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.

2017 – What do you Believe? The Year of Wonder Woman

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on December 31st, 2017.

Yes, yes. I know. I know I promised that I was done writing about Wonder Woman. I promised no more articles until the sequel. But the thing is, I recently saw Justice League and fell in love with Wonder Woman all over again. Which means I had to of course watch Wonder Woman again as soon as I got home, because let’s face it, that movie is awesome. So here I am, once again writing about Wonder Woman, which is exactly where I was 12 months ago. I ended the year with an article titled “2017. The Year of Wonder Women“, in which I outlined how I was hopeful that the coming year would be a notable one for women and women’s leadership. And it has been, just not in the ways we might have anticipated.

So with 2017 now coming to a close, it’s time to reflect on the past 12 months, and I am going to use the narrative of the Wonder Woman movie to help me do just that. As I watched Wonder Woman for about the tenth time last night, I was struck by just how timely this film truly is; as if it was written solely as a reflection of the events of this past year. Impossible of course, seeing as the script was written long before 2017 even began, but it is remarkable nonetheless. Below are some of my favourite lines and moments, and what they mean to me as I look back on the year that was with Wonder Woman leading the way.

First and foremost, 2017 was a year that women truly rose up, individually and collectively, to step into their power and use their voices. From the Women’s Marches around the country that started the year, to the #MeToo movement of the past couple of months, to FEMINISM becoming the word of the year, this year truly was a tipping point for women standing up, stepping forward, and speaking out. I’ve already written about the almost indescribably powerful experience that was the solidarity of the women’s march in January, and honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever truly come down from that high, but there were those who in the immediate aftermath of the marches questioned whether or not that event would yield any long term change. Thankfully, those naysayers have been proven wrong. At least so far. Time and time again this past year, concerned citizens, but especially women, have shown up and stepped up.

A few examples. On March 8th, women around the world went on strike as part of a protest against pay discrimination and gender based violence. In January, hundreds of thousands of people, but in particular female lawyers, showed up at airports across the US to protest the President’s travel ban. All year long women’s organizations across the country have seen spikes in donations and members, and groups such as EMILY’s Listand She Should Run have reported record numbers of women showing an interest in running for elected office. There have been many articles written pondering the reasons for the burst of energy and commitment towards women’s rights, and while many focus on the political change in this country, which of course is probably likely, I also like to think that the reason is much bigger than that. It is the confluence of many factors and I really do believe that having Wonder Woman on the big screen helped.

I thought about these possible reasons while watching the training sequence in the beginning of the film, when Antiope is urging Diana to be better, to fight harder, and to stop doubting herself and her strength.

“You keep doubting yourself…You are stronger than you believe…You have greater powers than you know…You expect the battle to be fair. A battle will never be fair.

That is a lot to unpack, word by word, line by line. First, let’s go with that big word – doubt: a feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction. This was a year when there seemed to be more than our usual share of doubt floating around. From the narrative created around ‘fake news’, to the whys of mass killings, to the confrontations with white supremacists, to masses of women coming forward to share their stories of sexual harassment in the workplace. Questions like Who do you stand with? What do you stand for? Who do you believe? were front and center. Upon reflection, this was a year where I felt called to step into my core beliefs and values in ways I had not been previously. I felt called to know my truth and to speak my truth, but to balance both with humility and curiosity. This was brought to life so beautifully in the Wonder Woman screenplay, as one of Diana’s favorite questions seemed to be, “Why?” She showed up asking questions before jumping to action and to judgement.

Onto the next part of the quote about strength and power. This has been the core message of every speech I have given over the past decade. My talks are most often to women’s groups, and I usually talk about my own story from small town girl, to competitive bodybuilding, to Goldman Sachs trader, and finally, to philanthropic movement builder. It is a journey about stepping into my power to be an agent of positive change for women in leadership and more generally for gender equality. I invite women to use their “power tools”, which include their voice, their platform, their skills, their networks, and their financial resources (giving dollars, purchasing power, and investment capital) in alignment with their core beliefs and values. I share my core belief that women’s rights are human rights, and using our resources to support human rights is something we all can and should do.

And yet, we don’t. I don’t. I still don’t even come close to fully activating my power. I had dinner in early December with an amazing group of women in New York City. It was post-Wharton’s gender impact investing conference where I left feeling pretty fired up about the potential to align investment capital with women’s empowerment. The dinner was hosted by an amazing woman who had started a firm in this area, and the table was filled with other well known and powerful women. We were asked to share our stories with a question around where we were now with respect to women’s inclusion and leadership, and more importantly, what might be holding positive change at bay? Most of the gathered women felt hopeful and activated, and yet there was also a sense that this was a moment that might pass and that the backlash from #MeToo might be too strong. When it was my turn, I said something I had never said out loud before. That if my power, defined as power to, not power over, was on a scale of 1 to 10, I was only operating at about a 2 or a 3 right now. There were gasps. I was considered a powerful person in the room so how could this be? What did I mean?

