“Put down your male fragility”: Scene On Radio’s John Biewen & Celeste Headlee on how men can help fight patriarchy

What’s going on with men? Why is it so hard to negotiate the gender power dynamic in everyday situations, like work meetings? Can masculinity exist without its more toxic forms? And why can men get away with sexual misconduct---and even end up seeming like the “real” victim when they’re accused?

While I’ve taken this season of Inflection Point to focus on what women can do to rise up and have more power, John Biewen and Celeste Headlee of Scene on Radio - MEN have been examining how the patriarchy that we’re rising up against was formed in the first place--and what to do about it.

Today we’re taking a look at the conversations we’ve had over the past seasons of both shows and comparing notes to see if we can find some answers---together.

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More than power poses: why self-empowerment is a myth and what we can do instead - Ruth Whippman, author

Subscribe to “Inflection Point” to get more stories of how women rise up right in your feed on Apple Podcasts, RadioPublic, Stitcher and NPROne.

Author Ruth Whippman has been studying the self-improvement industry for years. She’s come to the conclusion that ‘empowerment feminism’ is, well, BS.

According to Ruth -- the author of "America the Anxious. How Our Pursuit of Happiness Is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks-- systemic change doesn’t come from trendy girl-power t-shirts or aspirational Instagram quotes. In fact, Ruth thinks the conceit that women could make equality happen if we just...empowered ourselves more shifts the blame for a system of injustice to individuals with the least power to effect change.

So how women are supposed to get power if we can’t simply take it for ourselves? I sat down with Ruth to gain some perspective on this whole question of empowerment---and what exactly needs to change for empowerment to lead to power. If you’d like to read Ruth’s article on empowerment, you can find it here. And catch our earlier conversation from 2016.

Take a listen, and when you’re done, come on over to The Inflection Point Society, our Facebook group of everyday activists who seek to make extraordinary change through small, daily actions.

TRANSCRIPT:

(Note, if you enjoy having transcriptions, please consider funding more of them here.

Lauren Schiller:                  From KALW and PRX, this is Inflection Point, stories of how women rise up. I'm Lauren Schiller.

Ruth Whippman:               People who are in the happiness business are financially incentivized to believe that we have a lot of control over our happiness. And there's a lot of kind of massaging shall we say of the evidence in that direction. The real genuine evidence doesn't really support that. And also, it can quite easily kind of morph into a kind of victim blaming. This idea that if you're not happy, you just haven't worked hard enough, somehow your own fault.

Lauren Schiller:                  A couple of years ago, I talked with Ruth Whippman, the author of America The Anxious. Her book was about how our pursuit of happiness is creating a nation of nervous wrecks. She investigated the multi-billion dollar self-help industry to see if it was actually making a dent in the American psyche. It turns out that the return on our self investment is actually pretty darn low.

Ruth Whippman:               People in the United States are more likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder, a clinical anxiety disorder than anyone anywhere else in the world.

Lauren Schiller:                  Like really, really low. I'm Lauren Schiller and this season on Inflection Point, we're trying to discover how all the "empowerment" women are expressing right now can lead to actual power.

Lauren Schiller:                  More than 100 women were elected to Congress in the past midterm, the rise of the #metoo movement, the toppling of powerful men like the late Roger Ailes, Bill Cosby, Charlie Rose. But will all this newfound power last? Will you feel proud to wear that Future is Female T-shirt in three years? And if not, whose fault is it? Yours? Are you feeling anxious yet?

Lauren Schiller:                  Recently, I came across an article that Ruth wrote for Time magazine right before the 2016 election. The title, Empowerment is Warping Women's View of Real Power. So I started to think back on our previous conversation and to think that maybe power like happiness is considered entirely up to us as individuals.

Ruth Whippman:               I mean, it puts this incredible burden on women to sort out these really systemic major problems, like the pay gap, inequality in the workplace, like violence against women. And it almost becomes a kind of victim blaming, you know, if we were only more assertive, then all these things would be sorted out.

Lauren Schiller:                  So Ruth and I sat down once again to sort out exactly how women are supposed to get power if we can't simply take it for ourselves, and gain some perspective on this whole question of empowerment and what exactly needs to change for empowerment to lead to power.

