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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me know what you think:

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

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.

Adventures of Gloria Feldt, Co-founder and President Take The Lead

gloria-talkingAfi Ofori of Zars Media invited me to write about my career journey (originally published here) and kindly let me repost it here for you.

“Women are leaders everywhere you look, from a CEO to a house wife that holds together a home. Our country was built by women who stand alone.” (Denise Clark)

Hi everyone, I’m Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a new nonprofit organization whose mission is to prepare, develop, inspire and propel women to take their fair and equal share of leadership positions across all sectors by 2025. I’m also an author and public speaker, and former president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

I got into this role out of my passion for equality for all, and in particular for women to get a fair shake. That passion has taken several forms. Take The Lead is the most recent incarnation. It began in 2008, when I discovered while researching an article on women in politics for Elle Magazine that the barriers to women in leadership — whether in the workplace, in civic life and politics, or in personal life — now have as much to do with our own ambivalence toward power as with external barriers.

I know from my own life that this can be a painful issue, so I wanted to inspire, not blame women, and to give them practical tools and tips to help them on their journey forward. You see, I was a teen mom, married my high school sweetheart and had three children by just after my 20th birthday. Climbing out of that situation where I had no education or employable skills took some doing. So I got started in the workplace later than most young women today, and I had to compensate for that by working hard and taking on lots of responsibility.

But they say you write the book you need to read, and confronting my own power demons as I explored women’s lack of leadership progress became my latest of four books, No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Then people started asking me to teach and conduct workshops to share the practical tips and leadership “power tools” I created to help women deal with difficult issues such as conflict, chaos and controversy that might be holding them back. When I realized that I could never reach enough people with my message in small groups, I joined with a colleague, former investment banker Amy Litzenberger, to start this new initiative.

I am absolutely certain this is the moment for women to Take The Lead! And I am excited beyond words to be launching our first fully online women’s leadership certificate course starting October 2. Anyone can take this 6-week course to uptick her career and embrace her power in fulfilling ways, creating a personal action plan proven to take her to her goal.

I feel like the goddess with 18 hands right now. I am the CEO, the spokesperson, the curriculum designer, the marketer, the social media manager, the fundraiser, you name it. We are a start up nonprofit but we think like an entrepreneurial start up, always looking for strategic alliances and partnerships that can benefit both parties.

As for my work routine……..Can you hear me laughing? Every day is different. But generally I keep mornings (after I exercise — for me this is a requirement to keep my energy high and also I am vain J) open for the most important tasks, whether phoning a potential funder, writing a workshop proposal, catching up my cofounder and board chair, or talking with the few staff and many interns and volunteers we are blessed to have. I work from my home office. I spend about half an hour on social media most mornings, and try not to do more because I am a bit of an addict. I try to take face to face meetings either at afternoon tea time or have walking meetings, both of which I find delightful. Working at home, I have too few boundaries — for example, I am writing this at night on a holiday.

Though I attribute much of my success to the willingness to say “yes” when offered a new opportunity, I do wish I had been more intentional about where I wanted to be and how I wanted to make my mark.  Who knows, I might be president of a large company I started now, or maybe governor of a state.

Do I have any regrets or careers I would have liked to explore? One can never go backward, only forward. And as Diana Nyad has shown, it is never too late to do something you want to do! Now the biggest obstacle is that many people identify me still with Planned Parenthood since it was such a high public profile position, rather than recognizing that I have always been about the big picture of women’s equality and leadership. But that’s not a bad place to be, is it?

How would I rate my success in my current role? You’ll have to ask me that in five years when Take The Lead is thriving — or not! I am very good at setting a vision and goals. I do not love managing the many moving parts of daily tasks that must be done to make the vision happen.

Is there a secret to success…… J. Paul Getty used to answer this question by saying, “Get up early, work hard, find oil.” I haven’t found oil yet, so I rely on getting up early and working hard.

I think the concept of balance borders on absurd. Let’s face it, Life is a series of choices. Every day you have do decide what that 24 hours is going to mean.  So I don’t look for balance so much as asking am I getting my exercise so I feel good physically, have I talked with my kids, and did I have fun in my work. If it’s not fun, stop and go do something else.

Here’s what’s so exciting today: Women are transforming the power paradigm. I have a concept I call “Sister Courage.”  It has three parts:

  1. Be a sister. Reach out to another woman to offer help. Ask for help when you need it. Don’t let yourself be isolated or try to solve all problems by yourself.
  2. Have the courage to raise the issues that concern you. Do you think there is a better way to solve a problem or design a product? Do you want to negotiate flex time so you can see your children more?
  3. Put the two together with a strategic plan to lead to the change you want to see in your workplace.

That’s Sister Courage. And with it, you can change your workplace, your life, your world.

I am inspired to do my work because it is a big, bold vision to change the world for the better. I think we all need to be inspired to do something bigger than ourselves. The time is right for women to reach leadership parity much faster than the 70-year trajectory we have been on. Besides, I get calls and letters like one from Valerie, who took my workshop. A year later called to tell me she had achieved the goal she set for herself using the power tools I taught her — she had just been promoted to vice president.  And there was the young woman who asked for and got $10,000 more in salary than she was initially offered after she read my book. That’s the real payoff — to know I have helped an individual person.

For young people thinking of entering this field, I say, if it is your passion, go for it. But don’t let yourself get lost in a cause — have a plan and a vision of where you want to be in five or ten years.

