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/

Are You Racially Literate?

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on May 8th, 2018.

Last November I had the privilege of attending the TED Women Conference in New Orleans, and to say that I came away from that event inspired would be an understatement. Out of all the incredible speakers that I heard over those three days, there was one talk in particular that I could not stop thinking about. The one shared below, which was just released on the TED platform yesterday and has already been viewed nearly 300,000 times. When they gave their talk at TED Women, Priya Vulchi and Winona Guo were in the midst of travelling to all 50 states to talk to people about race, and they were doing this during their gap year between high school and college. Their talk outlined how they were attempting to connect both the hundreds of personal stories they were hearing on their trip, as well as their own personal experiences on a cross-country road trip as two women of color, to the wealth of facts and statistics that have been gathered by researchers over the decades about racial inequality and the negative impact of systemic racism in America. In their talk they share their framework by identifying two big gaps in people’s racial literacy: the heart gap, a lack of understanding of our own personal experiences with regards to race, and the mind gap, a lack of understanding about the systemic epidemic of racism in this country. When I heard them speak, I realized I possessed both of these gaps, and it is likely you may have them as well.

Taking a step back, in 2016, Priya and Winona published The Classroom Index, a racial literacy textbook for educators to help them teach students on this often difficult and uncomfortable topic. They did this while sophomores in high school in New Jersey. Yes, you read that right, sophomores in HIGH SCHOOL. The success of, and interest in this book led them to embark on their journey across America to have these conversations with average, everyday people in all 50 states in order to truly understand the current state of racial literacy in this country. Their findings are set to be published in their forthcoming book, Race Across 50 States. At the time they spoke at TED Women in November, they still had 23 states to go.

When I heard that Utah was one of the states they had not yet interviewed in, I immediately invited them to come visit, which they did in February of this year. They set up multiple independent interviews, my daughter Allie hosted them at her high school, and I hosted a home based event with students, educators, and others. What they did more than anything else in each setting was listen; they really listened to each person’s experiences around race. It sounds simple, but it’s rarely simple in execution. As they said in their talk, “Today, so few of us understand each other”, and this lack of understanding is the root of so many social problems across all communities. That is why they set out to change the status quo by founding Choose in 2014 to try and raise the bar in racial literacy, which in turn led to their publication of The Classroom Index just two years later. I think it bears repeating that they did all of this while still students in high school. These two truly are Wonder Women.

Yesterday, their TED Talk was released on TED.com, and I encourage everyone to take the time to not only watch this brilliant and important talk, but to share it broadly. Whether at school, at home, in our places of worship, or in our community based organizations, these are conversations we need to be having. I hope their talk inspires everyone to take a closer look at their own experiences around race, ask and listen to others, and try to understand the many ways race and racial inequality impact our society. Priya and Winona are two of the most intelligent, compassionate, and articulate young women I have ever met, and I believe wholeheartedly that their work is going to help change the racial conversation in this country for the better.

Since TED Women, Priya and Winona have finished their tour of all 50 states, collecting over 500 interviews along the way, and they are hard at work finishing the content for their new book. As if you needed any more proof of their awesomeness, they are also currently in New York City as part of the TED Residency program, where they are the youngest TED residents in history. Despite all this, something tells me that Priya and Winona are just getting started, and I can’t wait to see where their journeys lead them next. If you would like to learn more about Choose, you can find more information HERE. You can also follow the conversation online at @princetonchoose on Twitter. Finally, their TED Talk can be found HERE, and I hope you will all watch and share it with your networks.

Their TED Talk is below, as well as an informal interview I conducted with Priya and Winona during their visit to Utah.

 

The Golden Moment

As published in LinkedIn Influencers on January 8th, 2018.

Hollywood is a big business. Film, television, content creation, and distribution are all big business. We are talking hundreds of billions of dollars. The Golden Globes is the annual kick off to awards season, where Hollywood repeatedly celebrates the best of the year, and make no mistake, it is a big deal. I, like many others, was watching last night with curiosity and hope that it would be different this year. That the personal would turn political. And not in a little way, but in a big way. I was not disappointed.

Before going into some of the highlights of the evening, imagine this. Imagine the biggest event possible in YOUR industry. Imagine all of the CEOs of all the major companies are present, imagine the best performers in each of those companies are also present, and imagine a room that is full of people deemed to be the most powerful in the entire industry. I will do it for my old industry; finance.