Ruth Whippman:               Yeah, so I think there are a lot of parallels between this idea of empowerment feminism and the self-help industry, which is something that I really looked at a lot when I was writing the book. One of the conclusions I reached pretty quickly was this idea that we have this view that happiness is kind of an individual responsibility. So, instead of thinking society's responsibility to make everybody, to create the conditions under which everyone can be happy, it's like the individual needs to be going to mindfulness classes and reading self-help books and writing in their gratitude journal, and doing yoga classes, and all of these things to kind of almost pull yourself up by your bootstraps to make yourself happy.

Ruth Whippman:               And it's quite punitive approach to happiness. And it's quite a weirdly individualistic approach. I think a lot of the same principles can be applied to this idea of empowerment feminism.

Lauren Schiller:                  So what are some of the ways that you've seen women try to find empowerment or be empowered?

Ruth Whippman:               Well, this word, empowering, I mean, you see everywhere now. There was a headline in the Onion, you know, the satirical magazine, which was Women Empowered by Everything a Woman Does. And, you know, I think it really rings true. I mean, you just sit from everything from buying the right shampoo to taking naked pictures of yourself and putting them on Instagram. Saw one of the get plastic surgery on your vagina, that was pitched as being something empowering. I think it's become kind of ubiquitous to the point where it's become slightly meaningless and has very, very little to do with actual power.

Lauren Schiller:                  And it sounds like the examples that you just gave are all about women changing themselves to achieve what? What are they empowering themselves to be?

Ruth Whippman:               This is the thing. So I think that empowerment of, I think that the word empowerment has been used to cover a lot of really important initiatives as well. So let's not write it off completely. But, you hear this word empowerment associated with the kind of feminism, which I think of as the kind of lean in style of feminism. You know Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In which is all about being more assertive, stop apologizing, speak up in meetings, ask for a raise. This idea that if we could just be a little more assertive, if we would stand up for ourselves, then we would be paid equally, we would reach positions of power and all the rest of it.

Ruth Whippman:               I think this idea is quite problematic for a number of reasons. One is that this whole assertiveness model doesn't actually work. I mean, in general, women tend to be punished for these kinds of things rather than rewarded. So men can speak up in meetings and going all guns blazing and demand a pay rise and all the rest of it. And actually, for women, that kind of thing tends to backfire. And there's lots of research that backs this up.

Ruth Whippman:               But also, it's this idea that these are deep systemic problems. I mean, why is Sheryl Sandberg writing a book saying, address to women saying go and demand a raise rather than addressing her message to corporations to actually look at their pay structures and try to pay men and women equally. Why are we placing the burden on individual women to fix these problems?

Lauren Schiller:                  That's such a good point. I feel like her thinking on it has evolved since she wrote that book but I haven't been keeping up with her writing on it. I mean, have you seen anything where she's been changing her ...

Ruth Whippman:               I think she's changed. She sort of tweaked a message rather than changed her fundamental message. And this is a terrible tragedy. And my heart goes out to Sheryl Sandberg because she lost her husband a couple of years ago, a few years ago. And I think that led her to kind of tweak some of her messaging around have a great partner and use your partner and support. And she realized that actually, she was in a very privileged position to even have a partner.

Ruth Whippman:               So I think these are more kind of tweaks than addressing the fundamental message. I mean, Sheryl Sandberg could be using her authority to really address pay inequality by targeting companies or by targeting men. I mean, this is the other thing. By targeting companies, by targeting governments to enact proper legislation around this and by targeting men. Because I think the advice is always, you know, women speak up in meetings. It's never men, listen in meetings. It's always women stop apologizing. It's never men. Maybe you could do with a bit more apologizing.

Ruth Whippman:               It's all about assertiveness for women, rather than kind of deference for men. And it kind of comes back to why, you know, why are women such a wonderful target for this type of thinking? Why is the burden always on women to do the changing? Why do we always have to shift our norms and cultures? Why is it assumed that the male pattern is the better pattern? And I think it kind of comes back to the fact that we as women tend to have this massive appetite for self flagellation really. For guilt, for feeling we did something wrong. We buy these books. I mean, we are the ones who buy this book.

Ruth Whippman:               When I was writing my book and I was looking at the self-help industry, over 80% of self-help books are bought by women. Men do not want to change. Women do.

Lauren Schiller:                  Right. They don't want to ask for directions, they don't want to go to the doctor. There's nothing that needs to be made better about them But yet women feel, we feel like there's so much more we could be doing and not only can we change ourselves, we can change the people around us.

