Taking a longer view, we can see signs that as humans, we are in the spring of our existence, emerging from a long winter economically, socially, environmentally, with opportunities for new growth just starting to emerge, amid the renewed blossoming of our perennial souls.
Signs of this trend abounded at the last few events I attended, as a presenter and a reporter, from the Positive Aging Conference I wrote about last month to the What’s Next Boomer Business Summit and the New York Women’s Agenda STAR Forum. At all, I listened with rapt attention to what was being said and what was not, and I found myself witnessing a new story being called in. It’s not like what we’ve experienced in the past, the end of one generational story, and the beginning of another. But it’s not like a mere chapter closing either. Something much more inclusive, as expansive as it is deeply pervasive, is gaining momentum. It’s a rewrite.
We are being given another chance to story our alternative futures. We have the opportunity to re-story, to restore, even at the cellular level, right down to our DNA imprint, encoded long ago. Although we’re not even close to fully decoding it yet, we are beginning to unravel our cellular stories, which reside within stories to pass on to generations for eons onward.
The message we pioneers rallied around for years has now gone mainstream. “Remagine” is the new buzz phrase, even superseding reinvention, which I’m thrilled to see. As I’ve written before, first we must reimagine; then we can begin reinventing.
Reimagining Women in Business
The New York Women’s Agenda is at the forefront of reimagining aspirational futures for women in business. Like so many nonprofits today, NYWA has been in transition, passing the baton from a timeworn form into a new platform, with far less funding than needed due to the Great Recession. To remain a viable future force, it needed to reimagine its story and expand its reach fast. All nonprofits have to be nimble, quick to move, and flexible enough to sidestep minefields as we once again go for what is our rightful place at the table—full gender equality and economic freedom.
NYWA was founded in 1992 by Elinor Guggenheimer, who is my first interview in Visionaries Have Wrinkles. Therefore, celebrating the organization Elly founded in what would have been her 101st birthday year had great personal significance for me.
What I didn’t know was that the STAR Forum was a launch of a newly re-storied organization and a surprise agenda. Always “a voice for women,” NYWA was birthing forward before my eyes—not leaving behind its founder’s values but instead shedding the seventies skin, which had been getting too insular. Now it is re-morphing into a new story with even broader appeal and relevancy across generations of women, past, present, and future.
It was apparent from the start that this night was going to be different. For one thing, we were being treated magnificently on the balcony overlooking all of Bloomberg’s HQ, in another world of its own architectural making. Just awesome.
The crowd at the forum was still filled with other Clios, but to my delight, there were welcome sightings of Gen X’ers and Millennials too, more than I had observed in the recent past. An exciting, energized vibe emerged, pulsating with a new vigor and relevance as hors d’oeuvres were served and we engaged for the first time or re-engaged with others.
Women Take the Initiative
We were then asked to leave our self-created chatting pods for the surprise announcement and the ensuing panel. As we filled the meeting hall, we were welcomed by those who had made this a happening event, including development VP Linda C. Hartley; the new NYWA president, Gena Lovett; past president Beverly Neufeld; and Anne Erni, head of leadership, learning, and diversity at Bloomberg.
NYWA leadership then rolled out their New York Women’s Business Principles, an initiative for companies who aspire to integrate and measure their progress toward gender equality and best practices for women’s economic empowerment. Grounded in the UN’s own empowerment principles, and adapted by the cutting-edge Calvert Fund, under the leadership of Barbara J. Krumsiek, president, CEO, and chair, the core principles are anchored in the knowledge that what is good for women is good for our economy and our community. This mission and mantra are what we Clio feminists signed onto with our blood, sweat, hearts, and tears back in the seventies. Now that’s an old story re-imagined!
This wasn’t all just rah rah and lip service. This was the real deal, with a visionary focus grounded in measurable results. To avoid reinventing the wheel, NYWA is adroitly working off a two-year successful San Francisco pilot program as its template.
Following the big announcement, Diane Brady, Business Week senior editor, moderated a panel with some pretty savvy women who have scaled the mountain and now shared their personal and leadership perspective on the principles and the probability of gaining sign on or lip service. Panelists included Dorothy L. Alpert, Deloitte; Bridget van Kralingen, IBM; Joanna Barsh, McKinsey & Co; Gail Heimann, Weber Shandwick; and Ann Lehman, San Francisco Department on the Status of Women.
Times are a’changing. Each of these highly successful women occupies a significant leadership role, definitely owning her seat at the table. Women are needed now like never before. Our buying and voting power keeps growing, just as our positive impact on ROI and shareholder satisfaction is unquestionably positive. In the words of well-known Detroit activist Grace Lee Boggs, perhaps it’s time to “Listen to women for a change.”
So what I was hearing was not a new vision, nor new information about the status of gender equality inside our institutions of power—where we work, at the kitchen table, in the voting booths. It was a call to be visionary leaders in whatever role you have or aspire to. Go out on a limb, never lose sight of your values and what matters most, and revaluate often to be sure what you define as success still means the same today as it will tomorrow.
This is true too for women who say thanks but no thanks, I’m outta here! Women are leaving corporate America in increasing numbers, especially involuntarily during the Great Recession, and starting their own companies. Regardless of your circumstances, the point is to discover what story are you in and to be sure it is the story you want to stay with. So if you are going to stay in your organization, that’s your call. Just be sure to pre-imagine what you want your story and its ending to be.
Strength in Numbers
Every woman on the panel appeared to agree with what Dorothy Alpert said so eloquently: “No way should we still buy into having it all. Let it go. There are tradeoffs. Just pass this knowledge along so women don’t have to relearn it.”
In my twenties, I believed I could “have it all.” To me that meant making choices for myself and with my partner as an equal. It was about having a voice and bearing witness to other women’s voices. I wanted to make a difference and prove that we women, especially moms, could also attain economic independence. I never envisioned the worst-case scenarios back then. I know better now.
But we are entering different times. It’s not that we can’t have it all. It’s that we have to redefine what having it all is for us, at various points on our lifeline. Frequent reality checks are required since change happens faster and faster.
All panelists also agreed on three fundamental criteria for gender equality becoming an accepted best practice:
- Metrics are critical.
- We must prove our case that companies signing on to incorporate the New York Women’s Business Principles will attract and retain top female talent, clients, and customers.
- We must overcome the fears companies have that sharing metrics leaves them vulnerable to a lawsuit.
The good news, affirmed by Ann Lehman, is that companies are eager to attract, retain, and groom talent, so they want best practices to get the best women recruits. But, as Dorothy Alpert reminded us in closing, “The great women talent pool is larger than the demand!” This is all the more reason for women, especially those of us in our forties, fifties, sixties, and seventies, to rediscover and recommit to entrepreneurship, or what I call Boomerpreneurship. (For some, like me, that means Grannypreneurship! 🙂
No Polyannish promises from me. I’ve been there, done that! 🙂 For sure the struggle isn’t over, but more than ever before, we are stronger and more powerful. We have always had the smarts to reach for full gender equality and economic independence—and now we have the numbers. This spring, I envision a vast field of women blooming, from the new buds to deeply rooted flowering trees.
What new growth and regrowth are you imagining for yourself, your company, your world?
Image by H. Kopp Delaney.