9 ways to Take The Lead even in a terrible year

Issue 149 — November 16, 2020

2020 came dancing in with such hope.

2020 was going to be Take The Lead’s year to scale up after seven years of building our credibility, developing our unique methodology of accelerating women’s advancement in leadership, and proving that it works. We’d earned the opportunity to grow exponentially. We had an amazing year of programming planned. Symbolically, 2020 being the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving women the right to vote after seven decades of struggle, seemed like the perfect time.

But just as the suffrage amendment was flawed by not assuring voting rights to Asian, Indigenous, and Black women, 2020 brought to light many deficiencies. Like those punching balloons that keep popping back up for more, it seemed like every time we thought it couldn’t get worse, it did.

The Coronavirus pandemic threw millions out of work, disrupting individual careers (not to mention turning parents into schoolteachers) and stressing the entire economy. Women have been especially set back in their careers — the majority of those laid off or who left the workforce to manage family responsibilities. The brutal murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor ignited a long overdue racial reckoning that was a second pandemic. Add the anxieties of a prolonged election season to an already toxic mix and the stress has been unbearable for many. On the personal front, though I’d never had a broken bone in my life, I managed to sustain a broken wrist and elbow. I podcasted about how it’s not the mountains that trip you up in life, it’s the pebbles on the path. But this year it seems that we had both the mountains and the pebbles to surmount.

So 2020 was definitely not the year we planned. But humans are infinitely resilient. My bones are healing. And Take The Lead is ever committed to its mission of gender parity.

Here are 9 ways we “took the lead” even though our scaling up plans were temporarily dashed, and a leadership lesson learned from each.

And let me be honest. During the past year we have given all we can and asked you, our supporters and followers, for very little. Now with Giving Tuesday and end of year fundraising upon us, I am asking. I’ll get to that momentarily.

  1. The Inaugural Power Up Conference was held in Scottsdale Arizona on February 28 and 29 and it was epic thanks to Felicia Davis’s curation of amazing speakers. The funny thing is that I had been obsessed with claiming Leap Day on the 29th since its origins are so feminist. My team thought (rightly) that we didn’t have enough time to pull it together. But since the very next week, the pandemic started causing venues to close and people to cancel everything, I am so glad we did. Because people loved it and want it to be an annual event!

The lesson? Sometimes faster is better than better, and thanks to a great committee and conference leader, the results were excellent as you can see in this highlights video.

2. We amped up providing valuable content. Our award winning newsletter, blog, social media, and podcasts provide up to date leadership advice and information relevant to women in society. We quickly created other opportunities for people to engage in web chats and webinars with colleagues like The Cru founder Tiffany Dufu on how to cope with our changed world. We created the Power to Change stories to amplify women’s voices and the Power to Change webinar series to take a deep look at racial and gender inequalities and how to solve them. I also appeared on other organizations’ podcasts and webcasts, such as Luminary and the Covey Club. Carpe the Chaos (Power Tool #5) was a very popular topic, no surprise!

The lesson: When disaster strikes, think first how can we serve. We are without question, all in this together.

3. We pivoted our most immersive blended in-person and virtual program, 50 Women Can Change the World to all virtual for the journalism cohort we had planned to do in 2020. We decided to go forward with it despite having about 2/3 of the needed funds because journalism is so important to our democracy and yet is one of the most disrupted professions that has harbored more pain and institutional racism than I had understood. I am grateful that we learned so much, mostly from our mistakes, about the difficulties of virtual programs that are as intensive and introspective as this one. But we’re glad we did it and that we got to celebrate virtually the 50 women who graduated.

The lesson: There is always a way. Yes we can. Power Tool #3 — what you need is always there if you have the wisdom to see it and the courage to use it. But now I add, and to be humble enough to learn and change along the way.