Well, it’s complicated, and an article in and of itself, as there are many threads to the answer. First, it is a time thing. I often try to do too much for too many, and often in a reactive and not a proactive way, which means I don’t have the time needed to really focus on my big ideas. And I have some big ones. That being said, my big ideas scare me. I have known what it feels like to be 24/7 committed to building something, making something happen, and I am at a point in my life now where I do want more freedom to not work all the time. And then there is this.

Again, back to a scene in the movie where Antiope really challenges Diana while her mother is watching. Antiope comes at Diana fiercely, with all her force, and it is at this moment that Diana crosses her arms, directs her energy back at Antiope, and blows her back, causing her to fly into the air and crash down. This is the first time she gets a sense of her potential power, and while it scares the shit out of her a little, it also is an ‘ah ha’ kind of moment. I love the look on her face, so if you missed it the first time around, go back and re-watch the video above. Her expression is fantastic.

What I found so interesting about this scene is that it shows the other Amazons shunning her to some degree. Maybe the filmmaker Patty Jenkins was making a point that this is what women do to other extremely powerful women. Let alone what the forces of patriarchy do. (Please Ms. Jenkins, if you read this, I’d love to know) This is part of the reason why I answered 2 to 3 on my scale. This might sound a little weird, but I am afraid of scaring people off or turning people off. Relationships mean the world to me and, AND, I want to be effective. Over the years I have often been told that I am “a very strong personality”, that I “overwhelm people”, and in not so many ways asked to “tone it down a little”. I am also trying to be very aware of my privilege, and not making that the basis of my power. It is a balancing act that I feel all the time.

There is also the thing about being nice. At another recent dinner with a friend, we got talking about her daughter, a 15 year old, who was being bullied. My friend said that she made a point of talking to her daughter about the difference between being nice and being kind, and about how the latter is so much more important than the former. I had never thought about it like that, and now I can’t stop thinking about it. As girls, as women, we are so often told to be nice, play nice, act nice. It is time to end the nice. Not end the kind, just the nice.

This is something that women, individually and collectively, have to come to terms with if we ever, ever, ever want to have anything close to gender equality in our world. We cannot be ambivalent about our power. We have to activate it, use it, leverage it, both collectively and individually. To be clear I am talking about power to, not power over. I am not talking about power as it supports a narrative of rugged individualism, competition, and winner takes all. I am talking about power anchored in the we, anchored in the collective good, anchored in community, anchored in fundamental beliefs around human rights, and anchored in kind. It is time, about time, beyond time, to create a whole new narrative about power in our world, and Diana has shown us what that might look like.

And the other thing. The patriarchy. Again I am going to add a definition to be super clear what I am taking about. “In sociologypatriarchy is a social system in which males hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authoritysocial privilege and control of property.” It is a social system. I think about it like The Matrix, another one of my favorite films. We all live in a world that has been constructed around rules, laws, belief systems, and norms. Some of them make sense, and some of them don’t. Just because something exists does not make it right. This was the year when the patriarchal matrix we live in began to show some big cracks.

Think about how this was brought to life in Wonder Woman. It is when Diana stepped into her power that the world of men broke through. Until that moment the Amazons were quite literally living in a bubble. We get the foreshadowing comment right before by Hippolyta, played by Connie Nielsen, when she says “What have I done?” after she witnesses her daughter’s burst of power. They were safe on the island, isolated from the war that was ravaging the earth, until one of them stepped closer to her full potential. At my dream dinner with Ms. Jenkins and the writers of the screenplay, I would go deeper into the meaning behind this scene as well. Clearly there is a message in there about not only having a female superhero step in to save the world, but how women coming into their power, motivated by different beliefs, would be met with backlash. In the film Ares, the God of War, has corrupted men’s hearts, and it was the power of love that would ultimately set them free. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The last part of that quote. About expecting battles to be fair. This comes up a lot in my family as one of my daughter’s core thinking talents is fairness (if you want to understand what I mean my thinking talents, get this amazing book). It drives her absolutely bananas when hard work and doing the ‘right thing’ is not rewarded. One of the key things we have had to message to her over the years is to always work hard and do the right thing anyway. Will it be rewarded or acknowledged every time? No. But it is more likely to be, and regardless of recognition, at the end of the day, at the end of every day, you have to look at yourself in the mirror and be proud of the person you were that day. Expecting fairness is not the same thing as hoping for it, working for it, and creating the conditions for it. If you walk through the world expecting fairness, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. And yet we have to do everything we can in this world to create fairness. For me, that is what #MeToo is all about. That is the goal. No one should have to endure harassment and discrimination in the workplace, or anywhere. We should all be shocked, disgusted, and called to end what has become normalized in our culture.

