Leadership

Girl Up Initiative Uganda is Changing Lives

Many young girls living in the urban slums of Kampala, Uganda, struggle with a lack of educational and economic opportunities. In a culture where a male’s education is prioritized, a disproportionate number of girls do not complete school, are often forced marry early, feel like they don’t matter, and lack the skills needed to contribute to their families, which lowers their self-esteem and self-confidence.

Monica Nyiraguhabwa was one of those young women struggling to complete her education until a chance encounter with Kimberly Wolf, a young American woman passionate about girls’ rights and leadership, changed everything. While their backgrounds and circumstances were different, they both related to the challenges that come with growing up as a girl in today’s world and the power of having someone believe in them.

Together, they dreamed up the idea of Girl Up Initiative Uganda (GUIU) after visiting Monica’s community and identifying the need to advance educational and economic opportunities for young women and adolescent girls in these slum areas. They named it “Girl Up” because they wanted the name of the organization to reflect their commitment to lifting girls out of a life of poverty and gender inequality. Just as boys are taught to “man up,” the two wanted girls to be taught to “girl up” and realize their power and strength as girls.

What started out as an idea with $100 seed money has grown into a movement in just eight short years. Each year, the number of girls and young women that GUIU helps increases as the organization grows. This year, Girl Up intends to directly help 15,000 girls and young women and equip them with the skills, knowledge, tools, and provide mentorship and support to develop their self-confidence and voice to thrive as leaders in their schools and communities.

“We aim to contribute to systematic change in the community by ensuring that girls are recognized as active agents of change,” Monica said. “By empowering girls, both individually and collectively, to challenge the patriarchal social order, they become spokespersons for girls’ rights and become drivers of systemic gendered change in the community.”

Girl Up has directly helped over 70,000 girls and young women through various programs since 2012 and encourages the girls and young women to share their learnings and acquired knowledge with others who do not benefit from the programs. The girls are also eager to use the leadership skills and confidence they have gained through the program to mentor other girls. Girl Up estimates that each girl will reach an additional five girls, creating positive ripple effects throughout their schools and communities.

Its mission is to create a gender equal world by equipping girls and young women with the confidence, mentorship, skills, and knowledge to reach their full potential. The organization currently has Coaches (facilitators) who not only train girls, but act as positive role models for at-risk girls. Programs include:

The Adolescent Girls Program

GUIU has run the Adolescent Girls Program (AGP) as its flagship program to advance the educational opportunities for adolescent girls aged 9-15 living in urban slum areas in Kampala since 2013. An in-school program, AGP focuses on building adolescent girls’ capacities for individual empowerment and social survival, especially in patriarchal environments that do not value and respect the rights of girls and women. It consists of a cluster of synergistic activities to ensure that girls receive the skills, knowledge, tools, mentorship, and support to develop their self-confidence and voice to thrive as leaders in their schools and communities.

The Big Sister Network

In 2016, GUIU launched The Big Sisters Network, as they recognized that graduates of the AGP needed continued support and opportunities to grow their leadership and influencing capacities. It now ensures that AGP alumni continue to access female- focused education and stay involved and engaged with GUIU and their fellow graduates. In 2019, GUIU realized one of its biggest organizational dreams – the Big Sister Camp – where 210 girls converged for a residential camp full of learning, laughing, and playing. It was a magical four days to honor and further develop the leadership potentials of our Big Sisters. In 2020, they plan to have another Big Sister Camp for 260 promising girl leaders.

Mazuri Designs Hub

Mazuri Designs Hub was first launched in 2015 in recognition of the limited economic opportunities for out-of-school young women in the communities GUIU works with. Uganda’s  70% youth unemployment rate leaves them financially dependent on men and struggling to support themselves and their families. Therefore, Girl Up launched a social enterprise to offer young women skills training that could provide them with a sustainable income. Today, the Mazuri Designs Hub training program offers a one-year vocational training course in fashion, design, and tailoring that is combined with entrepreneurial and personal skills training for young women, ages 16-35 years. The young women are trained by experienced tailors and given the opportunity to showcase their products at the fashion show graduation at the end of the course.  The project advances economic opportunities for the young women and has had a positive impact on their incomes. In GUIU’s 2019 post-project survey, 67% young women reported that their average weekly income had increased after participating in the program, all due to selling products they sewed.

Ni-Yetu Youth Program

GUIU has partnered with Plan International Uganda since 2015 to implement the Ni-Yetu Youth Project in all five divisions of Kampala. The aim of the project is to empower young people, ages 13-24 years, with correct knowledge, attitude and skills for reducing gender-based violence and improving their sexual and reproductive health and rights outcomes. The Ni-Yetu Youth Project is a gender transformative project that looks at challenging negative social norms and practices that affect SRHR outcomes amongst young people. It uses youth innovative approaches such as street theatre performances, youth-friendly health camps, peer-to-peer education, music campaigns, and sports outreaches. While the project reaches out to both genders, it benefits young women specifically by changing attitudes towards gender inequality in the communities they live in. Even though girls and women constitute GUIU’s focus group, the organization understands that boys and men must also be engaged in the fight for gender equality given that they are the other half of the equation when it comes to advancing girls’ rights and ending gender-based violence.