All things are possible, so go big, and know your worth when you do. Network purposefully, for the world turns on human connections.  Take risks because you can always “unchoose” a path taken, especially when you are young. And in the end, honesty and courage are the most important values, so be true to your own integrity even if it means leaving behind something you thought you wanted.

I want to leave a legacy where women will take their fair and equal share of leadership positions across all sectors by 2025.

And now as my story draws to a close, I would like to leave you with one of my favorite quotes. I collect quotes. I have hundreds of them so choosing just one is hard. However, here’s one I recently learned by the late Muriel Siebert, the first woman to buy a seat on the NY Stock exchange: “If you can’t play with the big boys, start your own game.”

If you’d like to get more of my favorite inspirational quotes, learn my Leadership Power Tools and how to use them to advance your career, I invite you to join up for my online certificate course.


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 Young Politica: The Growing Debate On Unpaid Internships

Internships are awesome. They look great on a résumé and they help you hone your craft with real-world experience. As a journalism student, I’ve heard the same advice many times: “Do as many internships as you can.” So I have done internships, both paid and unpaid, for the sake of gaining some experience while I’m still in school.intern

Within my school and other universities across the nation, it seems like full-time, unpaid internships are a common practice. For many, these unpaid internships are taken at the cost of relocating away from school (e.g. taking a summer internship in NYC) and/or paying for extra school credit. See, that’s a loophole, folks. As long as it is labeled as ‘educational’, an employer does not have to pay its intern. In reality, paying interns is not about thriving, really; it’s about surviving. Many times, a student is not even reimbursed for housing, food, or transportation.

But there’s a group going against the current, telling students to resist unpaid work. #PayGenY, an initiative sponsored by She Negotiates Consulting and Training, argues that most unpaid internships are illegal.

“We have a very simple lesson: influence for-profit employers, university and professional schools to pay interns,” Victoria Pynchon, co-founder of She Negotiates, said.

The group is starting locally by asking universities in California to stop posting internship announcements for for-profit businesses and even some non-profits, if they don’t provide a living wage to students.

Today’s unpaid interns are working jobs that would have paid others at entry level. Sometimes their work, Pynchon noted, is “mostly clerical.” By replacing these often routine but necessary jobs with unpaid interns, companies are eliminating an entire workforce. Not to mention, using interns for clerical work in this way often violates the Fair Labor Standards Act.

As per usual, women and low-income students get the short end of the stick: “Women are trying to pay off their debts 20-30% longer and they’re getting paid less than their male counterparts,” Pynchon added.

And those students whose parents earn less than the rest of their peers? Many of them cannot afford to pay for extra school credits, let alone work for free. Thus, there is a cycle perpetuated by these corporations, which limits students who come from difficult financial circumstances. Some companies offering unpaid internships acknowledge the gap between low-income and high-income interns (like opportunities for interns in the New Corporation Diversity Program, which I was a part of), which is a step in #PayGenY’s direction.

However, there’s still something off about the bigger picture and many former interns are catching on. Recent lawsuits against Hearst, Harper’s Bazaar, and Fox Searchlight suggest that perhaps for-profit employers may be exploiting the rights of these students, who often work what could be considered a full-time job for free—while still attending to school.

The struggles of unpaid interns have even hit the mainstream. Take, for example, the discussion sparked by the HBO show Girls. At the start of season one, my fictitious kindred spirit, Hannah, attempts to negotiate a paid job from her unpaid internship at a publisher, where she has worked for two years. She is promptly fired.

“It’s a question of consciousness-raising…[for these] widespread scoff laws,” Pynchon said.

It was not until Victoria Pynchon paid a visit to Chelsea Akin’s class that Akin first heard someone say that students should not take unpaid internships.

Akin, who works with #PayGenY, chimed in over the phone: “I thought unpaid internships were the norm.”

The movement is not just supported by Generation Y. Pynchon is a veteran lawyer who has spearheaded #PayGenY’s plan. “My education cost me next to nothing. [Yet even then] I couldn’t take free work…no one has ever told [Generation Y] not to work for free,” Pynchon concluded. “We are not being responsible to the upcoming generation.”

 

 

Maegan Vazquez, a Texas born sophomore at New York University, brings her young woman’s lens on all things political to Heartfeldt Blog every Monday. Send news tips to maeganvaz@gmail.com

Grace, Grit, and Paycheck Fairness – When?

The annual hooplah over Equal Pay Day is over. At gatherings around the country last month, politicians and activists alike decried the persistent 20% plus pay gap between men and women. Now what? Back to work with our heads down as usual?

Not if you’re Lilly Ledbetter.

The namesake of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act—the first bill President Barack Obama signed into law while surrounded with the smart political optics of Ledbetter, bipartisan members of Congress, and other women leaders in red power suits—knows this:

  • Securing fairness and equality in compensation requires each woman to be persistently aware of what she’s worth and stand up for herself in the workplace.
  • Securing fairness and equality in compensation is a long haul process that requires changes to laws and policies so the system is fair to all.

The personal and the political are, as usual, intertwined.

Sure, negotiation expert  Victoria Pynchon can coach you on how to negotiate compensation more effectively for yourself. And when I speak and teach about my book No Excuses and its 9 Power Tools, I emphasize #3—use what you’ve got—to help women identify just how much power they have in their own hands, including the power to make changes in their paychecks.