It was hugely significant that earlier this month it was announced that TIME magazine named the Silence Breakers as 2017’s Person of the Year. Reading the accompanying article was an incredibly sobering and emotional experience for me. The backgrounds of the storytellers could not be more different, but that very fact only served to reveal just how shockingly widespread and prevalent the issue of harassment and sexual assault is in today’s culture. This is an issue that has been festering for decades, and while it should be noted that many brave people have spoken out in the past, 2017 was truly the year that the dams finally burst. Emboldened by the solidarity of #MeToo, brave women and men everywhere are standing up and speaking truth to power. They are allowing the truth to come out, and finally, FINALLY, people are believing them.

One of my favorite aspects of Wonder Woman’s character is that her most well known weapon is the lasso of truth, because make no mistake, the truth is a powerful weapon. Can you imagine what might have happened if we had a lasso of truth at our disposal this past year? It would have been of great use in Washington, DC in particular. This was a year when we seemed trapped in endless cycles of accusations, denials, and efforts to fact find. We are still there. I find it somewhat ironic that the creator of the character of Wonder Woman, together with his wife, developed the first ever lie detector test, hence the lasso. If you have not yet seen the film Professor Marston and the Wonder Womenalso released this year, I would highly recommend it. And just because I am throwing the kitchen sink in to this very long end of year post, if you have not yet watched the Netflix series Black Mirror, not only should you, but you may come to believe, as I now do, that we may not be that far off to having an app for that.

Which brings me to my favourite moment in Wonder Woman. Indeed, a lot of people’s favourite moment.

Gives me chills every time. In the face of the hellscape that was the trenches of World War I, and after being told that there’s nothing that can be done to help the people around her, that you can’t save everyone, Diana decides that these people, the ones right in front of her, are worth saving, and if no one else will do it, then she will. “I’m willing to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.” Such a powerful statement, and something to which we should all aspire. As Steve Trevor later confesses, “My father told me once, ‘If you see something wrong happening in the world, you can either do nothing, or you can do something.’ And I already tried nothing.” It’s that simple. Flying men in capes are never going to change this world. It is up to us, each and every one of us, to do our part to make this a world a better place, and we can’t sit back and assume that someone else is going to fight the battles for us. Believe me, I wish there was an island full of Amazons who could just fix the world, but the fact is that’s on us. “It is our sacred duty to defend the world”, and we all have our part to play. “I can save today. You can save the world.”

As I sit here, working on this article, my daughter is sitting across from me working on her college admission essays. In many of them she is asked questions like what makes her special? How does she hope to use her education in the future? Who does she most admire? How does she think she can make the world better? These are questions we should all answer for ourselves. A part of me hates the “you can change the world” narrative that we serve up to our children, but the other part of me loves it. The part that hates it feels like we are putting too much pressure on our children too early. The part of me that loves it knows that it can be the millions of small acts of kindness that make all the difference. What I would change is the word ‘you’ to ‘we’. We can change the world. We can. We. The world is the aggregation of all that we believe, all that we hold dear, and all that we do individually and collectively. If you have seen the masses of Wonder Woman paraphernalia on the store shelves this holiday season you will have seen the core message of the film that is blazoned across a lot of it, WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE?

There are so many great lines in this movie, but this is one of my favorite: “It’s not about deserve. It’s about what you believe. And I believe in love.” Ultimately, Diana chooses to lead with love, and I wish, more than anything, that we would all heed her example.

I used to want to save the world, to end war and bring peace to mankind. But then, I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light. And I learned that inside every one of them, there will always be both. A choice each must make for themselves. Something no hero will ever defeat. And now I know, that only love can truly save the world.

This past year has been filled with highs and lows, but as far as I’m concerned, the potential for change has never been higher. So as we head into the new year, let’s keep moving forward, together, with Diana as our guide. Let 2018 be your year of somethings, not nothings. Let this coming year be the year of letting the truth come forward. Let this be a year of stepping in to your power, power to, not power over. But above all else, let’s choose love.

Happy New Year.

To access the Wonder Woman screenplay click here.

Wonder Woman by the Numbers:

16 years in development

$103 million opening weekend

92% on Rotten Tomatoes

$412 million domestic gross

$821 million overall gross

#1 Superhero Origin story by gross

#1 DC Extended Universe film by gross and critical reception

Top grossing film directed by a woman

#1 Movie of Summer 2017 by domestic gross

#5 Superhero film of all time by domestic gross