Front row would be the CEOS of all the major financial institutions; men like Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, Brian Moynihan of Bank of America, Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase, and Michael Corbat of Citigroup. And of course the hedge fund managers would be there; Ray Dalio of Bridgewater, Emmanual Roman of Pimco, and Stephen A. Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group. And finally, we would have to imagine that women and people of color where there too. In large numbers. Let’s imagine all the categories; Woman bond trade of the year. Male bond trader of the year. Best overall hedge fund manager. Best overall firm. You get the picture. And imagine that on this night, presenter after presenter, award winner after award winner, took a moment, or in last night’s case, many moments, to speak about the desperate need for the industry to change. Imagine that time and time again the culture of exclusion and harassment was acknowledged, and then it was demanded that this was the moment for it all to change. That is how big last night was for the entertainment industry.

“Good evening ladies and remaining gentlemen.”

The evening kicked off with Seth Meyers acknowledging the events of the past several months in his opening line. In a nearly note perfect opening monologue, he set the stage for what ultimately became a simultaneously powerful and entertaining evening, all while acknowledging the difficult balancing act the evening would, and rightly should be. But most importantly, he proved that the night would not be one where people would skirt around the problem, but rather that they were going to face it head on. People like Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Woody Allen were all name checked, and it was made perfectly clear that they no longer had a place at the table.

This continued with the award winners. Nicole Kidman won the first award of the night for her role in HBO’s Big Little Lies, which she also produced, and she used to her time at the podium to herald her female co-stars, pay tribute to her mom, and give a nod to the power of women. And it went on from there. Laura DernElisabeth MossAllison Janney, and Frances McDormand all used their time at the microphone to denounce a culture and society that marginalizes groups of people, and history was made when Sterling K. Brown became the first black man to win the Best Actor in a TV Drama award. He acknowledged creator Dan Fogelman in his acceptance speech, thanking him for writing a role that could only be played by a black man, and for allowing him to be recognized and seen as he is. It was a powerful night all around.

This trend was continued in the non-acting categories, as time and time again, films and television shows that celebrate women, empowerment, and complex female characters were rewarded. From films like Lady BirdI, Tonya, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and series like The Handmaid’s TaleBig Little Lies, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel won the major awards of the night, the theme of the evening was very much that women’s stories are important, profitable, and here to stay.

But it wasn’t just the winners. Presenters throughout the night used their time on stage to joke about, yes, but also to bring attention to the many issues of inequality that still plague the entertainment industry. From the wage gap (Jessica Chastain), to the lack of female directors (Natalie Portman with one of the best zingers of the night), the women of Hollywood made it very clear that the culture of discrimination no longer has any place in this industry. In particular, my heart did a little happy dance when Thelma and Louise themselves, Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, took to the stage to present, and they did not disappoint.

There are so many things to talk about from last night, from the sea of all black as both women and men eschewed the usual rainbow explosion that is often Golden Globe fashion, and instead wore black in solidarity with the victims of sexual harassment and abuse, to several of Hollywood’s biggest stars bringing well known activists as their guests, including Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement. More importantly, many speakers, presenters, and award winners took the time to acknowledge that this is not just a problem that plagues Hollywood. This is a problem that spans all industries and cultures, and it is time for this problem to end. Earlier this year, a new initiative that was inspired by #MeToo was announced called Times Up. This initiative is a call to action to end the culture of shame and silence across all industries, and is an advocacy group calling for the end of sexual harassment and abuse. Finally, The Times Up Legal Defense Fund will provide financial assistance to women and men who have experienced sexual harassment and/or abuse in the workplace. To visit their GoFundMe page, please click HERE.

But even with all of the above, last night truly belonged to one woman. Oprah. In receiving the prestigious Cecil B. DeMille award, the first black woman to do so, Oprah delivered a fiery and impassioned speech that some have interpreted as her opening bid for the White House in 2020. It was a beautiful, big, and bold, and I simply cannot do it justice. Please take a moment and watch it below.

Wow. Can we all just agree that Oprah should be President of the World?

In my end of year post, I wrote about a power shift. I wrote about the crumbling of the patriarchal matrix that is the world we live in today, and last night on the Golden Globes, we witnessed that happening in front of our eyes. This shift is about power with, not power over. It is about the idea of the we being bigger than the me. It is about talent, about inclusion, about fairness, about justice, and it is about respect. And if you are not happy about all that happened last night, if you are not feeling joyful and hopeful and excited that change is finally happening, then perhaps this quote applies to you. “When you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” Well, to quote Oprah, “A new day is on the horizon”, and for once, it doesn’t feel like the dawning of this new day is an unattainable goal. It is within sight, and it is glorious to behold.

Big thanks to Laura Moore for partnering with me on this piece.