And sure, as the Daily Muse pointed out, it’s good that the U.S. Department of Labor held an Equal Pay App Challenge seeking an app to educate people about the persistent problems of equal—or rather, unequal—pay.

But clearly these individual actions, as important as they are, constitute isolated drops in the deep blue ocean of needed systemic change.

Ledbetter’s new memoir, Grace and Grit: My Fight for Equal Pay and Fairness at Goodyear and Beyond, takes the personal and weaves it together with the political as she describes how she became a leader in the fight for equal pay.

The retired Goodyear Tire Company executive reveals how she discovered she’d been paid less systematically for 30 years because of her gender, began advocating for herself with her employer, and then realized she had a larger cause working for equal pay on behalf of all women through the courts and the legislative process.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act was needed to overturn the 2007 Supreme Court decision that nullified Ledbetter’s previously successful legal challenge to Goodyear, thus making it harder for women—and all employees—to pursue federal claims of pay discrimination.

Yet as Ledbetter explains in this radio interview with The Women’s Eye, her namesake law simply put women back where they had been before she filed her lawsuit.

“Women are still lagging far behind,” she says. “You should expect and get a good day’s pay for a good day’s work.”

Although the 2007 law restores workers’ ability to sue if they believe they have been discriminated against in pay, it doesn’t solve the underlying difficulty for employees to know whether they’ve been treated unfairly to begin with.

That’s why Ledbetter’s now fighting for the next step—passing the Paycheck Fairness Act.

The Paycheck Fairness Act has been called the 21st century fix for 20th century laws. According to the American Association of University Women— which has been a leader in equal pay advocacy—the Paycheck Fairness Act, a much needed updated of the 47-year-old Equal Pay Act, is a comprehensive bill that would create stronger incentives for employers to follow the law, empower women to negotiate for equal pay, and strengthen federal outreach, education and enforcement efforts…the bill would also deter wage discrimination by strengthening penalties for equal pay violations and by prohibiting retaliation against workers who ask about employers’ wage practices or disclose their own wages.

Washington beltway rumor has it that the Senate Democratic majority will bring up Paycheck Fairness in the next week or two, in an effort to solidify their party’s electoral advantage with women while further eroding women voters’ support for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Blocked by Republicans in 2010 when it was last considered, the bill has been neither endorsed nor opposed by Romney.

AAUW’s Government Relations Director Lisa Maatz has concerns about that strategy: “It’s always good to see our priority issues in the national spotlight, and there now seems to be a growing call in the Senate to bring up the Paycheck Fairness Act for a vote. It would be useful for voters to know exactly where our lawmakers and candidates stand on this critical issue. But I must also say that I’m not sure it helps our cause if equal pay simply becomes partisan cannon fodder in this year’s elections, with little actual effort made to close the gap.”

I think Ledbetter would agree with me that forcing the issue is a leadership act and might be the only thing that can help the fair pay cause by making voters aware of where the candidates stand so they can vote accordingly.

Whatever happens, women and men who believe in fair pay will need plenty of Lilly Ledbetter’s courage, grace, and grit to prevail.

I’ll be tracking and continuing to write about Paycheck Fairness here, so stay tuned.

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.

Hilary Rosen v Ann Romney: Will Mitt Benefit?

Resisting the cheap thrill of calling this the “War Between Women,” I nevertheless think this dustup pitting two views of modern womanhood against one another is worth acknowledging. Do you think Rosen was right in what she said?

Politico Arena asks:

During an appearance on CNN Wednesday night, Democratic commentator Hilary Rosen questioned whether Ann Romney was qualified to be talking about women’s economic issues since she’s “never worked a day in her life.”

On Twitter @AnnDRomney responded: “I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work.”

Do Rosen’s comments advance the Democratic narrative of a GOP “war on women”?

Or is it a mean-spirted attack on Mitt Romney’s wife of 42 years that’s like to backfire on the Obama campaign and fellow Democrats? http://politi.co/HBRdyo

My Response:

Rosen’s words about Ann Romney were ill-chosen, unkind, and aggravate a festering boil even among women in the paid workplace who are struggling to balance work and family responsibilities. It’s not as though stay-at-home moms have no brains with which to consider economic issues.

That said, Rosen’s concerns about Ann Romney would have rung both accurate and true had she stated them differently. Romney had the luxury to stay home with her boys because of her privileged position as the wife of a man who has been wealthy all his life. For most women, paid employment isn’t a choice, it’s an economic necessity. But that’s not the only reason women work. It’s fulfilling to use one’s gifts to contribute to society both within and outside of the home. And it’s fulfilling to earn a paycheck—a fair paycheck.

With Equal Pay Day—the date in April when women across America are reminded of the 23% pay gap between them and men doing the same work—looming, Mitt Romney’s wildly inaccurate allegations about Obama causing women’s job losses, and his party’s 18% gender gap in key swing states because of their War on Women’s bodies and economic lives, the Republican standard bearer has a lot more to worry about than what Hilary Rosen is saying about his wife.

For the same reasons that her husband comes across as a man out-of-touch with working families since he grew up and remains wealthy beyond most people’s wildest expectations, Ann Romney—who undoubtedly had far more household help raising those five boys than most Americans can even imagine—can’t hide behind the “it took a lot of work” excuse to justify relinquishing whatever career aspirations she might have had as a young woman. She was able to maintain her no-longer-traditional role of wife as helpmeet in charge of child rearing only because she married a 1%’er.


