Letter from the Editor, Nov 2018
By Maya Frai, Managing Editor
This past summer, I met someone who told me that one of the books that truly opened her eyes was Naomi Alderman’s The Power. Although the book is speculative fiction in its exaggeration of a woman’s physical power, Alderman provides a commentary on the inherent power of women and when unleashed, women become unstoppable. It resets our current landscape depicting an alternate reality while still trying to expose provocative truths of today’s society.
It made me think about the power imbalance that so often divides our society. Power is interpreted in an economic, political, and social sense and has typically put women at a disadvantage. But who’s to say how much power women should or should not have? How can we even define power as a society if it solely depends on an individual’s interpretation?
I’m with Alderman’s interpretation — power means being unstoppable. It means being able to take all that you have and move forward regardless of those who are trying to prevent you from achieving a goal. It means embracing a power struggle to fight for more when you think you’ve been receiving less. Power implies ability and grit to achieve something you set your mind to.
This past month, I’d argue women were embracing this interpretation. Women were unstoppable and powerful not only in their feats to climb up the ranks but also in their pursuit of spurring innovation, building community, and fostering open discussion. We saw women pushing boundaries both individually and collaboratively, leading change for a new year to come.
Just a couple weeks ago, women led the way to an enormous victory for Democrats in the House of Representatives, winning more than 60% of the flipped seats. Democrats Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland were the first Native American women elected to Congress and Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar were the first Muslim women elected. With many other victories including Marsha Blackburn elected as Tennessee’s first female senator and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez being the youngest woman elected to Congress, political progress was made for female diversity. I felt incredibly proud to vote for the women I truly believed in and see the results putting women on the frontlines in power. With this record number of women winning seats in Congress, a new vision has been set for a female president. A record number of women winning could well convince Democratic women and men that a “frontlash” from voters ready for a woman as president will dwarf any sexist “backlash” from those who aren’t.
Politics has historically always been male-dominated — one of the reasons being that people often believe acquiring political power is something women don’t have the capability to do. As a result, when women do achieve high political status, they are seen as a threat. So how can we change this perception?
For one, male allies are already disagreeing with the notion that putting more women in power threatens male progress and leadership. In a new series accompanying Quartz’s “How We’ll Win” campaign on female leaders, Leah Fessler exposes thoughts from the other side — interviewing notable men on topics such as #MeToo and the current landscape for women. In one interview, Comedian Travon Free tackles the notion of seeing women as a “threat” that people so often talk about.
“The biggest threat to men is men. A lot of men are vocalizing fear of a threat that doesn’t exist. Men hold almost every elected office in this country. They’re most of the police, FBI, and CIA. They’re most of every branch of the military. They’re most of almost every workplace. Where is the threat? Who is the threat? Men hear people asking for equality, and when you’ve been in power for centuries, equality can feel like oppression. If more men took the time to think about and understand how an equitable world would add exponential value to all of our lives, everything would change.”
In conjunction to that, Adam Grant, a renown Wharton social psychologist, said “The most important lesson I’ve learned from the Me Too movement is that abuses by powerful men are far more common than I realized, too many organizations are orchestrated to protect those men, and one of the most powerful paths to change is to get more women in power.”
When women achieve power, not only are women pushing the needle towards 50/50 equality, but they are also leading new change and progress in undiscovered territory. Take FeiFei Li. This past month, Li was profiled in Wired Magazine on her newest innovations in artificial intelligence. FeiFei’s power is rooted in her incredible ability to understand the ethics that underlie artificial intelligent systems.
“What mattered were the people building it and why they were building it. Without a diverse group of engineers, we could have biased algorithms making unfair loan application decisions, or training a neural network only on white faces — creating a model that would perform poorly on black ones. I think if we wake up 20 years from now and we see the lack of diversity in our tech and leaders and practitioners, that would be my doomsday scenario.”
For Li, power means being able to use technology for good and inspire others to take responsibility to do the same.
In other spaces, power gives women a platform to lead discussion. This month, Michelle Obama released her new memoir Becoming, which reminded a large community of women of her true strength in being transparent about where she comes from. Her power lies not in the maintenance of a flawless image, but being open to the less-perfect parts of her life. In her book, Obama opens up discussion on what empowerment means to her and how she has tried to help women seize their power even when others try to squelch it.