As Girl Up’s programs have grown over the years, their staff has too. “We are proud of the growth of our young, female-led, Ugandan team. Girl Up now employs 20 full time Ugandan staff, 76% of which are female and 85% under the age of 30 years. Providing employment and volunteer opportunities to aspiring and dedicated young Ugandans is an essential part of our mission and the way we work,” Monica said. “These vibrant young people make up the GUIU Dream Team – we dream together, create ideas together, and make change happen together! Each team member brings their own unique skills, talents, and ideas to enable the organization to grow and transform more lives.”

“We have achieved many exciting milestones, and I have been blessed to work in a job I am extremely passionate about. My biggest highlight is seeing the growth and development of our girls as they become powerful and confident young women in my community. Many of them are now in university and secondary school, and stay in touch with me. I love to see how GUIU has impacted their lives in positive ways,” Monica said. “Because I work in the same community that has seen me grow up, they are now seeing me in this position as a woman and a leader. I love going into the community to engage with the adolescent girls and tell them my story to inspire them to re-write their stories so they can achieve their dreams.”

Monica and Kimberly have garnered some international attention for their efforts too and have appeared on NBC’s The Today Show with Michelle Obama in 2018 (see here) and were invited to meet Oprah Winfrey at her home last year. Monica has also had the opportunity to speak up for girls through the Obama Africa Fellowship, Cordes Fellowship, iLEAP Fellowship, and African Visionary Fellowship with the Segal Family Foundation.

People can help Girl Up Initiative Uganda by following and sharing updates through social media platforms (@girlupuganda on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) and by subscribing to their newsletter at www.girlupuganda.org. You can also support GUIU’s work to change the lives of young women and girls and donate to their cause at www.girlupuganda.org/donate.

Hey Superwoman, Where’s Your Cape?

Shakespeare turned to poetry when the plague closed the theaters in 1593, and published his popular poem, Venus and Adonis. During another closure in 1606 he churned out King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra. However, Shakespeare didn’t have children sent home from shuttered schools clamoring for attention, emails stacking up waiting for responses, an employer on Slack needing an update, nor vulnerable, aging parents across town needing a grocery delivery.

If there was ever a time that called for you to marshal all of your superwoman strength, it is now.

“Normal” has been suspended for the next few weeks, yet there are more than likely no less than 10 things at any moment that need your attention, and many of the supports you may have relied on are gone. Your daughter’s dance class is cancelled – taking away an uninterrupted hour, your babysitter is also socially distancing, your corner restaurant with quick and easy takeout is closed AND you’re worried about coronavirus, your kids, your parents, your job, and the overall future of everything.

It’s not just maintaining the status quo that’s the issue. According to a recent report from the United Nations, mothers already do 2.6 times as much unpaid caregiving and domestic work than their partners. The current pandemic will only increase those demands, especially when there may be senior parents to care for as well.

Trust that you possess the skills and experience to step in, step up, and lead.

Millions of women will face expanding roles at home as Covid-19 spreads. The Guardian writes that, “Study after study has shown that even as women have stepped forward in the workforce, in married heterosexual couples, women still shoulder the bulk of household chores. (A Gallup poll from January found women were more than seven times as likely to care for their children on a daily basis as men in heterosexual married or cohabitating couples.) And 80% of single-parent families are headed by single mothers, according to 2019 US Census Bureau data.” 

While things may feel overwhelming, and yes, even scary, now is not the time to panic. It is time to work together and navigate these uncertain times. As Gloria Feldt says, “Realize that uncertainty will always be there, and engage people in moving forward anyway. Taking action is always the best antidote to fear.”

Yes, it is time to take action! As women, we are used to being on the front lines, and today we are perfectly positioned to lead the way. Many of you are now working from home where your children and families, in addition to your colleagues, may be looking to you for guidance, education, and care. In the midst of the chaos, remember to breathe, and trust that you possess the skills and experience to step in, step up, and lead. 

Dust off your cape because your skills are needed.

Make a Plan – If you all of the sudden find yourself homeschooling, or moving your office to your dining room table, you’re going to have to adapt. Remember, “normal” is not happening right now, so take some time to plan, set a routine, and try to adopt a new normal.

Stay Engaged – If you are working at home for the time being, stay responsive and connected to coworkers. Whether via phone, text, email, Zoom, Slack or other assorted software, these are likely unchartered waters and connection is more important now than ever. This is also time to take a proactive approach where you can. Whether solving problems at work, or weighing in on community issues, your engagement and yes, leadership, can have a long-lasting impact.

