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Is 2012 the Breakthrough Moment f or Women Leaders?

After a week in which women debated Anne-Marie Slaughter’s contention about Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, a wave of powerful articles challenging Slaughter are finally appearing. Dana Theus says that women who are at or as near the top as Facebook COO (and its latest board member) Sheryl Sandberg and Slaughter need to woman up and “own this power they have to choose how to spend their energy, and talk about it in powerful ways that honor people’s choices, then we’ll begin to build a culture that honors, supports and encourages the ‘balance of powers‘ needed at the top.”

And Gayle Tzemach Lemmon says we should be teaching girls they CAN have it all—even if they can’t.

I believe that following Theus’s and Lemmon’s advice would change everything. And more importantly, this is the moment to do so.

It’s the moment when women can lead and live without limits.

Why am I so confident?

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Think Women Can't Have It All? She Means Business Aims for More

There’s big buzz about Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article in The Atlantic rehashing the tired trope that women “can’t have it all.”

Personally, I think, most people, male and female, would love to have this high-powered woman’s problems (She was the first female director of policy planning at the U. S. State Department and is currently a Princeton University professor, author, and public speaker with a professor husband who shares child raising responsibilities).

All of life is about making choices. Everyone struggles. So I wish Slaughter, and others who lay the responsibility on women for difficulties we didn’t create, would quit whining already and tackle the real problems like pay inequity, implicit gender biases, and the need for structural change in the workplace so everyone can have a life and earn a living.

That’s why I’m impressed with an extraordinary group of women venture investors and entrepreneurs at She Means Business. They’ve launched a new campaign that when funded will do far more to create new solutions than Slaughter’s public angst about her personal life choices.

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Claudia Chan's Vision: Number One Leadership Attribute

Last summer just about this time, I received an e-mail out of the blue asking me to be interviewed by someone I’d never heard of for a women’s lifestyle website that hadn’t yet been created.

And by the way, would I have lunch with Claudia Chan—who described herself as a women’s lifestyle expert and entrepreneur and former co-owner of a Shecky’s Girlfriend events company I’d never heard of—to learn more about this chimera?

How could I refuse after I read Claudia’s vision, included in the e-mail?

By profiling influential women and sharing their experiences and advice, my mission is to ignite today’s generation of women to thrive both personally and professionally by creating mission-driven lives they love—as well as inspire their necessary participation in, or contribution to the global advancement of women and girls. There are so many amazing causes, nonprofits & companies doing great work for women (domestic and abroad) so we’re targeting many interviewees with these affiliations & passions. They set the example for our next generation that women must help women.

I was hooked.

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They're Doing It: AAUW and NASPA Honor 5

Ever work so hard that you forget to take time to celebrate what you’ve accomplished? I do it all the time.

So today, here’s a shout out to the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and the National Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA) who on May 31 will take time to celebrate six outstanding women.

Women who are clearly doing it for themselves and other women.

These women are innovators in media, advocacy, politics, and business, and they will be honored at the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL).

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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.

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Memo to Julia Louis-Dreyfus: How Veep Can Lead Without Power

I could hardly wait to see Julia Louis-Dreyfus in her new life-after-Seinfeld sitcom, Veep.

As a student of women’s relationship with power, I made sure to be curled up in bed for Veep’s 10pm edt HBO premier last night, ready to soak it up and take notes on my equally charged up ipad.

My excitement deflated minute by minute.

Entertainment Watch’s plot overview is one reason:

Louis-Dreyfus’ Vice President Selina Meyer is a veep without much influence constantly trying to gain some, a ripe premise for comedy.… In the first installment of Veep, we saw V.P. Meyer trying to advance her green initiative with the introduction of cornstarch-based utensils in government offices, a move that irritated (“outrage” being too strong a word to use for anything a Vice President introduces) the plastics lobby.

Now, I know that Franklin Roosevelt’s vice president John Nance Garner (do you even know who he was?) described the job as “not worth a bucket of warm piss.” And when Veep Meyer asks her former senatorial colleague what she’s been missing since she left the Senate to take the vice-presidency, the senator replies, “Power?”

As the tension between corn starch versus plastic utensils mounts, Veep receives repeated messages that the White House doesn’t want any mention of anything that could bring down the wrath of Big Oil’s mega lobby. The President himself is never seen or heard—rubbing the wound of Meyer’s perceived powerlessness with sea salt.

But that’s just the beginning of the narrative by which Veep renders the foul-mouthed Meyer less than influence-commanding.

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Will Equal Pay Make You Submissive in Bed?

I raise this question because today I experienced the disorienting juxtaposition of Equal Pay Day with the retro notion that women’s growing economic power makes us want to be dominated during sex.

