It’s Time for Women’s Networks To Do More

A photo of the Utah Women 2020 Mural in downtown Salt Lake City
Utah Women 2020 Mural – Unveiled August 26th 2020

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on August 28th, 2020.

Seven years ago, I was a relative newcomer to the state of Utah. I had moved to Park City three years prior to that, and I had spent most of my time in those early years with my two school age children. I was also traveling quite a lot on behalf of Women Moving Millions, championing for gender lens philanthropy, and all this left very little time for local networking. However, it wasn’t for lack of desire, and three years after moving to Utah, I was desperate to meet the women leaders in my new state. The hardest part about leaving my life in New York and Connecticut had been leaving my female friends who were attached to my heart. Of course, I had hoped that my relationships would transcend distance and time zones, and many did. However, inevitably, not being able to see each other face to face meant relationships were lost.

Our Utah Wonder Woman Screening of the film Wonder Woman in 2017. Photo with Jennifer Danielson, Amy Rees Anderson and Geralyn Dreyfous.

Thankfully, I met the incredible Geralyn Dreyfous early on in my my new life in Utah, and she quickly became a close friend. Geralyn is what you might call an uber-connector, and she has a heart as big as the great outdoors. Professionally, she is one of the most accomplished documentary film producers in the world. Check out her IMDB page if you think I’m exaggerating. Through Geralyn I met David Parkinson, founder of Method Communications and an all around great guy. As a public relations expert and business owner, he was constantly meeting amazing female professionals, and he saw an opportunity to create a network wherein these women could meet each other. He reached out to one such women, Jennifer Danielson, and together, the four of us founded Utah Wonder Women. Our mission was to bring together successful women to connect with each other, and to inspire the next generation of women leaders.

For seven years we held numerous events, including book launch parties for women such as Tiffany Dufu and Pat Mitchell. Our invite only mailing list grew to over 400 members and included some of the most influential women in the state. Looking to do more, in 2017, we hosted a full day women’s leadership conference alongside a full day conference for girls in partnership with SUREFIRE Girls that brought together nearly 200 young women from all over Utah for a full day of sessions that were designed by girls for girls. As with most women’s networks, the primary purpose of Utah Wonder Women was to offer connection, information, and inspiration, and our message was always women supporting women.

And then COVID-19 hit. The ability to meet in-person disappeared overnight. Our organization, like so many, was not built to live in a virtual world. While we may have been more of an informal organization than a formal one, the arrival of the coronavirus meant that we were effectively out of business. The irony is not lost on all of us that this happened precisely when we most needed to come together. So we evolved, and I offered to transition the community to more of an online one, via mighty networks, and renamed it TheShePlace-Utah. The network is now open for all women in Utah to join if they share in the community commitments and guidelines. As the lead host, I have been busy posting content, sharing events, and trying to create a place of value for others, and I have quickly seen how hard this really is. Frankly, I have questioned if it is worth the effort. After all, aren’t there a lot of spaces and so many other places that share similar missions? And to what ends? Is any of this women’s networking stuff making any difference at all?

Before I answer that question as it relates to my efforts in Utah, let me give you a few quick facts around the status of women in this state. Utah is one of the worst states in the United States to be a woman. According to the Status of Women in the StatesUtah ranks 37th in the country on reproductive rights, 44th in employment and earnings, and 50th (50th!!) in both political representation and work & family. Overall, Utah ranks 44th in the country. In a 2014 article titled “5 Places Women Shouldn’t Spend Their Travel Dollars”, Utah was listed alongside Turkey, Indonesia, El Salvador, and Saudi Arabia, in large part because of these statistics. And just earlier this week, a study by WalletHub ranked Utah as the worst state in the US for women’s equality. As a women in Utah who is passionate about women’s rights, this is simply unacceptable to me, and I find I am called to do something about it. Utah Wonder Women, now TheShePlace-Utah, is something I can do to make a difference. Are there other things I can do? Of course there are, and I will do those as well.

So on this 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment, whereby women were given the right to vote in the United States and the right to have their voices heard, it is time to rethink and recommit to using the power we have as women to continue the unfinished business of equality. Women’s networks are an under-utilized and under-leveraged organizing tool to achieve positive social change. While I could easily make a list of reasons why I think this is the case and what are ‘best practices’ in terms of trying to make a given network an impactful one, instead, I am just going to try to do it. So if you are women in Utah and want to join me, please do. You can find more information here. And if you are not in Utah, but are a member of a community or two, think about what you can do to serve this greater purpose at both a micro and macro level. And if you need a little inspiration, just remember the words of one of my favorite quotes: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” -Margaret Mead

The photo above is of the “Utah Women 2020” Mural by artist Jann Haworth and her incredible team. It was unveiled on August 26th, 2020 at a special gathering hosted by the Mural sponsor, Zion’s Bank. It is over 5,000 square feet, and is located on the side of a historic building in downtown Salt Lake City. Over 250 women leaders in Utah, past, present and future are featured. I am honored to be included.