Lift Women Up – While we all be in our homes, we are connected. We can still support one another in the workplace, we can drop off groceries for a neighbor if we go out, or we can share resources and entertainment ideas for our children with one another. We can lean on one another virtually and should try to use electronic means to connect with another woman every day. Community matters.

Explore Resources – Do you have a pile of personal and professional development books waiting for you to find the time read them? Get started. It’s also the perfect time to catch up on podcasts, online offerings, and social streaming opportunities. There are plenty of hours to fill – make the most of them.

Relax and Enjoy – there are plenty of reasons to smile and celebrate the human spirit. Get online and watch some of the amazing arts and entertainment offerings that are being streamed during the quarantine. It’s also a good time to laugh. Trust me, those giggling babies and crazy cat videos on TikTok and YouTube are worth their weight in gold. Breathe through the anxiety and take this opportunity to catch up on life, read books, take walks, and connect with those you love.

Dust off your cape because your skills are needed. These are the times when we need to come together as a community to help each other through. Always remember, we’re all in this together, even when it’s wiser not to actually BE together. 

How Sexism Blocks Women Candidates

When the final two top tier Democrat presidential candidates dropped out of the presidential race, it became clear that the primary qualification they lacked was being a white man. Some may claim it was a lack of support, and others may cite a lack of momentum, but few can point to a lack of qualifications. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, as well as the other women that initially joined them in their bid – namely Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamela Harris – are all more than qualified with a proven track record of leadership in local, state, and national government, except that no woman has ever been president. Until we see a woman in that position, sexism will continue to be a hurdle blocking women candidates from being President.

Looking at their qualifications and their overall electability, the odds are good that their struggles had very little to do with their platforms, and everything to do with their gender. Warren’s loss in particular brought home the fact that for the second time in four years, an exceptionally qualified female candidate lost to her male counterparts — some of whom were far less qualified.

Sexism was definitely a factor in this campaign. While it may not have been THE factor, it carried weight. Female candidates had to prove their qualifications more than the men they were up against, and they had to deal with increased media scrutiny and gender bias, and they faced greater issues surrounding likeability and voter perception on the campaign trail than their male counterparts. All of which of course, was further amplified via social media.

Warren spoke about the gender “trap” Thursday.

“Gender in this race — you know, that is the trap question for every woman,” Warren said after announcing she would be suspending her campaign. “If you say, ‘Yeah, there was sexism in this race,’ everyone says, ‘Whiner.’ And if you say, ‘There was no sexism,’ about a bazillion women think, ‘What planet do you live on?’”

Melissa K. Miller, a political science professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, told NBC News that this week’s events could make it harder for women running for president to succeed in the future. “Folks are convinced that a woman can’t win, so they don’t vote for a woman, thus ensuring that a woman doesn’t win, and the cycle continues. The reality is that a woman can win. Hillary Clinton’s victory by about 3 million popular votes in 2016 made that clear.”

Apparently, America isn’t ready for a woman president. However, it’s important to remember that we still have a number of women running down the ballot that can run their races and win, and they need our support. The first thing we can do is recognize the fact that gender bias is alive and well in politics, and the women running (and serving) now know it and face it every day. It is our responsibility to call out the comments that seek to undermine them, name them as biases and talk about them. To help more women represent us at every level we need to encourage them, counteract the public ridicule they often face, and offer them our support. Their courage and willingness to work hard to solve the issues that can make the world a better place for all of us is admirable and necessary. They are paving the way for that woman who will finally break through the sexism bias and become our first woman president.

To Get More Women in Leadership It’s Time to Take The Lead

“When women support one another, we can create massive ripples of change that create better lives for everyone.” – Gloria Feldt

Over the past five years, the number of women in senior leadership has grown. Still, women continue to be underrepresented at every level. Why? For starters, women are less likely to be hired and promoted to manager. In fact, for every 100 men promoted and hired to manager, only 72 women are promoted and hired. As a result, men hold 62% of manager-level positions, while women hold just 38%. The number of women decreases at every subsequent level, reducing to a minuscule 5% at the CEO level.

That’s where organizations like Take The Lead Women can create real change. Designed for women ready to take ownership of their careers (and lives), Take The Lead gives women the tools they need to up their game with 9 Leadership Power Tools courses, 50 Women Can Change the World programs, Virtual Happy Hours, leadership coaching and much more.

This week in Scottsdale, Arizona, Take The Lead celebrates progress with the Power Up Conference: 50 Women Can Change the World 2.0, spotlighting their work to teach, mentor, coach, invigorate, and inspire women who are committed to owning their power and using their voice to become influential leaders of change. The conference will offer two full days of learning, and participants will experience extraordinary leadership development including workshops, panel discussions, lightning talks, accelerated roundtable discussions, and networking.

Take the Lead was founded in 2014 by Gloria Feldt and Amy Litzenberger, with the bold mission to reach leadership gender parity by 2025. That’s 70 to 150 years faster than the prevalent projections. Gloria is certain that this is the moment when a quantum leap to parity can occur. She is convinced that through Take the Lead’s uniquely effective programs, based on solid research and measurable results, women will embrace their phenomenal power to lead with purpose, confidence, intention and joy – without fear or apology.

Dr. Nancy currently serves as Take The Lead’s board chair, and Women Connect4Good, Inc., which supports women helping women networks, is proud to support Take The Lead and help them equip women with the tools they need to achieve parity by 2025.  That partnership not only advances women into leadership positions across all sectors, it proves our power   to transform women’s leadership when we work together.

To learn more about Take The Lead and the upcoming Power Up Conference, go to www.taketheleadwomen.com.

Dr. Nancy Honored by National Women’s History Museum

Women Making History AwardsThe National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) announced last week that they will celebrate the accomplishments of outstanding women at the 8th Annual Women Making History Awards on International Women’s Day (Sunday, March 8, 2020). Each year, the event honors a select group of women for their significant contributions to their fields and inspiration to people everywhere. This year, the event will honor actresses and advocates Andie MacDowell and Logan Browning, President and CEO of ECOS® Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks, and our very own inspirational leader Women Connect4Good, Inc. founder and President Dr. Nancy D. O’Reilly.

Dr. Nancy was chosen for the honor for her professional success and extensive work in advancing women and gender equity. In her notification letter, National Women’s History Museum President and CEO, Holly Hotchner wrote, “We were so inspired not only by your incredible achievements in a male-dominated industry, but by your commitment to empowering women worldwide. Through your foundation, Women Connect4Good, Inc., you are helping create a culture where women help other women reach their full potential both professionally and personally. You are a true role model and inspiration for women and girls everywhere, and by sharing your story and expressing your support for the Museum’s mission, you will help us achieve our vision to inspire others to experience history and amplify the impactful role of women, past, present, and future.”

Previous honorees include #MeToo Founder Tarana Burke; actresses Kristen Bell, Kerry Washington, Tracee Ellis Ross, Viola Davis, and Rita Moreno; SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell; photographer Annie Leibovitz; the late author and poet Dr. Maya Angelou; former First Lady Laura Bush; and Instagram COO Marne Levine.

“The incredible women we’re honoring at this year’s Women Making History Awards are true trailblazers,” Holly said. “They each have played a pivotal role in working to amplify women’s voices through activism, storytelling, business and philanthropy, and we couldn’t be more excited to recognize and celebrate their important achievements and contributions.”

Founded in 1996, the National Women’s History Museum is the nation’s only women’s history museum and the most recognized institution dedicated to uncovering, interpreting, and celebrating women’s diverse contributions to society.  A renowned leader in women’s history education, the museum brings to life the countless untold stories of women throughout history, and serves as a space for all to inspire, experience, collaborate, and amplify women’s impact. As we enter 2020 and prepare to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, the museum will also focus on its most exciting chapter – working to build a physical home for the museum in Washington D.C., where innovative design will bring to life the countless untold stories of women throughout history and become the first museum to show the full scope and history of its women. For details on the award, click HERE, and to learn more about the museum, go to www.womenshistory.org.

It Is Time to Lift Women Up!

Lift Women UpWomen have long been the drivers of change in our communities, and lifting them up into positions where they can make the world a better place benefits all of us. Our history is built on women’s work as powerful leaders, passionate advocates, and dedicated forces for change. Right now, we’re perfectly positioned to become leaders in the communities we call home, in the workplace, and in the world.

Today in the dawn of a new decade it is time for women to come together, amplify each other and fully step into our power. To further that, Dr. Nancy O’Reilly and the team at Women Connect4Good, Inc., are launching an exciting new campaign, Lift Women Up, which will focus on the steps — big and small— that we all can take to continue marching towards gender parity.

Over the course of the campaign – which will coincide with the release in March of a new documentary featuring Dr. Nancy’s work championing women’s equality and advancement – we will ask women to share their stories of how women sponsor, mentor and help each other, and in turn, inspire more women to do the same.

We Lift Women Up when we:

  • Support women running for office with our time, treasure, or talent.
  • Sponsor, mentor, or help a woman get her foot in the door at work.
  • Work together to close the pay gap and raise women and girls out of poverty.
  • Train and elevate women to leadership positions.
  • Engage our #maleallies to build an environment where every person – regardless of gender – is valued, respected, and equally compensated.

Throughout the year while the documentary airs on PBS, we’ll highlight different influential women and their powerful stories to inspire our audience to #LiftWomenUp in their everyday lives, as well as moving stories of everyday heroes who make their corner of the world brighter. Each month we’ll be introducing an issue that impacts women greatly, and in our newsletter we’ll also share easy, actionable steps that we can all take to lift the women in our own lives.

Join us, and together let’s #LiftWomenUp, step into our power, and claim equality for all!

 

Push Her Forward and Vote Her In

Political Activist for Women

Rebecca Sive

Rebecca Sive was raised to work hard, get educated and in turn, teach others. Most of all she was raised by parents who thought it was important to advocate for democratic values and help get people elected to create equal opportunities and fairness for all. Since the 2016 election, and the subsequent Women’s March, Rebecca has been inspired to increase her advocacy for women and write her newest book, Vote Her In: Your Guide to Electing Our First Woman President.

#VOTEHERIN

Convinced that the time is now, Rebecca points out that a woman already got elected to the presidency by the popular vote. A fact she uses to make the case that the American people, both men and women, are ready for a woman president. In Vote Her In, she helps women – especially those who did not vote for the woman for president – see how they actually voted against their own interests.

Rebecca explains that the road to better health care, improved child care and education for all is by electing a woman president. Women understand the need for these things, which is why it just doesn’t make sense to vote for someone who does not address the issues in their policies. She also explains the ways that a woman president would help women reach parity sooner, first by demonstrating the ways that women make great leaders, and second through policies to promote equal pay and status in the workplace.

“When A Woman Leads, Everyone Wins.”

Women are proving that they can lead every day. In fact, as a result of their leadership, companies are more profitable, and policies are more beneficial to all.  Originally recorded in October, 2018, Dr. Nancy asked Rebecca who might run for president and Rebecca pointed out that women have been running and winning for years. Although only one-fifth of the Senate are women and there are only six governors, there are a number of women who have executive experience. She predicted that after the 2018 mid-terms, a pool of women would start to throw their hats into the ring. Early next year (2019), they will begin fundraising and announcing their intentions for 2020.  She predicted that regardless of where you stand ideologically or politically, you will have a choice and begin to see women leaders speaking out. (Rebecca was absolutely right. At this update, the field of six women running for President has thinned to four, but that’s still more than ever before at this stage of the campaign.)

In the second part of Vote Her In Rebecca encourages women to get behind the woman they choose and help her get elected. This how-to section of the book gives readers advice and direction for how to engage with the political process and push that deserving woman toward the presidency. Rebecca says women do it all the time. We lift each other up and help one another achieve our goals. We can elect a woman president and the country is very ready for it.

Listen to this interview for more inspiring comments and insights. Check out Rebecca’s website and get her book. Use #VOTEHERIN whenever possible and get this movement moving. If all of us push together we can Vote Her In!

 

Supporting Women Who Lead Will Make the World a Better Place

Women who lead put themselves in a position to be agents of change and make the world a better place. As Dr. Lois Phillips and Luz Reyes-Martin (two former podcast guests) point out, women often step out to lead in their communities to solve a problem that may endanger their children, families or neighbors, or issues they feel compelled to fight for. Often a small step, like speaking out at a school board meeting ultimately launches a later political campaign for public office. Today, we’re seeing an avalanche of such women as never before. Whether eyeing the school board, mayor’s office, state legislature, or the highest office in the land, women nationwide are planning – and running – their campaigns and lining up their support. No matter where your party loyalties, it’s up to us to support them.

We all win when women lead. In fact, former President Barack Obama was recently quoted by the BBC as saying that he believes living standards and economic outcomes would improve if women led every country in the world. “Now, women, I just want you to know: you are not perfect, but what I can say pretty indisputably is that you’re better than us [men]. I’m absolutely confident that for two years if every nation on earth was run by women, you would see a significant improvement across the board on just about everything.”

The 2018 election was hailed as the “Year of the Woman” as women ran for office and voted in record numbers. The “Pink Wave” swept across the nation and carried young women and veterans to victory in Senate and governors’ races and brought some major breakthroughs for women of color. Many of the toughest House races were won by political neophytes taking their first steps into electoral politics. As we approach the 2020 election, that wave doesn’t appear to be slowing down.

As podcast guest Rebecca Sive points out, women have been running, and winning, for years. In her book Vote Her In Rebecca references a handbook she wrote years ago, Every Day Is Election Day: A Woman’s Guide to Winning Any Office, from the PTA to the White House that advocates, “Campaigning to get to the head of the line as fast as possible, not by stepping on or over anyone else, but by working harder and faster. Succeeding as a woman in a man’s world (politics) by advocating for women—not by pretending that women and men have such similar needs and challenges that special attention to women (and the public policies that follow from it) isn’t needed. Dreaming and planning big, not because you think you are better than others, but because you’re willing to do the work and accept the responsibility for others that come with responsibility in high places.”

The women who are running for office this cycle ARE dreaming big and planning big. They are putting the issues on the front burner, and often putting their lives on the back. They are working to better their communities and taking responsibility for the betterment of the places they call home. We need to encourage them and offer them our support for their courage and willingness to work hard to solve the issues like health care, childcare and education for all that can make the world a better place for all of us. Reach out to help a like-minded woman you know who can be your voice and represent your values, and help her win. ‘Tis the season to support women who lead.

 

 

Level Up – The Diversity Women’s Business Leadership Conference

Since its inception, Diversity Woman Magazine has recognized the importance of leadership development and empowerment for diverse women. Aiming to educate and support diverse and multicultural women leaders and to facilitate their continued growth and success, the organization more than delivered through their annual Business Leadership Conference in November.

Attracting diverse and multicultural business leaders from the world’s largest corporations and entrepreneurs from successful women-owned businesses, the Conference not only served as the perfect place for women to make connections, it also provided plenty of information for women to further their development. Boasting notable speakers and powerhouse panels, attendees were able to gain wisdom and insight from some of the most influential women leaders in the nation.

Take The Lead’s Co-Founder and President Gloria Feldt provided a flash talk on the Conference’s first day. With “Intentional Woman: Be BOLD and Carry OUT!” Gloria told attendees that the real secret to reaching their full leadership potential while helping all women get their fair and equal share of leadership roles starts with “I.” But it’s far from selfish. It is all about embracing the power of your own intention. Of taking those elements of female socialization that have traditionally held women back and turning them into assets, superpowers even.

Additional presentations and panels guided attendees on strategies for advancing in business, such as “Bold Moves for a Disruptive World” and “Three Rules for Winning in Corporate America”, and Leadership Coaching helped attendees do everything from navigating a project to developing their personal brand.

The Women Connect4Good Foundation was a diamond level sponsor of this year’s event, and Dr. Nancy was on hand to host the Conference’s Opening Reception and along with Dr. Sheila Robinson, Founder of Diversity Women’s Business Leadership Conference, delivered opening remarks on day two – helping attendees get supercharged for a day of powerful learning and inspiration.

Dr. Nancy recalled the first time she attended the Diversity Women Business Conference, and said it was the most amazing experience she’d ever had. It was the first time she truly understood the words inclusive and sisterhood. In order to deepen that understanding, Dr. Nancy had to look first of all at privilege, and how with privilege comes responsibility.

In her latest book, In This Together, we quote Michael Kimmel who said in a TED Talk, “Privilege is invisible to those who have it.” His point was that we have unconscious biases that prevent us from recognizing our own privilege. In fact, we are privileged if we don’t even see our race or gender when we look in the mirror.

This week’s podcast guest, Trudy Bourgeois, founder of The Center for Workforce Excellence said it best when she told Dr. Nancy, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” She said that if we are to create equality for all women, we have to name our biases and talk about them. Her recent book tells how we can transform our work environments by admitting our biases and engaging in tough, uncomfortable conversations. It’s called EQUALITY: Courageous Conversations about Women, Men, AND Race in the Workplace to Spark a Diversity and Inclusion Breakthrough.

Trudy and Dr. Nancy met a few years ago at the Diversity Women’s Business Leadership Conference, and Trudy point-blank confronted Dr. Nancy with the question, “What’s wrong with you white women?” Trudy’s question had to do with the advantages that white women have had and squandered. Now, Dr. Nancy believes what’s wrong is, “We’re afraid to step outside the lines for fear of retribution ourselves. While we have to be twice as educated and work twice as hard to get half as much as our male counterparts, we realize it is our responsibility to make sure that no woman has to work twice as hard to get half as far as her white sisters.”

Chelsea Handler has said that when it comes to privilege, it’s about taking responsibility, about having those difficult conversations and doing something actionable about it. Dr. Nancy agrees and says we all have to learn how to be better. “We can do that in part when we realize that racial and gender bias impacts every aspect of work, and that includes our own path to leadership and how we lead once we get there. We are our own worst enemies because of the biases we have towards other women, and the biases we have towards ourselves. We’ve got these measurements and comparisons, and we need to recognize them and realize, nobody is winning. We need to learn to recognize that we have biases, and we all have them.”

Dr. Nancy also pointed out the fact that it’s really all about relationships. Women build relationships. We are good at it, and we can use this strength to help ourselves and our companies succeed. Study after study shows that when women hold top positions, an organization does better. She said that in order to build relationships that work for all of us, we need to realize that our differences can be challenges, but they can also be opportunities.

“I think that when we talk about how we are different we begin to understand each other better and better and realize that we’re more alike than different. We all want the same things.” Dr. Nancy said. “We also need to remember, no more US and Them. We truly are in this together and that means ALL of us, all colors, races, and our male allies too.”

Dr. Nancy concluded her opening remarks on the topic of support. After all, when we support each other, anything is possible. “This conference is a perfect example of what happens when we support each other.”

“We need to realize that we are ALL in this together and we’ll get there faster when we work together – side by side—to make the world a better place. I think that’s why we’re here is to have better lives and to make it better for other people.”

Dr. Nancy is already making plans to attend next year’s Diversity Women’s Business Leadership Conference, October 7, 8 and 9, 2020, and urges other women to do the same. Attendees will have the chance to spend time with some major players – real leaders who understand just what it takes for organizations of all sizes to be successful as well as discover great opportunities to learn from and share with one another and create new and rewarding relationships. To learn more about Diversity Women and next year’s conference, go to DiversityWoman.com.

 

The Business of Making Movies: Including Women’s Voices

Guest Post by Barclay DeVeau

Barclay DeVeauLike a lot of business, when a woman is in the lead, movies make more money, whether that lead position is on screen or off. As a director, I depend on my investors to get my movies made. Yet recently, investors I’ve made several films for over the course of the past two decades announced that they would not invest in my next movie, Opal. In spite of having shown these investors an extremely generous return on investment over the years, they refused to even read the script for this project because the lead characters are women.

I wasn’t shocked – I am well aware of the rampant gender bias in the movie business. But I am also not deterred by these investors’ lack of interest in telling a story from a female perspective. Instead, their bias has served to further ignite my passion and has propelled me forward with an even greater determination to get this movie made.

A Southern Gothic Thriller, Opal is filled with long buried mysteries, deep-rooted traditions, ominous plot twists and shocking secrets, but, at its core, Opal is a story of strength, empowerment and the hope one badass  woman leaves to the world.

Set against the backdrop of a contentious mayoral election in picturesque Hartswell, Georgia, Opal is centered around the relationship between an abused young woman and a reclusive matriarch, who will stop at nothing to expose the sins of the town.

When Luna, a headstrong woman in her 50’s, is introduced to the young woman, Purdee, she immediately senses the girl is in jeopardy. Against the advice of her friends, Luna begins investigating. She inserts herself into the young woman’s life – following her, attempting to befriend her, and, ultimately, breaking into her house where she witnesses Purdee’s brutal rape by her own husband, Ray, the son of one of the leading mayoral candidates.

As the rest of the town focuses on the impending election, Luna fixes her attention on freeing Purdee from her life of abuse, whatever it takes.

Luna’s determination is much like my own. I will get Opal made, whatever it takes. Luna’s story deserves to be told and movies featuring strong females must become the norm, rather than the exception.

Movies can be magical. They have the power to transport us into wondrous worlds, take us along on fantastic adventures, move us to tears, laughter and reflection. They serve as communal and cathartic experiences that remind us we are never alone, and, most importantly, movies have the power to inspire our creativity, open our minds, fill us with hope and make us believe that anything is possible.

Child Actor to Director

When I grew up acting, the world of filmmaking enchanted me and enveloped me in its magic. I was most alive on set, soaking in everything around me like a ravenous sponge – the shimmering lights, dazzling costumes, the sweet taste of strawberry lip balm swiped from the make-up artist’s bag of goodies, the smell of freshly sawed wood on set combined with wafts of coffee from the craft services table, the warmth of freshly printed script pages…All of it cast a spell on me.

For much of my childhood I had a wondrous experience as a young actor, working frequently on stage, television and films. I was very blessed to have steadfast support and guidance from my mom, my grandma and from the various directors I worked with.

OPALAcademy Award Level Mentorship

Alan J. Pakula (Klute, All the Presidents Men, Sophie’s Choice) was particularly wonderful with me when he noticed me looking at the director’s monitor one day when I was about twelve. When Alan asked if I was interested in directing, I enthusiastically answered “yes”, sharing that I had already directed several films starring my younger siblings and the kids in my neighborhood – all shot with our family’s VHS camera, a beast that was only a few pounds lighter than I was at the time.

If Alan was amused by my precocious response, he didn’t show it. Instead, he embraced the role of mentor and promptly stood me on an apple box to show me the difference between 35mm, 50mm and 75mm lenses. He explained why he and the production designer had chosen a particular color pallet for the walls and asked me what I thought. He discussed the writing process, the way he worked with the director of photography and the thrill of the scoring stage. He took me along to the wardrobe room to “help” him decide on costumes. He was a wonderful, generous man and he enhanced the magic of movie making for me.

After working with Alan, my neighborhood movies became much more elaborate as I meticulously determined every detail of the costumes, production design and music. By the time I began high school, I had made scores of these films and knew with absolute certainty that I would be a professional director when I grew up.

Gender Imbalance Began in College

A few years later, at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, I was one of only a handful of women in my graduating production class of approximately thirty students. Despite the gender imbalance in my program, I never considered that I would be shut out from pursuing a directing career. I wasn’t cocky, but I was confident. This was what was I born to do, I’d known it since I was seven, and I had never once questioned whether I would be allowed to do it.

I was extremely naïve back then, unaware of the gross underrepresentation of women’s voices in film. In the years since college, many of my male classmates from USC have gone on to directing careers. None of the women in my class has directed a feature film. Not one.