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.

No Excuses Interview with Daily Femme

This interview with Cherie over at The Daily Femme was a lot of fun. They generously agreed to let me cross-post it here on Heartfeldt. Please join the conversation. There’s really No Excuse not to. ;^)

A teen mother from rural Texas, Gloria Feldt was active in the Civil Rights movement before committing herself to the advancement of women.  She served as president and CEO of Planned Parenthood from 1996 to 2005 and is also the author of four books, including the New York Times bestseller ‘Send Yourself Roses’ and her latest book ‘No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think about Power,’ in which she argues that women are the ones holding themselves back and discusses the ways they can achieve power. When I heard Gloria speak as the keynote at this year’s BlogHer conference, I knew she would be an incredible interview for The Daily Femme. I am thrilled that she accepted to be featured on our site.  In this wide ranging interview, she urges women to recognize the power they hold and discusses the hardest steps for women to take in order to exercise such power.  She even argues that President Obama can use Feldt’s 9 ways. One of my favorite ideas in her new book is the distinction she draws between the “power over” and the “power to” which she explains in this interview.

Gloria is currently on tour discussing her book, No Excuses, and will be at the Strand Bookstore (828 Broadway) in New York on October 7th at 7pm and at Busboys & Poets (1025 5th St. NW) in DC on October 13th at 5:30pm.

Prior to becoming an activist for women’s rights, you were set on a more traditional path as a young wife and mother living in Texas. What made you decide to change routes and get involved in the struggle for gender equality?  How hard was it for you to maintain a work life balance as you took on more responsibilities?

The personal is always political and vice versa. I became an activist for women 40 years ago when I got ticked at discrimination that affected me personally—like “help wanted, male” ads that said I couldn’t apply for well-paying jobs. I married and had children in my teens, and then when the birth control pill became available, I realized I could plan my life more intentionally, and became aware of the importance of reproductive self-determination to women’s ability to determine anything else in their lives. So I started to college and as my children grew up, I needed to go to work to contribute to the family income. I was denied a credit card in my own name and refused a loan for a car without my then-husband becoming the responsible person. I became incensed at the unfairness of it all.

At the same time, I was immersed in the Civil Rights movement, volunteering with several local organizations. One day it occurred to me that women have civil rights too. That was a turning point in my life, and since then I have devoted both my professional work and my community service to advancing women.

There was no such thing as work-life balance then.  A woman who worked outside the home simply had to be Supermom and do it all without complaining. So I did—for a while. Then I realized it was unfair and started enlisting my children to do some of the housework. But the male-female roles were relatively stuck. My first husband and I were divorced about that time after 18 years—not because of life balance, but because a teenage marriage rarely lasts forever. Four years later I remarried. I have often joked that I was taken with Alex because he cooked and had a housekeeper once a week.  (He does have many other fine qualities too! )

In truth I work too much—always have and probably always will–and for me balance is in doing what I love.

In your new and 4th book, “No Excuses” you argue that the doors are open for women but it is women who are not taking the initiative to walk through them or break the glass ceiling. Why do you believe that women are the ones holding themselves back?

I’ve been thrilled to see women break open so many doors during my life, and my decades of activism. But at the rate women are going, it’ll take 70 years to get to parity-and not just in politics! Women hold only 18% of top leadership roles at work too–and that’s not fair, or good for men, women, a balanced family life, or even companies’ return on investment according to McKenzie and Company’s analysis. Yet in spite of cultural barriers that arguably do remain, from the boardroom to the bedroom, no law or structural barrier is holding us women back now, except ourselves. It is easier to become co-opted by a little success and not hold out for the whole package. Sometimes it is even easier not to have choices. But is “easy” the same as fulfilling? Not to me.

There are many reasons –external barriers of discrimination and internal barriers of fear and insecurity–but there are no excuses any more. The doors are open; we have to walk through them. For example, in politics, women can now raise money as well a men, are more trusted by the voters, and are clearly as capable of putting together strong campaigns. Still, women candidates face media sexism and scrutiny that can be daunting– Hillary Clinton’s cackle, ankles, and cleavage for example. When did you hear a media commentator say about a male candidate that he couldn’t win because voters wouldn’t want to watch him age?

Even with all that, the only way to make the change is to make the change. Hillary did that and as a result it is becoming increasingly clear to people that leadership comes in both genders. Leaders can have breasts and wear turquoise pantsuits.  So we have to take the leap. You can’t win if you don’t run. You can’t get the job if you don’t apply or the salary raise if you don’t ask. You might not always get what you ask for, but that is one of the things we need to learn. Being told “no” isn’t the end of the world. Try again.

There is much anticipation for the release of your new book! What was the biggest challenge you faced writing it and what would you like readers to take away from it? In what ways do you think your book is different from other books out there on the topic of how women can succeed and gain more control over their lives?

We are all much better at stating problems than getting to solutions. Most books about similar topics are hand wringers, or if they propose solutions, they do so as individualistic self-help books but don’t tell women how to change things at the systemic level. Because I am a practical activist, I wanted to share what I’ve learned on the frontlines of movement leadership about how to make change at both the personal and systemic levels. That took substantial time, gathering stories, tips, and tools from a wide array of women and interviewing some of the most inspiring ones so I could share their stories. And of course digging into my own life experiences and writing about them.

I don’t like merely to define a problem—I like to do something about it. And I hope that I have done that in No Excuses.

