Ex-CEO of Planned Parenthood hopes empowerment movements are inclusive
Gloria Feldt has been at the forefront of women’s empowerment issues for decades, and she hopes women can move past the current #MeToo movement to include men in the conversation about gender equity.
“The #MeToo movement has been incredible in giving women the opportunity to speak in their own voices, and Time’s Up took the next step,” said Feldt, co-founder and president of Take the Lead, a nonprofit launched in 2013 to help women take leadership roles.
“But mostly what they’re doing is suing people, and that’s adversarial. You can’t sue everybody,” she said, adding that both women and men should be part of the conversation.
“It’s easy to let people who are against us get into our heads. Keep your head clear and keep your vison clear for where you want to go and keep going toward that,” Feldt told several hundred people at the Nonprofit Conference on Sustainable Strategies in Phoenix on Thursday morning. The conference was sponsored by the ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovations, part of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions at Arizona State University.
Feldt, 76, was president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America from 1996 to 2005. Married at 15, she had three children by the age of 20 before going on to earn a college degree in her 30s.
Feldt, the author of “No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power,” said that two ways women can leverage power is through communication and data.
She teaches workshops on “gender bilingual communication” — the idea that men and women have been socialized to speak differently. For example, women often use more words and are less direct than men, but face harsh repercussions when they violate those norms.
“A woman and a man can use exactly the same words and be perceived differently,” she said.
“Sometimes women say to me, ‘Why are you telling me how to speak to men? Why aren’t you telling men how to speak to me?’ I think that’s a fair question.”
She compared it to learning a few words of another language when visiting abroad.
“The truth of the matter is that groups with less power have to be able to speak the language of groups with more power.”
The pay gap between women and men is an example of where data can drive change. Feldt said that when she was CEO of Planned Parenthood of Northern Arizona, the organization did a survey.
“Lo and behold, the larger the affiliate, the more likely it was to be run by a man, and the salary disparity was huge — and that’s at an organization whose mission was to advance women,” she said.
“Having that data and presenting it to the board solved the problem in a few years.”
Robert Ashcraft, executive director of the ASU Lodestar Center, said that the definition of leadership can be difficult to pin down.
“Leadership is an action that many can take, not a position few can hold,” he said.
“That’s especially important in today’s political climate where we assume that if we’re not an elected official, we can’t be a leader.”
The conference drew several hundred people from the nonprofit sector, and Feldt told them to be courageous.
“You have to get to the point where you know it’s OK if you get fired for doing the right thing.”
Top photo: Gloria Feldt speaks with ASU Lodestar Center executive director Robert Ashcraft during the opening session of the 26th annual Nonprofit Conference on Sustainability Strategies at the Black Canyon Conference Center on Thursday. Feldt is a former president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, a best-selling author, speaker, commentator and feminist leader who has gained national recognition as a social and political advocate for women's rights. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now