Equal Pay Day marks the day in April when women wear red to signify we’re in the red, earning (by 2011 calculations) but 77.4 cents to men’s $1. And for African-American and Hispanic women the differential is significantly more extreme.

This marker of financial non-power came just after Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker disappeared the state’s equal pay law. It also coincided with author and journalism professor Katie Roiphe’s implausible analysis of the S and M-loving novel Fifty Shades of Gray.

A paradox in her own mind, Roiphe opines:

“It is intriguing that huge numbers of women are eagerly consuming myriad and disparate fantasies of submission at a moment when women are ascendant in the workplace…when—in hard economic terms—women are less dependent or subjugated than before.

It is probably no coincidence that, as more books like The Richer Sex by Liza Mundy and Hanna Rosin’s forthcoming The End of Men appear, there is a renewed popular interest in the stylized theater of female powerlessness…We may then be especially drawn to this particular romanticized, erotically charged, semi-pornographic idea of female submission at a moment in history when male dominance is shakier than it has ever been.”

Really? And whose preferred narrative do we think this zero-sum “power-over” social model is?

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Rometty’s Epic #FAIL to Lead at Augusta

Talk show bloviator Rush Limbaugh calls 30-year-old Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a slut for advocating insurance coverage of contraceptives. Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus compares women to caterpillars. And the Augusta National Golf Club’s perfectly manicured greens remain firmly planted among those last bastions protecting male hegemony over society’s most powerful economic and political institutions.

The all-male golf club, based in Augusta, Georgia, has failed once again to award its coveted green jacket to a woman who clearly deserves club membership—IBM’s president and CEO Virginia “Ginni” Rometti. IBM is one of three major corporate sponsors of the club’s vaunted Masters golf tournament, and Rometty is Big Blue’s first female CEO.

But as much as I’ve excoriated Augusta’s male leaders for perpetuating this exclusionary practice, and as much as I believe IBM’s board is culpable for not standing up for their own CEO, I’m even more distressed over Rometty’s failure to take this unprecedented opportunity to lift up not only herself but all women aspiring to the upper echelons of corporate leadership.

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Are You Angry Enough to Embrace Your Power To Act? (3 Signs You Are)

In decades of experience as a women’s advocate, I’ve learned people can be inspired to action by one of two things: anger or aspiration.

A roiling, boiling anger is propelling women — even many who’ve never been activists before — to embrace their “power to” to take leadership and make change. They’re making their voices heard over the din of political rhetoric they might shun under other circumstances.

There was no one trigger, rather a succession of insults. I talked with Richard Lui about them this week on MSNBC’s Jansing & Co. Here’s a smattering:

  • After 30-year-old Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke was denied the chance to speak about why contraceptives should be covered by insurance…
  • After the stunning optics of an all-male “expert” panel pontificating on women’s reproductive health before a Senate committee (also all-male because the women on the committee were so incensed they walked out)…
  • After shock jock Rush Limbaugh denigrated Fluke, calling her a slut and a prostitute (can one be both—don’t sluts give it away?) and demanding to see videos of her having sex…
  • After bills like those in Texas and Virginia forcing women seeking abortions to submit to 10″ ultrasound “shaming wands” (as Doonesbury dubbed them), an AZ bill requiring women to bring notes to their employers verifying they take birth control for health reasons not pregnancy prevention or risk being fired, and a Tennessee bill that mandates public reporting of the doctors by name and the demographics of each patient…

Women are rightly furious.

Why is this happening?

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Wear The Shirt And Make Women’s History

“Well behaved women rarely make history” ~ Laurel Thatcher UlrichWear the Shirt and Make Women's History Photo, Gloria in TShirt

I often wear a t-shirt bearing historian Ulrich’s advice because people react with a chuckle and it starts conversations. Conversations we need because women’s history is rarely given its due.

March is Women’s History Month, so designated because history has largely been framed through the male lens, recorded by male pens, and thus not surprisingly showcases men as the protagonists and the leaders; women, if noticed at all, play supporting roles (unless of course they take “male” personas, such as generals).

Yet women were everywhere, giving birth to everyone, among many other accomplishments. I’ve often wondered whether, if women had been documenting history for the last millennium, keeping peace and making things rather than making war and destroying things would be the central organizing narrative.

Then, once history is made, it seems so normal that it can easily be taken for granted. When I asked my grandson if he would vote for a woman for president, he responded “Yeaaah” in that drawn out way that made it sound as though I had three heads to ask such a dumb question.

And Sunday’s New York Times front page boasted a photo of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde—with little comment about what a power shift those two symbolize. Yet, as Lagarde said at the recent Women in the World conference, the global financial meltdown might not have occurred if Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters—or at least Lehman Brothers and Sisters. History has consequences for the future.

Women’s History: A Revolutionary Shift

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