Just this morning I received a note from a woman I met only briefly at an event a few days ago. I told her about my book and the 9 Ways. She wrote:

    “As I read your No Excuses book flyer, it occurred to me I achieved your top 3 ways to embrace power yesterday when I accepted my first paid position in 20 years to become a college English instructor. It was thrilling to me to accept the Top Salary ever paid by the institute for a new hire. Visions of that pay check and its affirmation of my skill set has me on a natural high! I just had to share…”

So I just had to share that with the Daily Femme! And I hope that we can continue this conversation on my website, our Facebook pages, and wherever women get together.

In your view, how did women’s relationship to power change over say the past twenty years? Are the circumstances and priorities different for women today? How so?

Twenty years ago, women might have thought they had to become men (metaphorically and in their behaviors and even dress) to succeed. Today, it is clear that the world needs what women have to offer–and women are more comfortable being who they are. We learn and get stronger in the doing.

I love the card used to promote you new book with its “9 ways to embrace your power”. Which of the 9 steps do you feel is the hardest for women?

Thank you! I’d say power tool #2, “define your terms—first before others define them for you” is hardest because we have yet to define power on our own terms. Women resist their power in part because we have borne the brunt of the most negative aspects of power for millennia.  Power has been defined as the power over something or someone. I urge women to redefine power in their own minds as the power to—power to accomplish good things in this world, power to thrive as an individual and the power to help others.

Power over is from Mars. Power to is from Venus. Power over is oppressive. Power to is leadership. See what a difference it makes to define your terms?

What do you say to those who claim that we live in a post-feminist society? In your view, what challenges face feminists and feminism today?

The fact that sexism remains rampant in the media and cultural norms if not laws should tell us that the job of feminism isn’t finished. Nor are we post-anything. But we are in a new phase.

Feminism has in many ways become a dominant social value. Who in 2010 would dare say that girls shouldn’t be educated and aspire to be the CEO rather than the secretary? Despite the remaining barriers, I believe this is an amazing moment for women, a hopeful and historic moment—if we make it so. It’s time for women to step up, stand in the power they have, and lead their own dreams. And to understand that change won’t happen by itself. Just because there’s a trend doesn’t mean it will continue without conscious action.

I think that for example, women’s numbers in Congress might well go backward in this fall’s elections if women fail to step up and support those who won in swing districts in 2008. That’s what happened after 1992, the last time an election was dubbed “the year of the woman.” In 1994, those women who had tipped the scales stayed home, and we got the Gingrich revolution and many steps back in women’s equality.

What’s your assessment of the Obama administration and the Democrats in Congress on the eve of the 2010 congressional elections in particular on the issue of women’s rights?

I feel that Obama needs to take note of my 9 Ways, especially the one about defining your own terms first, before anyone else does. And I have to answer this question from the perspective that all issues are women’s rights issues.

Obama has not stepped into the executive role effectively; rather than stake out his own agenda and work to lead people to understand why they should support those policies, he has led as though he is still in the senate—looking for incremental change and compromises, responding to pressures rather than sailing the ship of state where he wants it to go. I think he has failed to “carpe the chaos” (power tool #5) of the recession too. When he was elected, people were open to creative new ways of doing things, as happens when there is economic chaos and the normal boundaries aren’t serving us well. But instead he appointed the same old inside players to lead his financial team, and that signaled business as usual instead of the change he had promised.

Similarly I think he squandered his power to bring true health care reform to Americans.  First, he naively thought he had brokered a deal with the hospital, pharmaceutical, and insurance industries up front.  So he started from a compromised position—and then those businesses didn’t keep their end of the bargain–surprise. By not starting from a clear position of guaranteed health care for all under a unified plan, he lost his political clout. And we ended up with legislation that is such a boon to the insurance industry that it is likely to be more expensive than people will be willing to bear. Clearly, he backed off of his campaign commitment to women’s reproductive health—such as passing the Freedom of Choice Act and covering abortion services in the health plan—at the first sign of controversy. That’s another power tool he should use—“embrace controversy” as a platform to deliver his message, to teach and lead people toward what he thinks is right.

Without strong leadership from the top, Congressional leadership has similarly floundered and wasted the moment when they could have led the country to solve some of the problems that have been allowed to fester for too many years. Women should be pushing them more visibly for passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act too, since women earn 78 cents to men’s dollar even today.

This question almost asks me to write a whole other book!

As a former CEO of Planned Parenthood, what are your thoughts on the media coverage of former P.P. clinic director Abby Johnson’s decision to quit her job after watching an abortion and her claims that her bosses ordered her to encourage more abortions in order to make more money?

That’s not even credible enough to warrant an answer.  For every Abby, there are many more who change their views the other way “because it’s me and therefore it’s different.” But medical confidentiality doesn’t allow us to tell those stories.

Recently, you applauded on Twitter Anna Holmes and Rebecca Traister for their Op-ed, A Palin of Our Own, in which they call on Democrats to learn from and emulate Sarah Palin in order to be successful. Are you concerned that suggesting Sarah Palin as a source of inspiration for women Democrats only gives Palin and her conservative views more credence and may ultimately hinder progressive women in politics?

I always believe we should learn from our adversaries. That doesn’t mean we take on their characteristics that we may deem to be negative or harmful—as I believe Palin and her mama grizzlies are to women’s advancement—but that we study their successes and emulate them where that will make us more effective.

