We’ve all heard the stats:
- Women make 78 cents for every dollar men do.
- Latina women earn 55% of what their white male counterparts earn.
- Women hold 4.6% of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies.
- Two-thirds of illiterate adults in the world are women, as they are more likely to be denied education.
- Only 13% of venture capital goes to women-led enterprises.
And all too often, we have heard the stories behind these stats of women who face the daily struggle of pervasive gender inequality at work and at home. Our most recent presidential election was no exception.
But, last week, we had the opportunity to hear a defiant response: Stories told, by women bold.
The Women’s Leadership Forum, hosted by the AdClub, brought over 1,000 leaders together in Boston’s Seaport World Trade Center to learn from the experience of 7 women making a remarkable impact in our world. Their bold calls to action remind all of us that there is work to be done, and the baton is in our hands.
1. “You represent millions of dollars of purchasing power. Do some good in this world.”
- Mary Mazzio – Award winning director and social impact documentary film maker
Her earliest film, A Hero for Daisy, chronicled the fight for equality of Title IX pioneer and two-time Olympian Chris Ernst. At this year’s WLF, Mazzio shared the motivation behind her seventh social impact film since then, named I am Jane Doe, as she works to expose the very real epidemic of child sex trafficking here in the US.
Mazzio cited a recent study that showed 60% of consumers five years ago bought products based on quality, price, or value. Today, those same consumers make decisions based on what a company stands for.
She implored many of the business leaders in the room to help not only their organizations, but also the world at large by leveraging their marketing purchasing power for good, by supporting initiatives like hers that work to create positive change.
2. “Find your own voice, and use that voice to lead.”
- Sarah Hurtwitz – Chief Speechwriter to Michelle Obama
In today’s climate, Sarah described, we often hear a call to fear, blame, anger, and obedience. She reminded attendees that these are not – and never will be – American values.
She told the story of her own non-linear career progression, from white house intern to chief speechwriter for Michelle Obama, and the struggles of her own mother and grandmother. What Sarah learned, and what she instilled in us, is that we are each in a position to succeed because of those who came before us.
American values, Sarah clarified, are founded in hard work, and a duty to leave the world in a better place for our children, especially in the face of rising inequality, and declining social mobility. She urged all attendees to heed this calling, to use our voices to lead in today’s climate, and to keep telling our very best American story.
3. “Embrace emotions as an essential part of life, not a sign of weakness.”
– Dr. Miriam Meckel, Expert on Media Economics and Communication
“The mind, body, and soul are a human trinity that cannot be torn about, or ignored,” shared Dr. Miriam Meckel.
Often, particularly in situations of survival or in a professional setting, we suppress emotions, treating them as a sign of weakness. Meckel urged us to embrace the emotional aspects of our lives as women at work and at home. When we ignore our emotional life, she said, we actually miss out on an essential part of what it means to be human. If our left-brain selves dominate – that comes at a price.
The power of emotion is real, and if we let it, that power can guide us to be more whole. We all make decisions every day in an attempt to be rational, casting aside the impact of emotions on those choices. But emotions provide a kind of map to ourselves, when we grant ourselves the freedom to explore these complexities.
Regarding women’s equality, Meckel urged attendees to continue the fight for acceptance beyond only formalized equality such as legislative rights for women. She reminded us there is still uncharted territory in the fight for equality that requires us to bring our hearts and souls into the movement, and to use both hemispheres of our brains.
“Feminism is not just a rational choice,” she said. “It is a deeply emotional movement, a fight for acceptance, and a fight for inclusion. It is worth every endeavor, every resistant move, and every tear related to it.”
Meckel’s call to action, truly, was to live wholeheartedly, and to uncover what sustains us from the inside.
4. “Fight for the ideas that matter, and deliver them your way.”
- Lizz Winstead – Comedian, Writer, & Co-Creator of The Daily Show
Winstead is one of the top political satirists in America, having helped change the very landscape of how people consume news media.
She told a poignant story of watching the news one evening at a bar on a particularly bad date, as they watched real-time coverage of the Gulf War. Between explosions and dramatized talking heads, she realized that the news media has a tendency to portray things in a sensational way.
“I couldn’t tell if they were trying to sell me the war or report on it.”
This was the inspiration for The Daily Show, a series that felt like the news, looked like the news, but, to quote Winstead, “gave the audience some credit, and exposed all the BS that is the news, and the people behind it.”
Using humor as the vehicle for truths about the world at large was not only effective, it was necessary. After 9/11, she said, people needed to laugh. It was a catharsis.
Today, her understanding of the power and impact of humor has lent itself to Lady Parts Justice, a comedy-based champion of reproductive rights, as she continues to educate, galvanize, and support the women’s health mission through comedy. She inspired all of us to fight for those ideas that truly matter, and to deliver them our way.
5. “You’ve got to tell people who you are.”
- Madge Meyer - Award-winning author, former EVP and Chief Innovation Officer at State Street Corporation
Meyer shared a number of compelling stories from her career, which cumulated into a series of lessons that I previously chronicled here.
One particular story I enjoyed from early in Madge’s career focused on a series of achievements she made in highly complex technical roles. With degrees in mathematics and chemistry, she worked in – literally - rocket science. Despite outstanding work, she found herself passed over for promotion in favor of her male colleagues multiple times.
Her brother gave her important advice to this end. “You’ve got to tell people who you are, otherwise, why would they listen to you?”
Being a Chinese immigrant, she held a cultural expectation that her accomplishments would be enough to get her promoted. Her experienced was proving this not necessarily true in America. While she did not want to brag, she realized the importance of outside recognition.
Years later, as a manager at State Street, Madge ensured the work her team did was recognized consistently, to the tune of 32 industry awards. She encouraged all of us to consistently show our value to the business, as doing a good job is simply not enough. It's critical to toot our own horns, and to be our own advocates.
6. “Say yes, and figure it out.”
- Grace Kelly, Musician, Singer, Entertainer, and Songwriter
Grace lent her musical skills to this year’s WLF, kicking off the event with a performance that served well as a metaphor for her - full of energy, brazenly unexpected, and refreshingly talented.
This prodigy recorded her first album at 12, played with the Boston Pops at 14, and played for President Obama’s Inauguration at 16. Today, into her 20s, she’s part of The Late Show’s house band. She is acclaimed by critics and audiences alike as she’s muscled her way into the boys’ club industry of jazz music and entertainment.
With so much success early on, Grace shared the lesson that guided her through endless uncertainty and doubt in her career: Say yes, and figure out how to make it happen.
Her confidence in the face of insecurity was a powerful message for those in the room.
7. “Never accept no for an answer.”
- Collette Divitto, Entrepreneur, Collettey’s Cookies
We were all endlessly inspired by the day’s recipient of the Women’s Leadership Forum Admiration Award, presented by John Hancock. Receiving this esteemed recognition this year was Collette Divitto, a remarkable woman with Down Syndrome who did not let a series of job application rejections keep her from her dream of making a living through her baking skills.
Rather than accept “no” as an answer, she founded her own business, Collettey’s Cookies, and business is flourishing. Divitto serves as a model for all women who face setbacks in their pursuit of their dream. Today, she is leveraging her success to help others with disabilities find employment. (And, for the record, her cookies are delicious.)
The 2017 Women’s Leadership Forum brought together bold stories from bold women, and today, these stories matter more than ever.
Thank you to all who were involved in making it happen, and to these seven individuals who shared their experiences within the larger narrative of what it means to be a woman in 2017.
May we each be inspired by these calls to action, as we work to continuously shape that narrative towards equality.