Ruth Whippman:               Right, exactly. And the burden is on us. I mean, I don't know if you've come across, these are ones that I noticed when I was doing my research for America the Anxious. There's this whole series of books called women who, and it's women who love too much, women who think too much, women who do too much. And you never see the titles, men who love too little or men who do too little or think too little or whatever. I think the reason is because no one's going to buy those books. And this is a massive industry. It's a massive industry to encourage women to feel bad about ourselves.

Lauren Schiller:                  Actually, let me just say this. We are sort of making generalized statements about all women, all men, and obviously within each gender and across the gender spectrum, there are individuals who have different approaches and different feelings about all of this, right?

Ruth Whippman:               Of course, yeah.

Lauren Schiller:                  But I do wonder if now would be the time when the men who series could actually thrive. There are men who are getting more introspective about the systems that they're perpetuating.

Ruth Whippman:               Yes, and I think that's great and especially with young boys. You see this paradigm with boys and girls as well. I have three boys. You go into the kind of clothing section of target and you see or [inaudible 00:10:37] or wherever. And every girl's T-shirt is a kind of future CEO, girl power, all of this. And the boys, the things for boys are still little monster, little terror, little whatever.

Ruth Whippman:               And I just yesterday actually saw it for the very first time, I went into Target to buy a shirt for my son and I saw a shirt which said be kind on it in Target. I had to do a double take and kind of check that it hadn't been accidentally left there from the girls section that somebody had moved it. And then I saw on the wall, there was a picture of a boy wearing the shirt. And it was really quite extraordinary. You do not see that message that it's boys who should be doing the changing or the onus being on boys and men to actually meet a more female standard.

Ruth Whippman:               So I do think you're right, I do think things are may be starting to slightly shift.

Lauren Schiller:                  Well, I mean, we've all grown up in the system and for some reason, you know, because we've grown up in it, we accept that that's how it is. And so, we as women are trying to use all of our smarts and abilities to navigate within this system when we actually could have this opportunity to just change completely the expectations in the ways that we work and live.

Ruth Whippman:               Absolutely right within the system. I think all of these ideas where you put the burden on the powerless person in a situation where we talk about personal responsibility, it's a kind of bait and switch in a way. It's a kind of taking the responsibility of the powerful people and sort of shifting it on to the powerless person.

Ruth Whippman:               And I think this whole idea of empowerment, it's become so divorced from anything to do with actual power. I think all this shampoo and makeup tips and bikini body journeys and all of that, when we label all those things as empowering, it kind of takes us away from thinking about power, who has power, why they have power and what we can do to change that. It kind of obscures the message I think.

Lauren Schiller:                  Right. Well, it becomes just taken over by companies wanting to market their products on "trend" of feminism and the future is female and girl power.

Ruth Whippman:               Yeah, girl power. I know I grew up in the UK and we changed feminism into the girl power with the Spice Girls and it kind of, it really neutered it. It made it cute, you know, girl already, it's infantilizing. It's not woman power, it's something cute. It looks nice on a sparkly T-shirt. It's pretty. And it's non threatening. And same with empowerment.

Ruth Whippman:               The one thing about the word empowerment, you know that anybody in any actual position of power will never ever use the word empowerment. You go on Instagram and its kind of, here's my naked photos of my post-baby body, you know, but you will never see a man saying, oh here's my naked photos of my post-prostate surgery body. I'm finding it so empowering. That will never ever happen. You will never hear the president saying, oh, it's just so empowering having these nuclear launch codes. It's something that people use when they are very far from power.

Lauren Schiller:                  Having sons and being clearly very aware of the world that we live in here, I mean, what are the kinds of things that you talk with them about?

Ruth Whippman:               This is a big question. My oldest son just turned eight so they still are young. This is a very interesting and scary time to be raising sons. I think up until now, people with daughters I think see themselves as part of this big grand feminists project to change the world and people with sons have kind of been allowed to ignore it. And I think we've reached a point with the Kavanaugh situation, with the current president, with this kind of #metoo movement, with this kind of toxic masculinity just really out there. That I think people, parents of sons really have to address this. I think the urgent work is on us really.

Ruth Whippman:               The conversations that we're having, I think we're just starting, I tried to talk with my sons about an early version of consent and standing back and listening. It's hard. These are hard conversations to have. It's hard to talk about consent before you've talked about sex.

Lauren Schiller:                  Right. Unwanted hugging or kissing.

