revolution,” said my speech notes.

My underlying point, and Nina’s, is that we women have been dancing to someone else’s socially constructed tune for millennia. Even if we like the melody we need to awaken to its origins, get clear about where we are co-opted or disempowered by a culture that does not value us, and take the initiative to move to our own authentic rhythms so that we can be unlimited in the way we live and lead.

I was simultaneously filled with delight at having found a soul mate and terrified that I could add nothing to the conversation because she had stated this basic leadership skill so beautifully. My mind was doing its own little dance to reorganize my speech.

Then Nina launched into the second half of her speech and I entered the even worse nightmare where you see yourself naked on stage. She was poetically discussing the power of sharing stories. My ninth power tool, the one I had built the entire second half of my speech around, is “Tell your story.”

How was it that a woman I had never met before that day was giving the speech I had written?

Here’s what I think: the congruence of our two stories, Nina’s and mine, is a reflection of something that is happening in the United States, and even globally.

This is women’s moment. At least one woman has shattered almost every glass ceiling, and doors are cracked enough to get through them. We’re better educated than men, vote in greater percentages, and this year became half the U.S. workforce. Feminism—along with reproductive technologies that give women choices to separate biology from destiny—has changed the culture so profoundly that young women grow up believing they can be anything they want to be and young men assume that young women will follow their own paths.

Studies from the World Bank, McKinsey and Co. and elsewhere show that more women around the decision table result in better decisions in politics and business. Maria Shriver declared this a Women’s Nation, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn say the moral imperative of the 21st century is the empowerment of women, marketers know we buy 85 percent of all consumer goods and make their pitches accordingly. Women have the very leadership skills the world needs right now. It’s women’s moment in so many ways, but do we know it yet? That’s where the work is yet to be done.

The power of the platform women now have, like all power when redefined as the power to, or through or with, is infinite—not a zero sum game like power over, in which if I take a slice of the pie there’s less for you. Shifting our definition of power from power over to power to enables us to move from a culture of oppression to a culture of positive intention to do good things in the world. Power over is passé; power to is the next iteration of leadership. Power over is from Mars; power to is from Venus.

So what did I do? I told the truth: Nina gave my speech so now we’re going to take it to the next level and put those power tools to practical action.