#IWD2020: mystery, history, and 3 ways to use your gift of the present to advance gender equality

Issue 122 — March 9, 2020

The quote has been attributed to many people. But since March is Women’s History Month and I’m writing on March 8, International Women’s Day , I’m going with Eleanor Roosevelt: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift… that’s why they call it the present.”

Yesterday is history:

Like the attribution of many favorite quotes, history is written and rewritten many times. I once had a board chair who called this process “pencil whipping.”

Not to minimize the importance of learning history and learning from history — after all, the first of 9 Leadership Power Tools I teach women who are or aspire to be leaders is “Know your history…” But the second clause of that Power Tool is equally or more important: “…and you can create the future of your choice.”

I was delighted to join Catalyst’s #biascorrect campaign.

Young girls and women need to know about female accomplishments of course, from these Nobel Prize winners in many fields of endeavor to the bitter disappointment many felt when the last viable woman candidate standing in the presidential primary realized she didn’t have a path to her party’s nomination and ended her campaign.

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Despite public nervousness about the present health scourge Coronavirus that in a less medically advanced and media saturated era might have been equated to the Black Plague, I hopped on a plane to attend the National Women’s History Museum International Women’s Day gala event in Los Angeles March 8.

Take The Lead’s board chair and founder of the Women Connect 4 Good Foundation, Dr. Nancy O’Reilly, was honored for her leadership and philanthropic work to empower women, along with actors Logan Browning and Andie MacDowell and Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks, CEO of Ecos.

Nancy’s daughters Leigh Flisher and Regan Thomson lovingly introduced her with examples of how she has been a role model for them and her numerous granddaughters present to share the day with her. Nancy has 7 granddaughters, one grandson, and one great-grandson.

Dr. Nancy with a whole passel of daughters and granddaughters at the National Women’s History Museum event where she was honored.

With award in hand, Nancy was interviewed by television news anchor Giselle Fernandez about why she had pursued this life path.

“I do it for my daughters and granddaughters,” she said.

“I was a tomboy growing up and I saw boys having lots more fun than I did and that didn’t seem fair.” She talked about getting her college degrees while having children. I was struck by how important our personal history is to who we are today.

Nancy spoke about her work and gave a great shout out to Take The Lead.

I was most moved when she looked out at the audience of about 300 and acknowledged, “The first person I had to empower was me.”

I call us Snow White and Rose Red. Who read that story as a child?

Event chair Elana Pianko-Ginsburg had shared the startling statistic that only 14% of characters in history books schoolchildren read K-12 are female. No wonder girls and women, Nancy observed, often can’t see themselves in leadership roles.

Tomorrow is a mystery.

Actually no it isn’t.

History can be rewritten through a different lens, once the lens wipes have cleared our vision, a new set of eyes looks at the “facts” of the situation, or/and a power shift has occurred to enable a new truth to be told. The seemingly venerable host of the venerable political talk show Hardball, Chris Matthews, bit the digital dust last week for all those reasons. I appeared on the show many times and while he never invited me to go with him to Acapulco (as dethroned Fox host Bill O’Reilly did), he was routinely more dismissive of my arguments than my male counterparts.

But like Erin Burnett, I smiled and carried on because who could fight every battle? Many more of us today, that’s who, because of brave women like Tarana Burke who started #metoo, women who speak up and use the power of their voices.

Today IS a gift. Because no one promises it to us. But we can all have it.

Here are three ways each of us can use our gift of the present to advance gender equality:

  1. Do something intentional every day to #liftwomenup (to use the theme of Dr. Nancy’s new campaign). It might be as simple as speaking about another woman’s accomplishments when she is not in the room but your are with someone who might influence her career advancement.
  2. And do it for yourself too. On Leap Day, the last day of Black History Month, the day before the first day of Women’s History Month, and perhaps the most feminist of days on the calendar, Take The Lead held the Power Up Conference. I was struck by how many of the women who participated were creating or recreating their own present and futures with the power of their intention. What we do today as individuals will shape other women’s history tomorrow. When we step out and aim high, other women are watching and are encouraged to do the same.
50 Women Can Change the World Cohorts meet at The Power Up Conference. L-R Jareen Imam, Jennifer Lowry, and Leezel Tangleo. Jareen and Leezel are from the journalism cohort and Jennifer from nonprofits.

3. Money and power are close to synonymous, and we must develop a positive relationship with both of them. Consciously and intentionally spend your money on companies that are good to women and products that are healthy for women. For example, get the Gender Fair app. It will tell you what companies have policies that are woman friendly, have women in their leadership, and/or spend philanthropic dollars on initiatives that help women. Buy products from companies like Alala that not only are woman run but also support causes that advance women (full disclosure, they are giving a percentage of their Women’s History Month profits to Take The Lead) AND make awesome products. Or chip in $10 or more to help Take The Lead revitalize our online Power TO Lead course so we can reach 10,000 women with its “life changing” skills and tools.

What other ways do you want to use your gift of the present to advance gender equality? I’d love to know.

And as for that opening quote, what we do know Eleanor Roosevelt said because she named her 1963 book the punchline —

The world of the future is in our making. Tomorrow is now.

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