Below are links to the press coverage of this inspiring event.

https://www.abc4.com/news/local-news/utah-women-leaders-honored-with-new-mural-but-point-out-existing-inequalities/

https://www.deseret.com/utah/2020/8/26/21402835/mural-celebrating-influential-utah-women-womens-equality-day-downtown-salt-lake-city

https://www.deseret.com/opinion/2020/8/20/21376011/a-scott-anderson-new-salt-lake-city-mural-inspirational-utah-national-womens-suffrage-month

https://www.fox13now.com/news/local-news/new-mural-honoring-utah-women-unveiled-in-downtown-salt-lake-city

https://kslnewsradio.com/1920965/utah-women-sgt-pepper/

COVID Positive

As published on LinkedIn Influencers March 28th, 2020.

I have been wondering for six days whether or not to write this article, and if I did, how to write this article. What to say, and how to say it. It was only this morning, after waking up feeling truly better, that it felt like the right time.

On Friday March 20th I was tested for COVID-19, having had symptoms of headaches, body aches, stomach issues, and chills earlier in the week. It was only after learning that two people we had been with at a recent gathering, a “before” gathering, had tested positive and were pretty sick that getting tested seemed like the right thing to do. I was lucky, because I was able to get tested. Two days later I got the call that I had tested positive. At the time, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, there were 136 confirmed cases in Utah.

The night before I got my test result, I did what I always do before I go to sleep. I prayed. However, that night I was not sure what to pray for. I always pray for my family, my friends, and the world in general. I pray for health, for safety, for kindness, for wisdom, all the usual things. I was pretty sure I had it, which meant everyone in our household likely had it, but so far none of our symptoms were that severe. We had already been isolating for a week at that time, so I prayed to either not have it, or have it, but please God, let it not be severe for anyone who I may have exposed to it. And so far it seems like that prayer is coming true.

As I shared my symptoms with family and friends, it seems to me that a lot more people may have this virus than is being reported. Of course, the lack of testing is making this an incredibly huge and challenging issue. But the good news is that if we continue to wash hands, stay home, social distance, quarantine if you are confirmed sick, and truly take care of our more vulnerable populations, then the experts tell us that we have the best chances of getting through this, together.

Ironically, March 1st was going to be the day that I emerged from my gap year (18 months) of sorts. While I have been working on a few things during this time, including non-profit boards, charitable giving, and investing, I had given myself some time after fully transitioning from my role at Women Moving Millions to figure out what was next for me in terms of how best to use my time, treasure, and talent to serve. I wanted to get through my full hip replacement that happened on February 11th first, and then I was going to hit the ground running. But let’s recall what has been happening since then, shall we? Global pandemic, financial markets tumbling, Utah earthquake, economic shut-down, three week home quarantine, and somehow we’re still having endless snow storms in Park City. So needless to say my March 1st date has shifted to April 1st. However, expect to hear a lot more from me going forward.

And please. Take care of yourself and take care of others.

Leaders or Hucksters?

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on March 21st, 2020.

I woke up before 5am this morning, slightly later than my new normal of 4am, with words from “Ironic” by Alanis Morissette playing in my head. For a minute, disoriented, I wasn’t sure whether I was about to laugh or cry. And then I cried.

In January of 2008, I decided I would start blogging, and I hired a talented writer and friend, Deborah Siegel, to work with me. If you need a refresh as to what was happening in the United States at that time, the topics and people included President Bush, sub-prime mortgage crisis, Ben Bernanke Chair of the Federal Reserve, Hank Paulson Treasury Secretary (my former boss), and US Presidential candidates dropping out like flies. In fact, on the day Deborah and I worked together for the first time, we paused to listen to the news as Hank Paulson made a special announcement regarding the unprecedented (at the time) financial interventions of the US government to try and bail out the economy. I was so fired up and pissed off that I started to rant, but Deborah simply said, “Write about it.” And so we did. We submitted a piece titled “The Confidence Man” to the Huffington Post, and it was published on the front page.

Today’s announcement by U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is but the latest effort by the current administration to downplay the severity of the current economic crisis. In the grand old American tradition of hucksterism, Paulson’s prescription is a sorely misleading sell.

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It’s time to wake up and smell the economy. Sadly, there’s no short and easy fix to the longer-term problems created by excessive borrowing combined with rampant consumerism. Yet Paulson insists (White House Stimulus Fact Sheet, Jan. 18, 12:03pm, WSJ.com), “By passing an effective growth package quickly, we can provide a shot in the arm to keep our fundamentally strong economy healthy and help keep instability in the housing and financial markets from more adversely affecting the overall economy.” Believing the economy to be grounded on a “solid foundation,” Paulson is ignoring the walls falling down.”

