6 Lessons learned in 29 hours at SXSW for International Women’s Day

Issue 88 — March 11, 2019

Standing in the soft air of Austin, Texas, 90 miles from where it all began for me in the small town of Temple where I was born, I realize how far I have come.

Bluebonnets were in bloom on the roadsides as I traveled from my hotel to the Innovation Mansion at SXSW on International Women’s Day last week. The sight of the state flower in spring always makes a Texas woman smile.

Kendra Bracken Ferguson, founder of Braintrust CAA-GBG, had invited Take The Lead to join with Michael Stars, Softvision, Current Global, and other socially conscious brands to celebrate the day that was begun in 1909 by socialist activists but has morphed into a giant feel good corporate marketing campaign. Such is the nature of social movements.

Braintrust CAA-GBG founder Kendra Bracken Ferguson introducing speakers with the virtuous circle of our Power Tools and Michael Star’s “Feminism is for Everybody” shirts.

Still, the women’s movement is having a moment of resurgence, a new urgency. However commercial International Women’s Day has become, it’s still an opportune time to take stock of how far we have come and the unfinished business still before us.

Somehow every step has ultimately been forward in my life. That’s a mirror of the women’s movement. Even those that seemed to be steps backward — the discouragements, bad decisions, and barriers of laws and culture — took us forward, if only to learn from each experience.

Goodness knows, I’ve had plenty of those ups and downs with Take The Lead. But at the five-year mark, we are poised to scale, as I had a chance last week to tell Ellevate CEO Kristy Wallace on the Ellevate Podcast, “Conversations with Women Changing the Face of Business” — you can listen to it here — and as I shared with the influencers at the Innovation Mansion. I loved being in the midst of such an amazing virtuous circle of companies, committed to making life better, whether through their respective technology solutions like Global Current and Softvision or through philanthropy and using the power of the brand for social justice like Suzanne Lerner at Michael Stars.

Take The Lead was the nonprofit partner. I quoted our board chair Dr. Nancy O’Reilly, who says we should call ourselves a social profit instead. And in truth, all of us there are about creating social profit, each in a different way. And when we come together to leverage our collective power, we can do anything, even bring about gender equality and leadership parity by 2025.

That was the first of the 6 lessons in my 29 hours at SXSW on International Women’s Day.

Lesson 2: Sisterhood really is powerful. Women are proactively pairing up and circling up to help one another in profound ways, contrary to conventional narrative. I met two young female entrepreneurs, one of whom was feeling discouraged that she hasn’t been able to raise the investment funding she needs to take her company to the next level. The other woman was giving her a pep talk, encouraging her to stay true to her vision, and that vision will take her to success. Similarly, Liz Bacelar, founder and CEO of Current Global, sang the praises of Rachel Archer, Chief Innovation Officer and vowed that she couldn’t possibly be as successful without that partnership.

3. And men want to be part of this movement too now. After my speech, a group of young men and women told me they had been inspired by it. The men, almost in unison, thanked me for including them in my remarks. They spoke passionately about their desire to help make the change to gender equality.

4, There is no end to human ingenuity and innovation. No finite pie of ability to solve the most vexing problems. No inevitability about anything except death and taxes and now I’m not even sure about that. Same with organizational structures. They are changing because they must to foster the innovation needed today. I have a feeling that Softvisions’s organizational structure of guilds, pods, and partners is in that new model of power TO that I teach women to embrace. I want to learn more about it.

5. Individualized everything is the new black. I mean seriously, from healthcare to cosmetics, technology is allowing us to pinpoint exactly the right fit for us as individuals. Standardization is definitely yesterday.

6. But there’s a paradox: the higher the tech, the more people want to connect in real life. Community is Queen. And brands are often today’s connective web. Many like FunFabFit create communities for their customers even as they individualize their products.

I often say the challenge of 20th century for women was to open doors and change laws, whereas the challenge of 21st century is for women to walk through those doors and take our fair and equal share of everything at life’s table.

So when it seems we take one step forward and one back, take heart. As Softvision’s CEO’s Andres Angelani says on their website, and as the young woman entrepreneur told her colleague, the most important element of leadership success is having a big vision. And vision is something we have in abundance.

This! Great view of the Texas state capitol from the window of Softvision.

Thanks to forward thinking companies like those I had the privilege of collaborating with at SXSW on International Women’s Day, I know we will achieve the vision of leadership parity and gender equality. And that men, women, organizations, and communities will be stronger, healthier, and more prosperous when we do.

P.S. Women’s History Month lasts all of March. There’s still time for you to register for the free March 13 Virtual Happy Hour where you’ll meet two women you want to know because they are making and changing history: Patricia Mota, President and CEO of HACE, the Hispanic Alliance for Career Advancement, and Wendy Murphy, attorney specializing in assisting abused children, professor of sexual violence law, and director of the Women and Children’s Advocacy Project.

Ms Simba the feminist dog. You can follow her on Instagram. Suzanne Lerner, founder and CEO of Michael Stars is her human mom.

GLORIA FELDT is the Cofounder and President of Take The Lead, a motivational speaker and expert women’s leadership developer for companies that want to build gender balance, and a bestselling author of four books, most recently No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, she teaches “Women, Power, and Leadership” at Arizona State University and is a frequent media commentator. Learn more at www.gloriafeldt.com and www.taketheleadwomen.com. Tweet @GloriaFeldt.