You also recently commended Jennifer Aniston for saying that a woman doesn’t need a man to have children and live a successful life and the television show ‘Friday Night Lights’ for portraying abortion in an honest way. Do you think that Hollywood and mainstream culture is playing a more positive role by developing more complex female characters and storyline that address women’s issues and concerns?

If women want justice in movies or television, they must collectively withhold their gold.  Who buys movie tickets after all? Women make up 55 percent of moviegoers (check out the numbers here). If we stop buying, Hollywood will stop selling negative images of women. Simple as that.

I think the popularity of “Madmen”  is a good example of showing how women were discriminated against in the 1960’s and how they began to take power into their own hands and create change. I would like to see more women in influential media positions that determine what is considered a story and how it will be told.  And women in those positions need to realize they have a responsibility to their sisters to tell women’s stories in a way that show women not as victims, but as protagonists with agency over our lives and not merely as supporting characters or arm candy.

In your keynote address at the BlogHer 2010 conference you spoke about the onslaught of brands and free products on attendees and asked if we as women know how powerful we are? Given the numbers of influential women bloggers, why do you think women are not more forceful in trying to get brands to improve the quality of products and make them healthier, safer, and more ethical?

I made the point that women control over 80% of the consumer buying power. The huge number of exhibitors and their expensive giveaways at the Blogher conference tell me that they know the power women hold today. But do we know it ourselves? Not yet.

And that’s the message I want to deliver so that women take action now, before this moment has passed us by. For power unused is power useless.

That’s why in No Excuses I give women “The 9 Ways”—a set of specific power tools, tips, and inspiring stories they can use to lead unconstrained lives. And I’m inviting readers to share their own stories with one another on my website.

Back By Popular Demand: WomenGirlsLadies at UMKC

WomenGirlsLadies made a return visit to UMKC last week, thanks to the invitation from Women’s Center Director Brenda Bethman. Rather than a single event, this year’s Starr Symposium featured a series of community conversations about the “Work/Life Balance in a Woman’s Nation. Deborah Siegel, Courtney Martin, Kristal Brent Zook, and I kicked off the event on September 28th with our WomenGirlsLadies panel, where we provided intergenerational perspectives on work and life choices.

“Nobody loves you better because you have used yourself up for them,” was just one of the points that resonated with the crowd.


Immersed in conversation about when we felt powerful

Here’s what Rita Arens has to say about the event over on BlogHer:

I tend to lack a governor. I would write myself into an early grave if it weren’t for my family.

Balance, which I’ve written about before, is tough whether or not you live with other people. I don’t think for one minute that single people don’t have balance issues — in fact, if I were living alone, I would actually have more balance issues than I do now, because I would have to depend on myself to tear me away from the blinking screen . . . I am trying lately to avoid using myself up.

Rita came up to me after the panel and told me that she wished she had had someone like me to talk to when she was 15. I told her that I wish I had had Gloria Feldt to talk to when I was 15!

Here’s what Talyn Helman has to say in her Young Feminist’s Point of View.

When I heard about this event, I’ll admit, I really thought it was going to be a man-bashing extravaganza . . . was completely wrong about the man-bashing. A lot of the conversation was actually directed at how women and men could share responsibilities and make relationships work, to help women balance their lives better. The speakers’ speeches and accomplishments were what really stayed with me after the symposium . . . These women have all risen to the top and achieved of their dreams. They are fantastic women for the new generation of feminists to emulate, and would serve as wonderful role models. Watching and listening to their conversation, and speaking to them myself, I find myself entering a new stage of social and self-awareness.

Left: WomenGirlsLadies co-panelist Kristal Brent Zook presenting at the afternoon workshop, while Courtney Martin looks on

Center: Deborah Siegel has her table engrossed in conversation at the workshop

Right: Tiffany Swinehart and her mom, my high school classmate Elsie Lesser were there–that’s why I’m smiling

More coverage of the Starr Symposium event at UMKC is available over on the WomenGirlsLadies blog. If you’re interested in bringing us to speak on your campus, or to your group, contact me. I’d love to hear from you!


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.

Kim’s Story: I’m Still a Feminist Dammit!

PunditMom Joanne Bamberger hosted a very fun get together for DC area bloggers last week. I had a chance to tell them about No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power and to ask for their publicity suggestions and their support in getting the word out. This guest post appeared Friday, September 17, 2010 Friday, September 17, 2010, on I’m Not the Nanny, a blog written by Thien-Kim aka Kim. I was so touched by it that I asked Kim if I could re-post her comments here on Heartfeldt. She kindly let me share her post with you.

In the midst of diapers and runny noses, sometimes I forget that a world outside of mothering exists. I have gone days without reading or watching the news. (Thank goodness Twitter keeps me in the loop.) Some days I don’t even try leaving my apartment. It doesn’t seem worth the fight to get the kids dressed and the snacks packed to go on a outing.

Those days I forget that I am more than a mother.

I forget about me.

In my idealistic college days, I felt so empowered. I was a Feminist and proud of it. Took women’s studies classes. I convinced my college professors to add one token woman to our Great Books reading list each semester:  Mary Shelley Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. I directed plays that blasted stereotypes of Asian women and yellowface. My senior thesis studied the archetypes of the bitchy Dragon Lady versus the virginal Lotus Blossom in tv, film, and theatre.

