Lucky 7: Saluting Take The Lead’s 7 Years On A Mission To Parity

Issue 161 — February 22, 2021

Grady Gammage auditorium, with its classic Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, buzzed with excitement, filled to its 3000+ seat capacity on the campus of Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ. Local people who were unable to get tickets hosted watch parties in their homes and offices, and dozens of groups from India to Seattle sent pictures of their watch party events.

Carla Harris’s electrifying opening keynote trended globally on Twitter before the crush of internet users broke the venue’s internet capacity and made our livestream spotty. Even that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm.

It was the moment we knew we were doing the right thing at the right time. It was February 19, 2014, Take The Lead’s Challenge Launch event. The moment we felt the palpable hunger for breaking through barriers that had stalled women at 18% in top leadership across all sectors for decades. The moment it was clearly time to take the lead and lead the change.

Take The Lead’s growth and ability to serve both individual women and organizations since then happened only because of the support of so many donors, board members, our consultant team, leadership ambassadors, and volunteers. Thank you for joining in this mission of gender parity by 2025 — 70 years faster than the most optimistic projection. Yet we know huge challenges remain, exacerbated by the pandemic.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg spoke at the 2014 Take The Lead Challenge Launch. Here she takes questions from ASU students.

It hadn’t been my intention to start a new organization when I wrote my book No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power.

In fact, just the contrary, after 30 years of leading Planned Parenthood affiliates and then the national organization. But as a lifelong activist for women, I was shocked that despite all the doors that women had opened and laws we’d changed, women remained stalled at 18% of top leadership across all industries, professions at that time. And the pay gap stood persistently at around 20%.

On the other hand, women were besting men in education, earning 57% of college degrees, made up half of the workforce, and had the power of the purse as the deciders in 85% of consumer purchases. Further, the business case found beyond a doubt that companies with more women in their leadership make more money. I had to find out why such stark disparities remained and do something about it.

First, I had to come to grips with the fact that while many overt and subtle systemic barriers and biases remain, they are no longer the biggest impediment to gender parity in leadership. The hard truth I found in my research is that many women are ambivalent about embracing power because we’ve been conditioned to understand it as power over others, a construct that does not feel authentic or desirable.

That process of acculturation has deterred us from embracing our now-phenomenal power and walking with bold intention through the doors that have been propped open. But let’s face it, until women achieve equal pay, power, and positions, we will keep fighting the same battles for fairness and equity over and over. I couldn’t bear that.

Time for a Power-To Model, Not Power-Over

People who read No Excuses started asking me to teach with it. Power itself has no attributes. It’s like a hammer: You can use it to demolish, destroy, or punish, and you can equally use it to build communities and construct ladders that will help others climb up with you.

When I saw how quickly the power transformation and Leadership Power Tools in the book gave women surprising breakthroughs that many called “life changing,” I was quickly persuaded to scale. And so, the nonprofit (our board chair Dr. Nancy O’Reilly prefers “social profit”) organization, Take The Lead was born. Cofounder Amy Litzenberger and I declared the resolute mission of preparing and propelling women to take their fair and equal share of leadership positions across all sectors by 2025.

Since our launch, we’ve expanded our comprehensive program of training, coaching, role model programs, and thought leadership that is unique among the many existing women’s leadership programs not just for its comprehensiveness but also for its focus on transforming women’s relationship with power, learning those 9 Leadership Power Tools to thrive in the world as it is while getting the skills to change it, and creating accountable strategic leadership action plans to implement what they learned.

Now we serve individuals and companies with customized programs all based on the core curriculum that can be delivered online, in person, or blended.

This is what our in-person room looks like at the beginning of a training.

We’re scaling by providing nine actionable Leadership Power Tools in an online self-study course (9 Leadership Power Tools to Advance Your Career), our signature 50 Women Can Change the World cohort building programs, and helping companies seeking to walk the walk of racial and gender diversity with our Building a Culture of Inclusion program.

Registration is OPEN for the NEW self-study course. Now is a perfect time to prepare for you next career move, rethink your purpose and career, or simply gain new leadership insights and skills for our turbulent world.

Pre-pandemic Pew Research Center and McKinsey data indicate that since 2014, women are approaching a 25% share of leadership roles. So we are almost halfway to parity, which, in turn, means that doubling by 2025 rather than having small incremental increases is within reach.

The notion that the future is female has taken hold, not just in t-shirts worn by activists like me or women’s magazines that are supposed to assert this, but by pundits and influencers. The U.S. has elected its first female Vice President, after all.

Yet we must redouble our work because the pandemic threatens to set back the progress that all women, and especially women of color, have made in the workplace by a decade or more. We need to transform our understanding of childcare and caregiving of all kinds as a necessary social good in much the same way we transform antiquated ideas about power — and for the same reason: to give women equal opportunity.

COVID and the long-overdue reckoning for racial justice sweeping the world have required us to use our Power Tool #5, “Carpe the Chaos” to create new solutions for achieving our mission. We pivoted all programs to virtual for the time being. We’ve explicitly included intersectionality, diversity, and racial leadership parity in our mission statement and conducted a review of our entire curriculum with a racial justice lens.

We were battered but survived the economic downturn of 2020. We have considerable rebuilding to do in 2021 and we are committed to doing it.

It is essential to #putwomenatthecenter of the recovery. And with your continued support we will do just that.

February 28–29, 2020, days before the pandemic shut down almost everything, we hosted the inaugural Power Up Conference. Speakers include graduates of our 50 Women Can Change the World programs. L-R: Jareen Imam (journalism), Jennifer Lowry-Downey (nonprofit), Leezel Tanglao shared their accomplishments attributed to their experience in the programs. Mark your calendar for April 15, 2021, the date of our next Power Up Conference, a virtual summit focusing on DEI.

Watch this space and subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date on events such as “Powerful in 2021” workshop series for women in law on March 17, 24, 31 and The Power Up Conference: Igniting the Intentional Leader for DEI April 15. Sign up for the 9 Leadership Power Tools to Advance Your Career online course or perhaps you can gift a scholarship to a woman whose career has been disrupted by the pandemic. And as always, join our great newsletter and free webinars like the recent “There’s Power in Your Story” featuring experts Megan Finnerty and Surabhi Lal.

Thank you again for your incredible support as we Take The Lead together.

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 and Tweet 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.