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Fast forward 12 years. Today, and every day for the past week, we have had government leaders and financial gurus appear before us on the same news channels as in 2008. In fact, this very second, as I hit publish, we are awaiting an announcement on another historical financial and legislative intervention, including billions, if not trillions of dollars worth of interventions. Instead of President Bush, we have President Trump. Instead of Treasury Secretary Paulson, we have Treasury Secretary Mnuchin (another former Goldman boss, my direct one). However, unlike 2008, we also have an array of health experts to listen to, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. If you flip from channel to channel as I have done unhealthily for the past couple of weeks, all you will see are panels of “experts”. Some of these politicians and health experts are giving us facts and useful information on how to take action against the Coronavirus. And some are not.

Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?

The financial crisis of 2008 is obviously different than the crisis we’re currently facing. This time around the trigger is a global pandemic. Should we have foreseen the possibility of this and had a better plan? Heck yes. Will people, many people, die because of the lack of foresight and planning? Sadly, the answer is already yes. As of this writing, there were 18,900 confirmed cased in the United States and 263 deaths. 26 people are dying every hour in Italy. And beyond the absolutely devastating loss of life, there is the short term and long term economic and social impact.

Once again I find myself screaming at the television, and so once again I am turning to writing. This time around, I chose the medium of poetry to express my frustrations.

I keep thinking. Asking. “Why this is all so surprising”? Do you? I am not in to blame and shame. but I am into – leadership, responsibility, accountability. It’s a big deal to have NOT been better prepared. In all the big and obvious ways. And in all the invisible and hidden ways. A very big deal. This is about some people in particular. Those with big titles, big salaries, big platforms, big influence, big teams. But most of us. As well. It’s a big deal to witness and unpack and understand what all of this exposes. It will also be a big deal to respond. rethink, regroup, rebuild, reconnect. NOW. And especially. When the droplets settle and disappear.

Earlier today I looked up the term hucksterism, as I am not sure I have seen or used this word since 2008. Let me define it for you:

Hucksterism: To promote or attempt to sell (a commercial product, for example) in an overaggressive or showy manner.

Now, how about another word?

Leadership: A simple definition is that leadership is the art of motivating a group of people to act toward achieving a common goal. They are the person in the group that possesses the combination of personality and leadership skills to make others want to follow their direction.

We have, and always will, live in times of hucksters and leaders, and it has and will always be up to us to figure out who falls into which bucket. What I can do, what we all can do, is pay attention. Make note. Remember. Act. And throughout all of this, my favorite definition of insanity keeps coming to mind: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.

So President Trump. Everything is not perfect and great and awesome and amazing. Nor is it all your fault. But you are the President of the United States at this moment, and your job is to be a leader, not a huckster. The same is true for every other leader right now, and especially those with the big titles, the big teams, and the big pay-checks. The walls are indeed, falling down. This pandemic is quickly exposing the cracks, if not downright fractures, in our institutions, our systems, and our social norms. This includes those in government at all levels everywhere, businesses both big and small, philanthropy, and civil society. There is so much to be learned in terms of how we live and work, practice proper preparedness, and care for our most vulnerable populations, both in “normal” times and in times of crisis and need.

We should never forget that countless people suffer and die every single day for so many preventable reasons. We have normalized the abnormal because it has been going on for so long. We have become so used to the word ‘crisis’ being in the news that the meaning has become lost. We move on and move past the headlines around deaths due to violence, poverty, addiction, preventable diseases, and mental-health, and we do this for so many reasons, perhaps the most common of which being it is someone else’s problem to solve. It may be someone else’s problem, but it is our problem too. Problems are everywhere, but so are solutions. We can all do something, or we can all do nothing. Isn’t it ironic that the number one message of this particular crisis is that we can in fact ALL do something that matters.

We can stay home. We can wash our hands. We can social distance. We can take care of one another. We can donate to charities serving the needy. We can search #covidkindness on twitter to lift our spirits. People really can be awesome!

In closing, I am quite sure I will continue to wake up before dawn for the foreseeable future. I am quite sure I will continue to yell at the television. And of course, I am going to keep sharing, posting, writing, and connecting; doing as I have done, out loud, for the past 12 years.

A few lines from the end of this poem I wrote and shared on March 14th called Maybe/Who/Next.

Let us all do the next right thing. Let us all do the next kind thing. Let us all do the next hopeful thing. Let us all do the next generous thing. The next compassionate thing. The next wise thing. The next rational thing. The next loving thing. The next safe thing. The next calm thing. And then. Do it again and again. We are all connected. We always have been. We always will be. (May heeding the call to ‘social distance’ be the force that actually draws us closer together)

I have written 778 blog posts since 2008. If you want to check them out you can find them here. And of course you can sign-up to have them emailed directly to your inbox. 

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*A friend shared with me this white paper called “Public-Private Cooperation for Pandemic Preparedness and Response: A Call to Action”, which was prepared in partnership with the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the World Economic Forum, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation last year. Again, for a second, I did not know whether to laugh or cry. And then I cried.