I remember how excited I was to discover Rosabeth Moss Kanter in the early 1980’s. She was one of the few females writing about leadership and organizational change management. I hungrily devoured The Change Masters as a relatively new nonprofit CEO navigating roiling changes in the healthcare and political landscape while learning to lead a complex organization toward continued growth.
This distinguished Harvard Business School professor’s influential theories about change in the workforce have permeated much of the thinking about organizational change. And unlike the men writing and teaching about it, Kanter infused her work with a lens on one of the biggest workplace changes of the 20th century: women breaking through workplace glass ceilings.
Kanter, former editor of Harvard Business Review and author of 18 books, has been named one of the “50 most powerful women in the world” by the Times of London, and the “50 most influential business thinkers in the world” by Accenture and Thinkers 50 research.
Her groundbreaking book Men and Women of the Corporation—I mean, who had ever mentioned “women” and “corporations” in the same book title?—remains a classic analysis of power distribution within organizations.
Kanter told the hard truth about women in the workforce, after conducting a five-year study on the American manufacturing company. She explained how women were tokenized to work in clerical jobs rather than management; and how even though there were plenty of women in large organizations, they rarely ran the show. She observed that the first women breaking through to leadership roles were still tokens in a male dominated workforce.
The UN Commission on the Status of Women has New York hopping with powerful and, yes, ambitious female leaders from around the world this week. Each is making women’s history in her own way.
Today, I share just a few images of events I’m attending.
Are you attending? If so, please share your impressions.
Television anchor and entrepreneur Joya Dass and I celebrated the launch of IMPACT 21 Leadership with its founder Janet Salazar. Joy and I both participated in a lively panel discussion of women’s emerging power globally and locally.
But unfortunately, lately she’s made history in the negative. The strides she made in her own career could soon be overshadowed by steps backward she’s made for other women—and men too, as it turns out.
The first sign trouble was brewing in paradise came even as Mayer was being lauded for bursting through the silicone barrier while demonstrating women have both brains and uteri. Apparently she forgot a few chapters of her own history when she said in the recent PBS “Makers” interview:
“I don’t think that I would consider myself a feminist…I don’t I think have sort of the militant drive and sort of the chip on the shoulder that sometimes comes with that…There are amazing opportunities all over the world for women.”
Umm, how does a female a CEO of a Fortune 500 company think she became one? And even if she doesn’t want to throw a nod to the feminist movement that opened doors for her, is she completely oblivious to any female “first’s” responsibility to help other women advance?
Why? Let’s face it—history has largely been defined through the male lens, recorded by male pens, with men as the main protagonists, and women, if noticed at all, in supporting roles. As the saying goes, you can’t be what you can’t see.
The converse—you can aspire to that which you can imagine—is why I created six new speeches for Women’s History Month, March 2013. I had fun cooking up these new ideas to make women’s history interesting, relevant, and inspiring to corporate, professional, civic, college, and nonprofit groups of all kinds:
—“The Power of Sheroes: Why Women Want Role Models, Mentors, and Sponsors, and How to Get Them”
—“Remember the Ladies: 3 Surprising Mistakes of the Women’s Movement and the Leadership Lessons They Can Teach Us”
—“On the Waves: Celebrating Top 10 Highlights of Women’s Advancement – and Envisioning the Journey Still Ahead”
—“Is This the End of Men or the Beginning of Women?”
—“What Will It Take for Women to Reach Parity in Leadership?”
—“Seriously, Henry Higgins? Must a Woman Be More Like a Man to Succeed?”
Last fall, I taught my Arizona Sate University course “Women, Power, and Leadership” online for the first time. I had a chance to learn webinar skills. If you are interested in exploring a digital version of one of these speeches, we can talk about that option.
As the absurdity of right-wing political figures’ pathological obsession with women’s uteruses continues, many people ask why this is happening now and what to do about it. In this Woman of the Weekinterview with Anna Louie Sussman for the Women in the World Foundation, Gloria speaks about how women can act, using what we’ve got (that’s Power Tool #3) to embrace our power to insist on our right to our bodies, our right to financial stability.
The article, excerpted here, was originally published January 24, 2012, and can be read in full on the Women in the World website.
Everything you need to know about Gloria Feldt can be gleaned from her email signature: “Warmest Regards and No Excuses, Gloria.” Her superlative compassion and conviction, combined with her intelligence and charisma, have carried her from teenage motherhood in West Texas to a thirty-year career with the reproductive health provider and advocacy group Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which she directed from 1996 until 2005, when she resigned.
Her most recent book, No Excuses, examines women’s relationship to power with an honesty and nuance often glossed over in media discussions. We talked with her about the current state of reproductive freedom in America and how women can transform their relationship with power.
Women in the World Foundation: What led you to this issue of women and power?
Gloria Feldt: In 2008, I was writing an article for Elle magazine about the many organizations that help women run for office. They are legion, and they raise millions of dollars, but women are still less than half as likely to even think about running for office as men. What I found was that the problem is no longer that women have a hard time running: the doors are open. Voters trust women more, women are now as capable of raising money, and when they do run, they are just as likely to win.
Earlier this year, I reviewed baseball historian Dorothy Seymour Mills’ book,First in the Field, a book that offers readers insight into the history behind gender-based affirmative action policies.