In my small town high school, I questioned my teachers: Why can’t we study about the Seneca Falls Convention? How come no one taught us that New Zealand was the first country to give women suffrage, 27 years before US women?? I even tried to convince my class to approve the Equal Rights Amendment as part of our civics project. My history teachers just said that they didn’t have time to cover those events.

So what happened to that feminist? She graduated college and got a real job. Instead of a directing internship at a regional theatre, I constructed costumes. Sure it was fun and fueled my creativity, but I didn’t feel like I was making a difference. Some days in that freezing basement, I felt like a sweatshop worker. I had adult responsibilities like rent, bills, and car insurance. I felt unfulfilled in my career path. You know the classic “quarter-life” crisis.

My feminism faded in the background as I desperately dog-paddled my way through life, trying to figure out what I wanted to do with it. Then came marriage, children, and the domesticity that came with them. Yes, I desired all those things and don’t regret any of those decisions.

I forgot about my passion. I didn’t think what I had to say was feminist enough or important in the big scheme of things. I was just a stay at home mom work at home mom. My mother-in-law wondered what I actually did all day with her grandchildren. She wanted me to return to work. As if my job as a mother and a business owner wasn’t valuable enough because it wasn’t a traditional job and didn’t receive a weekly paycheck with benefits.

Then this past week, PunditMom invited me to meet Gloria Feldt and learn about her new book, No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think about Power. I almost didn’t attend because I had one of those mothering days. Thank goodness I went.

On my drive to the restaurant, I thought, I’m not really a feminist anymore. What have I done recently that would make me a feminist? I’m not a political activist. I hadn’t attended any rallies. I felt like I let myself down.

Right before we sat down to start a fabulous discussion, as I was in the bathroom, it hit me. I’m still a feminist dammit! I might not be a politician, but I’m empowering women in my own way. I’m empowering women to take charge of their sexual pleasure! I’m empowering mothers in my moms group to realize they are more than just moms! I guess we do our best thinking in the stillness of the bathroom.

That tiny shift in my attitude opened my soul to the amazing discussion that evening. It was intimate event with just a small group of women. I shared a story from my past, one that still makes me cry when I talk about it. Other women shared equally empowering stories. I could have stayed there until the sun rose. I was riveted to these women’s stories and ideas. I was with kindred spirits.

As I drove home, many hours later than I had expected, my mind raced. I had to turn off my favorite radio station. Amazing ideas swirled around. I was giddy.

At that moment, I felt like I was more than a mother, more than a wife. Those roles make me who I am but they don’t define me. I felt proud of who I was and my journey of how I became the person I am now.

I could be all of those things and still be a feminist! Who’s with me?


Come and be inspired by Gloria Feldt and her new book No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think about Power. She’ll discussing her new book at Busboys @ 5th & K. 1025 5th Street NW, DC . Gloria is graciously sending me a review copy of her book, but I would have written this post anyway. on October 13, 2010 from 6:30-8:00pm. I hope to see you there.

The Problematic of Work Life Balance Part 3: To Be or not to Be Gender Differences

Debjani Chakravarty

This is the third and last (for now at least) of Debjani Chakravarty’s series exploring work life balance through the lens of economic and political culture. in this post, she asks the question of whether work life balance can or should be gender neutral. Debjani is a graduate student and artist, currently pursuing a PhD in the Women and Gender Studies Program at Arizona State University. She has worked as a journalist and social worker in India.

Rebecca is a grad student, and she works part time at Starbucks. She is getting a degree in social work, hopeful of pursuing a career she’s passionate about. She also works as an editor and ghost writer on the side. When I ask Rebecca about work life balance, she says, “Strange I never think about it. My parents never went to college and they never left their little Ohio town where I grew up. For them, my life’s a dream come true, and they are hopeful that someday I’ll be able to do all those things that they only planned about, travel, work a respectable job, buy a big house. Work life balance, let’s see. For me it’s about taking the occasional Adderall, so that I can keep working. My life’s on hold right now, work is all that matters.”

Smithson and Stokoe (2005) contend that “work-life balance” represents a kind of gender blind organizational term that over generalizes women’s experience. It is often about a woman who’s in an un-gendered workplace, with enough resources to make life altering choices.[1] She has equal opportunities, equal access and the privilege to enter and leave the workforce at will. Work-life balance, in the context of corporate management becomes a de-gendered term that does not “in practice change the widespread assumption within organizations by managers and employees, both women and men, that these issues are strongly linked to women.” Instead, the authors argue that organizations should find ways to allow for gender differences, so that women do not feel compelled to perform “macho maternity.” Motherhood and maternity are not “personal” issues, and they need to be viewed as such.

The Swedish approach of a long period of paid parental leave, of which two months has to be taken by each parent, or be lost, demonstrates an attempt to de-gender parenthood and caring responsibilities, in contrast to the UK system of six months’ paid maternity leave but a minimal (two weeks) paid leave available to fathers (Nyberg, 2003). Some UK organizations have implemented unpaid leave and flexible working opportunities policies available for all employees, although in practice patterns of leave-taking remain highly gendered (Smithson et al. 2004). It is likely that in a context where many more men do take part in flexible working schemes such as parental leave agreements, a backlash becomes less of a deterrent as flexible working is normalized (165).”