These days I am acutely aware of the non-magical side of filmmaking. Men run most of the studios and agencies in Hollywood, they comprise a majority of the film critics, and it is their viewpoint that largely determines which films get greenlit. In spite of the success of a handful of incredible female filmmakers like Kathryn Bigelow, Sofia Coppola, Ava DuVernay and Patty Jenkins, 93% of the top 100 films in 2018 were directed by men.

Pre-Depression Women Ruled Hollywood

This revolting gender imbalance wasn’t always the case in the movie business. In the early days of Hollywood (1900-1920’s), women ran several of the independent studios and made up a large percentage of writers and directors. When talkies entered the scene in the late 20’s and films like The Jazz Singer became huge box office successes, a handful of studios (all run by men) began rising to the top. The onset of the Great Depression a few years after talkies hit the scene rendered it nearly impossible for the smaller indie studios (many run by women) to stay afloat. Alicia Malone states in her wonderful book, Backwards & In Heels, at this time “filmmaking started to be looked at as a business instead of a creative enterprise, and corporate structures were implemented, complete with executives in charge. Women were not perceived as being business-minded or executive material, so positions of power on a movie set, such as directing, now were given to men. From the 1930’s onward, Hollywood became a boy’s club. And women have been trying to make their way back into the industry for almost 100 years.”

Shamefully, not much has changed in the film business since the late 1920’s/early 1930’s when this marginalization began. Oh sure, our visual effects are lightyears better, our cameras and technology have advanced by leaps and bounds, but in terms of gender parity, women are still not considered to be leaders. Or, more often, not considered at all.

Lack of Gender Parity Actually Bad for Movie Business

According to the Geena Davis institute on Gender in Media, in 2018 only 7% of directors, 13% of writers and 20% of producers were female. On screen, female leads comprised only 17% of major films produced in 2014 and 2015. Yet, according to a recent study released by CAA in conjunction with Shift 7, female-led films consistently outperform male-led films at the box office across all genres and budget categories. In 2015, films led by women grossed 15.8% more than films led by men, and in 2017, all three of the top-grossing films at the box office were led by women.

It is a myth that films starring men perform better than female-led films and it’s time to capitalize on the truth – women on screen mean a higher return on investment. The marginalization of women on and off the screen in the film industry is, quite literally, bad business. This toxic myth is a fallacy rooted in longstanding gender bias.

Whether this gender bias is conscious or unconscious matters little. What matters is that we fix it. So what do we do? What can we do?

Let’s start with what we shouldn’t do – we shouldn’t sit around lamenting the dire situation. We must take action, because action is what is needed to move the needle. Action from people – women and men – who recognize that the gender imbalance in filmmaking is a disservice, not just to the women being excluded and the young girls who aren’t seeing themselves represented, but to the entire world that is missing out on the voices and creative visions of half the population. We must work together to bring more female-led films to screen. For my part, I will continue moving forward with Opal, a film with an incredibly powerful female lead, which will be directed by me, a woman with a lifetime of directing experience.

Opal Overview—Women Finding Their Voices

Opal is a film about transition, transformation and one woman’s power to change the world. Luna has reached her breaking point. By standing up to the systemic misogyny and unpunished atrocities that have permeated the culture of Hartswell for decades, Luna gives hope to future generations of women in this fictitious town – and the town becomes a symbolic representation of the country as a whole as it struggles with its long history of silencing women, perpetuating racism and burying ugly secrets. Luna’s story and the story of Hartswell are parallel tales, intertwined and complementary. Just as the town experiences dramatic changes – with new industry picking up, Confederate statues coming down, and the first female candidate running for mayor – Luna experiences her own transformation, breaking years of silence and, ultimately, making a decision that will change the course of the future.

Examining issues of domestic abuse, abuse of power, heinous crimes and complicit cover-ups, Opal lives in the nebulous territory between the law and justice, good and evil, the past, present and future. The time for Opal is now. Like countless women in cities and towns across the country, Luna has finally found her voice. She joins the chorus of women banding together, speaking up, fighting for and with each other to put an end to contemptible injustices.

What Opal Needs

Opal has a total capitalization of $5 million. We are currently accepting investors beginning at the $10,000 level. If you are interested in investing in Opal, if you believe the undeniable statistics which consistently show female-led films lead to a higher ROI, and if you are interested in being a part of ending the contemptible injustices women have experienced on and off the screen for nearly a century in the movie business, please reach out to request a comprehensive creative deck and an investment opportunity packet at barclay@opalmovie.com.

When we actively work together to allow women’s stories to be told on the big screen, we can literally double the magic in the movie business. Because in movies and in the business of making them, if we finally give women the opportunity to share their voices and visions, anything really is possible.

*To contact Barclay for a comprehensive creative and investment packet for the film, Opal, email barclay@opalmovie.com.

*To learn more about the past, present and future of women working in film, read Alicia Malone’s book, Backwards & In Heels and see the brilliant documentary This Changes Everything. To research more statistics on the current state of female representation on an off the screen in media, visit the website for the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media: https://seejane.org

 

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