Today, Mills returns to 9 Ways to discuss her new book. A work of fiction, Drawing Card is steeped in Mills. trademark historical-fact-made-relevant-today.
According to Amazon reviewer Joan M. Thomas, “Mills’ extensive knowledge of history and ethnic cultures makes the fast paced story all the more real. Moreover, while the events occur during earlier times, inequities that persist today become crystal clear.”
Today’s guest blogger, Dorothy Seymour Mills, is the personification of what it means to embrace Power tool #1, Know Your History.
In researching women’s baseball history, I discovered that at least two female baseball players had been signed to minor-league contracts but didn’t play. That’s because the Commissioner of Baseball, Kenesaw M. Landis, canceled their contracts as soon as he learned that they were women. Landis scoffed at the idea that women could play baseball, just as some baseball men do today.
Mitt Romney recently described contraception coverage and abortion rights as “shiny objects” used by Democrats to distract voters from “more important” issues. At a moment in which women’s reproductive rights are being dismissed by America’s Republican presidential hopeful, it is important for us to know our history! For me, the advent of the birth control pill accompanied a defining moment in which I realized my “power to.”
SUSAN TOLLES: Welcome to Flourish Over 50. I’m just so excited that you’re here, and I want to talk about your lifelong passion for really empowering women.
GLORIA FELDT: I first had to empower myself. I didn’t start out knowing much about this power stuff. I grew up in small towns in Texas in the 1940-50s, where girls were not encouraged to get an education, have a career, or have real aspirations for themselves. I mean, my family actually did expect me to get educated, but only in order to be a better mother, a better mate, etc. So I really didn’t start out thinking that I had power and agency myself; I grew thinking that the agency was outside of myself. I had to learn by trial-and-error along the way, and I am still learning it.
SUSAN TOLLES: Right, we all are. It’s always a work in progress.
GLORIA FELDT: It is a work in progress. So I’ll give you the real quick rundown of what happened: I was a teen mom; I got pregnant, married my high school sweetheart when I was 15. I had three children, bing-bing-bing, and then I was 20 years old. I think it was the combination of maturity and the advent of the birth control pill where I just woke up. That was one defining moment.
I realized two things: Firstly, I had three children, and although I had a husband who was earning a salary, I kept thinking, “What if I have to support these children?” I had no employable skills whatsoever. Secondly, I was starting to get a little bored and I realized that this life was not as much fun as I thought it was going to be. I, in fact, had a brain and I was eager to go to school.
And so, I finished high school by correspondence, and then the birth control pill came along. It was that defining moment that allowed me to see that I could create a life for myself. I could plan. If I wanted to have more children, I could have them by my own choice at whatever time I wanted to. But if I didn’t want to have more, then I had that option, and it meant I could go to college. I would say that was the first big defining moment for me. There were a series of other moments.
So I often ask people when I speak, “When did you know you had the power to _______?”
I can’t recall exactly the first time I saw it, but I do remember subscribing to it soon after it launched in 1972. I lived in Odessa TX, not exactly the bastion of feminism. But within the pages of Ms., I found women from all over the country saying what I’d been thinking. And I realized I wasn’t alone in feeling that something was terribly unfair about the way women were treated in society.
I also learned about the National Organization for Women from Ms. I joined as an at-large member and located the other five or six at-large members within a 100-mile radius.
“What do you want to be?” we ask our daughters and sons when they are growing up.
It seems only right that as Women’s History Month draws to a close, we don’t just look backward but that we also focus forward to ask what we as women want to be and what women of the future might or should become.
This article on Canadian women’s economic power indicates economic parity is on the way. A new study published in the Harvard Business Review says women are better leaders than men on almost every measure of leadership. But does that translate to women moving from the current 18% to parity in top leadership positions?
Since the power to define the woman of tomorrow is to a large extent in our hands (See Power Tool #3) and based upon the history we make today (see power tool #1), I’m asking what you think:
“I’ve just insisted – insisted! – upon being called a black woman novelist…And I decided what that meant, because I have claimed it. As a black and a woman, I have had access to a range of emotions and perceptions that were unavailable to people who were neither.”
It’s Women’s History Month and I can’t resist profiling Toni Morrison, a prolific writer who has worked to represent through fiction the experience of black people—particularly women–in America. Ms. Morrison’s novels focus on marginalized characters struggling to find their place in a society built upon the legacy of slavery and the violence of racial prejudice. Most known for her imaginative fiction, Morrison has also written essays, non-fiction, plays, a libretti, and children’s books.
Ms. Morrison developed her first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970), while raising two children and teaching at Howard University. She later took a job as an editor at Random House, where she played a vital role in bringing black literature into the mainstream, editing books by authors such as Toni Cade Bambara, Angela Davis, and Gayl Jones.
Commercially successful and critically acclaimed, her 1987 Pulitzer Prize winning novel “Beloved” was chosen by a New York Times survey of prominent writers to be the best work of American fiction of the previous 25 years. In “Beloved”, Morrison imagines what it would have felt like to be Margaret Garner, a fugitive slave woman who chose to kill her infant daughter rather than see her grow up in slavery.
In an interview with the Paris Review, Morrison says about Margaret Garner: