“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.
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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:
- 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.
- 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?
- 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 New York Times bestselling author of several books including No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a sought-after speaker and frequent contributor to major news outlets, and the Co-Founder and President of Take The Lead. People has called her “the voice of experience,” and among the many honors she has been given, Vanity Fair called her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers,” and Glamour chose her as a “Woman of the Year.”
As co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a leading women’s leadership nonprofit, her mission is to achieve gender parity by 2025 through innovative training programs, workshops, a groundbreaking 50 Women Can Change The World immersive, online courses, a free weekly newsletter, and events including a monthly Virtual Happy Hour program and a Take The Lead Day symposium that reached over 400,000 women globally in 2017.