Issue 108 — September 23, 2019
It wasn’t my intention to meet a princess and have her introduce me for my speech at the WICT (Women in Cable Telecommunications) Leadership Conference. But it happened because I set my intention to appear on large stages this year.
HRH Princess Beatrice of York and I were privileged to be among the distinguished speakers tasked to deliver “Pearls of Wisdom” in the closing session. Others included HBO producer Shannon Lee who is also president of the Bruce Lee Foundation and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women.
I am obsessed with the concept of intention these days, and have been speaking and writing about it at every opportunity because I think it is an under-explored lynchpin of women’s social equality and parity in leadership.
The Four Questions (not for Passover)
When I began my first executive position I walked into an empty office, cleaned out by my predecessor, that had single notecard on the desk with four questions: “What’s happening? Why is it happening? What do you want to have happen? How are you going to make it happen?”
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That was it. Figure out how to tackle leading an organization when you have never done so before with just this note card as your first clue.
I glommed onto it like the holy grail. It was a useful lesson in intention, as it turned out. A reminder to start with the right questions, set the agenda, figure out who and what I need to mobilize to get that accomplished and how to see it through to fruition. No Excuses.
And while ambition can be a lofty expression of our hopes and dreams, intention makes it happen — knows it will happen, no question.
How ambition and intention are different — and why intention is the key to how women will reach parity.
I shared my four questions story with Take The Lead’s newest Leadership Ambassadors during our train the trainer session this past weekend. This is because in the years since I found that card, I’ve come to believe that differential socialization between men and women is one of the most important reasons for the pervasive gender gap in power, pay, and leadership positions. And another one of my intentions is to scale up Take The Lead’s training programs for companies aiming to achieve gender parity in their leadership.
In 2014, Time and Real Simple conducted a poll on ambition and women. The resulting article, negatively titled “Why Ambition Isn’t Working for Women,” laid out the Hobson’s choices women are challenged to navigate.
Journalist Christina Tapper, a participant in Take The Lead’s 50 Women Can Change the World in Journalism program, described her conversation with an executive who asked her what she wanted to do next in her career. “I want to remain in leadership to develop and shape strategy, cultivate talent and big ideas, experiment more to stretch the imagination within storytelling, and do it in a more inclusive and nurturing environment,” she said. “Well,” he responded and not in a positive way, “that’s very ambitious of you.”
Casting aspersions on women’s ambition isn’t new, and in my opinion is an intentional, though often unconscious, cultural pressure for women not to have high ambition. In good news, the latest research published by the American Psychologist finds that people now see women as ambitious as men.
Tapper’s response to the executive affirms that women are also claiming their ambition: “Though his tone was trash, the exec figured out exactly who I am. Yes, sir. I am very ambitious. Thanks for the confirmation. I’ll own that.”
But ambition is just the fuel. Intention uses the fuel to drive to the goal.
When I noticed that the approximately 20% gender pay gap matches the approximately 20% differential in women’s valuation of their own worth, it clicked for me that how we are socialized around intention is the missing piece in solving the seemingly intractable puzzle of these disparities.
Similarly, when the Women’s Campaign Fund asked women candidates why they decided to take the plunge, the typical answer was, “Someone asked.” I concluded that what holds women back is not the lack of ambition but an intention gap: women don’t yet feel they have the agency assigned as a birthright.
Understanding intention can help us rewire our instinct to limit it. Intention has a power all of its own that women can put to use every day no matter their roles.
Own intention — authentically.
Paradoxically, we can leap from ambition to intention by embracing the very parts of ourselves that have been devalued, categorized as “female” and therefore of lesser value. These are behaviors we’re told are wrong with us.
It turns out they are exactly what’s right with us. I say that millennia of oppression gives us the advantage of a deep desire to change the narrative and transform the power paradigm. Think Naomi Osaka’s generosity to Coco Gauff.
Our socialization has given women the very attributes that make us so effective today. Empathy and collaboration make companies more profitable when they have more women in leadership, and governments to make better decisions when more women are in power.
I’m excited to help women uncover these elements of female socialization that have traditionally held us back and intentionally turn them into our competitive advantage. Here are a few tips (beyond those holy grail four questions) to activate intention:
- Wear the shirt: Those message t-shirts we love? Think of it as that message you’ll don: be proud to wear it to declare your core values that underlie your authentic intentions.
- Understand your worth: Do the deep inventory on your talents, your experiences, and your capacities. Research your worth in the marketplace. Don’t second guess the evidence and don’t hold back because you feel there are things you don’t yet know. Look at what you had to do to get where you are. How well you adapted to or created something new is as important as your formal learning. You must value yourself to have clarity of your intentions in alignment with your values.
- Think impossible thoughts: Be bold about your vision for the future and push the parameters wide. Is your next step to run for office, start a business, aim for the executive suite, solve global warming? Whatever it is, you can’t increment your way to success. Setting big intentions and accomplishing 80% allows you to accomplish vastly more than setting goals you can easily accomplish at 100%.
Above all, listen to your own clarion call to action and ignore the naysayers. Wake up every morning and write down at least one step you will take that day towards achieving your intention. Look back on it in the evening and give yourself credit for what you have done.
As Princess Beatrice said in her speech, every woman can be a princess. She just has to find her own country to rule. That’s a terrific way to hold space for your boldest and highest intention.
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.
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.