4. While intersectionality and racial justice have been in our DNA since we began, we must make that commitment more explicit and intentional, and do our part to dismantle systemic racism. We commissioned a review of our entire curriculum with a racial justice lens to guide that process of introspection. We have begun implementing recommendations that can be applied immediately while seeking to raise the funds needed to implement the rest of the recommendations. That will increase the impact of the program overall by nurturing connections with and among the incredible women who participate in it.

The lesson: There is always more you don’t know about what you think you know. Listen, learn, empathize, pass the mic, and above all, be the change.

5. We updated and delivered the 9 Leadership Power Tools online course. We have always charged a nominal fee to defray costs. This time we received more requests for scholarships than ever.

The lesson: The pandemic has accelerated the shift to online learning. We have the opportunity to help many women whose careers have been disrupted by COVID and for whom the full program is what they need to recharge and retool. We are grateful to generous donors who provided scholarships. There will be more need as we gear up for 2021.

6. We created new services based on what people were asking for. Leadership Ambassador Vidhi Data launched our coaching services. Check them out — short and longer term, individual and small group, something to fit every need and budget. Similarly, when the pandemic caused us to lose scheduled corporate training opportunities (read that, funds), we used our expertise to create new ones to meet companies’ most pressing need for diversity, equity and inclusion training and coaching, inclusive of but broader than gender parity. If you’re interested, here’s a deck about it and how you can learn more or book a workshop. And look for a sneak preview of the Take The Lead Academy for Advanced Leadership coming soon.

The lesson: More innovation occurs during times of chaos and crisis than any other time.

7. We tackled important issues of the day. Yes, we are Ruthless now, or rather RUTHFULL as I prefer to say.

The lesson: There are incredibly courageous, talented, and generous people leading the way and supporting the cause. Thank you to ASU Dean of Social Sciences Pardis Mahdavi for facilitating our first virtual book club, to the mega-talented Ari Afsar and Lauren Gunderson for their powerful guest performance from their forthcoming play “Jeannette, the Musical,” to the incredibly brave Drew Dixon (bottom right) for speaking up about sexual abuse in the music industry and in so doing giving other women the courage to speak, and to Felicia Davis for hosting the Power to Change Conversation series with guests like the wonderful Jamia Wilson.

8. You’ve probably heard the saying that if your vision doesn’t scare you it’s not big enough. We’re not scared, but we are powered up with the bold intention to scale up starting next year whether the pandemic is behind us or not. Women are going to have to be at the center of economic recovery, and we aim to be at the center of supporting that by committing to 20 cohorts of 50 Women Can Change the World in key sectors over the next five years, incorporating racial healing, and getting the message of our mission out to many thousands more. Thank you for being the fuel that has brought us here and the inspiration that will take us forward.

The lesson: No matter what the environment, it’s necessary to think ahead to what the world needs from us next, and commit to doing it.

Way back last April — what seems like years ago now, I wrote, and this is the 9th lesson:

We’re in the season of rebirth. We’re in the season of disruption. The two have much in common. What we think of as normal may never be again, but in this season of rebirth and disruption, we have an opportunity to normalize new realities, to create a future more intentionally and proactively than we have ever done. Let’s take a moment first to honor the frontline workers who are saving lives. And let us take a moment to honor ourselves for doing what we need to do each and every day to keep ourselves going, to support friends and family, to maintain businesses.

In advance of or on Giving Tuesday, please consider a gift to Take The Lead to enable us to continue and scale this work.

GLORIA FELDT is the Cofounder and President of Take The Lead, a motivational speaker and expert women’s leadership developer for companies that want to build gender balance, and a bestselling author of four books, most recently No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, she teaches “Women, Power, and Leadership” at Arizona State University and is a frequent media commentator. Learn more at www.gloriafeldt.com and www.taketheleadwomen.com. Tweet Gloria Feldt.

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Gloria Feldt

Gloria Feldt

Gloria Feldt is a New York Times bestselling author and co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a nonprofit women’s leadership organization.