“Obama emphasizes how important role models are, especially for young women of color in a culture that isn’t changing fast enough. But this book isn’t all unicorns and rainbows. By the end of it, she ultimately champions endurance and incremental change; she will probably be lauded and lambasted accordingly.”
Many women look to Michelle Obama as a source of inspiration to supporting and empowering large communities of women everywhere. One of my favorite role-models, Sophia Amoruso, is a true leader in using her power to build community. This November, Amoruso held the annual Girlboss Rally in New York City, where women from 430 cities, 31 countries, and 40 states gathered for a weekend filled with inspiration, discussion, and community.
Speakers including Arianna Huffington, Jennifer Hyman, Sutian Dong, Kathryn Minshew inspired a community of women to leave the gathering with a renewed sense of power and influence.
In a session called “Stepping Into My Own Power,” Bozoma Saint John, CMO at Endeavor and previous Chief Brand Officer at Uber, led discussion on failure as a powerful tool for growth.
“I fail all the time. It’s actually part of my ethos. It’s what I have to do to keep succeeding. I feel like if I don’t fail, I’m not pushing hard enough. I’m still afraid of failure, I just know that’s it’s beneficial. I think that it’s the recovery from failure that has gotten easier as I’ve grown older and my career has blossomed.”
Sallie Krawcheck, CEO & Co-Founder of Ellevest, an investment platform for women, gave a presentation on the power of money called “Some Very Real Talk About Your Finances”. When asked about failure, she said: “Research shows that women and girls take failure harder than men and boys…but just openly speaking about where it has been tough and where the failures are makes a difference.”
On the West Coast, we saw another powerful community of women come together at All Raise’s inaugural Women Who Venture Summit. Attendees heard from women like Angela Duckworth, Sally Yates, and Kirsten Green. Women were taught the power of negotiation, intersectionality, and the importance of rallying more diverse venture capitalists, especially women of color. In a release launching the conference, Wayee Chu writers, “When you’re only 9% of an industry, your network is not all around you in the natural habitat. So we’re creating it and aim to help women build bonds, inspire one another and create an impact that is bigger than its parts.”
All in all, this past November was a month fueled by woman power. Power means being invincible and taking charge to set forth new ideas, opportunities, and have the heart to inspire others. Women from across the nation and abroad revamped what it means to be a powerful woman and I have no doubt that they will achieve new milestones going forward.
With that, #LetsHearIt for the following powerful women now featured on the LHI Platform:
- Michelle Obama, lawyer, university, writer, and Former First Lady of the United States from 2009 to 2017 under Barack Obama. She was the first African-American First Lady. Through her four main initiatives, Let’s Move!, Joining Forces, Reach Higher Initiative, and Let Girls Learn, she has become a role model for women and an advocate for healthy families, service members and their families, higher education, and international adolescent girls education.
- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, American politician and educator. She is the U.S. Representative-elect for New York’s 14th congressional district, elected on November 6, 2018. On June 26, 2018, she won the Democratic primary in New York’s 14th congressional district, defeating Joe Crowley, in what was described as the biggest upset victory in the 2018 midterm election primaries. She is the youngest woman to serve in Congress in the history of the United States.
- Feifei Li, Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University and director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab, previously Chief Scientist of AI/ML at Google Cloud. In 2017, she co-founded AI4ALL, a nonprofit working to increase diversity and inclusion in artificial intelligence. She is the recipient of the 2014 IBM Faculty Fellow Award, the 2011 Alfred Sloan Faculty Award, the 2012 Yahoo Labs FREP Award, the 2009 NSF CAREER Award, and the 2006 Microsoft Research New Faculty Fellowship.
- Sallie Krawcheck, CEO and Co-Founder of Ellevest, a digital financial advisor for women and Chair of Ellevate Network. Previously president of the Global Wealth & Investment Management division of Bank of America. Forbes named her as number seven in its list of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women and was named #9 on Fast Company’s “100 Most Creative People in Business.”
- Bozoma “Boz” A. Saint John, Chief Marketing Officer at Endeavor. Previously Chief Brand Officer at Uber and marketing executive Apple Music. Saint John was recognized in Billboard Magazine’s list of the top women in music, Fast Company’s 100 most creative people, and AdWeek’s most exciting personalities in advertising.
Letter From The Editor is published monthly synthesizing the current events shaping the community of women, the recent additions to the LHI platform, as well as interviews and contributory pieces featured on the publication.