In a similar vein, Caproni argues that the language of work life balance is the kind of language that is used to create bureaucratic organizations. This language is rampant in the boardrooms of fortune 500 companies, strategy lesson in MBA classrooms, as it is in women’s lives. The work life balance discourse reflects individualism, goal focus, achievement orientation and instrumental rationality devoid of emotion that is fundamental to modern bureaucratic thought. Such language begins to govern our lives, and colonize our lifeworlds. Discourses focused on the individual detract attention away from the complex power relations that shape and restrict the individual. [2]

Therefore, not only is the Cosmo (or Oprah, or Good Housekeeping or Women’s Health) take on work life balance heterosexist, narrow, consumerist and privileged, erasing complex realities of racial, sexual, aged, class based and numerous other identities, it is also a part of the post feminist project of the ‘self.’ There is nothing inherently wrong in taking quizzes to find out what one’s role juggling coefficient is, or how one can prioritize, remember to breathe or invest in technology and a balanced diet, what is problematic is the pressing individualism of these discourses that allows policy makers to conveniently wash their hands off collective responsibilities and shroud their failings in a language of individual responsibility. A positive attitude is as important to successful work life balance as family friendly workplace policies that do not view women’s work as optional.


[1]Smithson, Janet & Stokoe, Elizabeth H.(2005) Discourses of Work–Life Balance: Negotiating ‘Genderblind’ Terms in Organizations. Gender, Work and Organization. Vol. 12 No. 2 March 2005

[2] Caproni, P. J (2004) Work/Life Balance: You Can’t Get There From Here. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science; Jun 2004; 40, 2;

The Problematic of Work Life Balance, Part 2: A Project of the Self

Debjani Chakravarty

Here’s part 2 of Debjani Chakravarty’s  essay on work life balance. A PhD in the Women and Gender Studies Program at Arizona State Debjani ChakravartyUniversity who worked as a journalist and a social worker in India, Debjani is also an artist. You can view her beautiful artwork here. Comments below will thrill us both.

Neo traditional discourses and the media constructed mommy wars point at the fallacy of women having too much on their plates. The answer lies in choosing one role set, preferably home and child bearing over paid work. Motherhood is aligned with a discourse of citizenship and duties by the state. The question of a mother’s rights is articulated only by feminists in this post feminist era where women’s problems are framed as having solutions in increased consumption. The solution can range from taking a work life balance quiz in Cosmo or Oprah to setting up a home office with the latest technological gadgets. The question of work life balance becomes a project of the self, with the issue state and workplace policies not considered by the very women oppressed by multiple role expectations, smarting under immensely demanding gender identities.

Rose (1999) formulated a “critical sociology” of freedom using Foucauldian notions of genealogy and governmentality[1]. He offers alternative ways of thinking about contemporary regimes of government that launch projects of the self as a project put together for the greater common good. Women thus become, in Rose’s formulation: “self contained atoms of individualistic capitalism.” Rose writes, in a gender neutral (gender blind?) fashion:

“Are we to be governed as members of a flock to be led, as children to be coddled and educated, as a human resource to be exploited, as members of a population to be managed, as legal subjects with rights, as responsible citizens of an interdependent society, as autonomous individuals with our own illimitable aspirations, as value driven members of a moral community…..”[2]

And this exactly is what seems to be the problem with the work-life balance discourse. It germinates from the project of the self-governance, from the project of self responsibilization and autonomy that assumes certain conditions for autonomy that do not exist for many people. The state or the economy does nothing to create those enabling conditions. Women and minorities are left to their own devices to make the best of an unfair, inequitable system.

The Handbook of Girls’ and Women’s Psychological Health (2006) states: “A large number of empirical investigations have shown that employment can actually benefit women, including mothers, just as it can benefit men, including fathers.[3] Nor is it simply paid labor that fuels well being. A growing body of evidence shows that people who engage in multiple roles report better physical and mental health than people with fewer roles…..in practical terms having several roles provides important tools for both women and men to fulfill family obligations (354).”[4] The income, the increased social capital and social networks, access to greater information and socialization are processes that help people lead fuller lives. However, there need to be progressive family friendly social policies that facilitate a citizen and worker’s multiple roles. The labor market and households are parts of an interconnected system, and one’s performance in these cannot be judged on an individual basis. Yet social welfare and fiscal policies operate on the notions of traditional gender roles and public and private spaces.

McDowell (2004) argues that the dominance of an individualistic ethos pervades both the labor market and the welfare state, undermining notions of collective welfare and an ethic of care, within the wider context of the hegemony of a neoliberal ideology in global as well as national politics.[5]

If an ethic of care is to be (re)instituted, it will demand wide-reaching changes in the ways in which organizations and institutions operate at a range of spatial scales as well as new sets of responsibilities towards co-workers, members of households and the wider public. Work life balance is not so about individual choices and impossible goals, as it is about balancing individual rights and duties, it is about the state paying attention to lived realities of workers and parents.


[1] Foucault’s (1991) notion of governmentality embraces a notion on power beyond a perspective that centers either on consensus or on violence; it links technologies of the self (self development, self discipline) with technologies of rule, the constitution of the subject to the formation of the state.

[2] Rose, N (1999)Powers of freedom. Cambridge University Press. Pp 41

[3] See, Worell, J & C. Goodheart (eds) (2006) Handbook of Girls’ and Women’s Psychological Health. NYC: oxford University Press

[4] Some citations taken out for purposes of flow.

[5] McDowell, L (2004) Work, workfare, work/life balance and an ethic of care. Progress in Human Geography 28,2 pp. 145–163