Ruth Whippman:               Yes, exactly. So it's unwanted hugging and kissing. Having those conversations without, you know, there's kind of an elephant in the room which is the main, the main thing hasn't really been addressed and that's a hard conversation to have. And I know parents of sons, friends who've approached it in all kinds of different ways. Everything from explaining absolutely everything up front at the age of two, that's one friend, to really leaving this as a discussion to have around about puberty. I probably am in the middle when it comes to that.

Lauren Schiller:                  But the question of consent is also, I feel like it's tied to other issues like listening to women or respecting them when they're being assertive or not expecting girls to apologize. All the things that you were just talking about for us as women being important in meetings at work, I feel like it all ties back to how we relate to each other as males and females.

Ruth Whippman:               I mean, we're living in a time where even male and female now as two binary categories, that's kind of changing a lot as well. Even working within those kinds of structures, absolutely. One question I've had to ask myself is, you know, we say women shouldn't be apologizing but actually maybe apologizing is really a good thing. And so maybe, men and by extension, my boys, should be apologizing more. I think we've had this idea that whatever is the male cultural standard is automatically the better cultural standards. Men speak up in meetings therefore women should speak up in meetings. Rather than saying, you know, turning it on its head and saying, well, women tend to listen while in meetings, so maybe we should encourage men to do that.

Ruth Whippman:               I would love to see, every year when it's time for summer camp, I send my boys to summer camp and I see these lines of girls all going off to summer camp and it's assertiveness camp, go girls camp. It's all about getting girls to speak up and be assertive. Now, I would love to send my boys to deference camp this summer. I would love for them to go and learn those skills of listening because I think there are skills that you can learn and they're heavily, heavily socialized into girls and not into boys in all kinds of very, very subtle ways.

Ruth Whippman:               But these things just don't exist. I did actually read, there was an article in The New York Times that came out to recently, which was all about boys groups, which I think are all about empathy and listening and emotional intelligence. I think these things are just starting to emerge, but not in any kind of major mainstream way. I would really love to see that happen.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah, I think that feels like a much more productive response than some of the other responses that I've heard from parents of boys who feel like, well, with all this focus on girl power, what about my boy. It's totally disempowering for my son to have to defer to these assertive girls and what's their future going to look like and expressing fear that somehow by women actually having more power or the female "female approach" to interactions becoming the standard is actually bad for boys.

Ruth Whippman:               And I think that's a really, it's a tough question because obviously, as a mother, as a parent, you're kind of fighting your own maternal instinct, which is like, I want everything for my kid, and I want my kids to have the best of everything and to do well and to succeed and to be happy and to be assertive and to do all of this. That's the individual versus the collective. But I don't think you have to see those things in opposition.

Ruth Whippman:               I think there is plenty of success and happiness and everything for everybody if we can all learn to communicate effectively and to learn from each other. What I'm not saying to my boys, oh, you know, you have to stand back and only girls can succeed now. That's not really the point. The point is that we all communicate in a way that's respectful to each other, and then everyone's given an equal chance.

Lauren Schiller:                  What a concept. So what about for you growing up as a girl, I mean, you grew up in in the UK.

Ruth Whippman:               I did.

Lauren Schiller:                  And so, I kind of have a two-fold question which is one, I'm curious what girls growing up across the pond were taught and specifically what you were taught versus what was happening over here in the United States around that same time, which I'm just guessing you were born somewhere between the late 70s, early 80s.

Ruth Whippman:               I was born in 1974.

Lauren Schiller:                  Okay, there we go.

Ruth Whippman:               And so, I'm like in the Generation X cohort.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yes, me too.

Ruth Whippman:               I mean, this is really a fascinating time for me because when I was growing up, feminism really was a dirty word. You had to preface every, even the mildest statement for some kind of equality with, I'm not a feminist but, you know, I'm not a feminist but I quite like to be paid the same as a man but I better not mention it. Feminism was seen as something to distance yourself from. It was seen as unattractive and angry and man hating.

Ruth Whippman:               I don't know, this maybe getting off into a slightly different track. In the UK, when I was growing up, it was all, you know, it was, it was a time of relative prosperity. It was a time when, you know, we were all into this kind of banter and light hearted jokes. I think that really cemented this kind of male power. It was all irony and detachment and nobody wanted to appear too earnest or be too invested in things. And so you see kind of tropes of pop culture from the 80s. I mean, Brat Pack movies, Sixteen Candles. I mean, these things really normalized things like rape culture and inequality as completely and utterly normal. And that's how I saw it.

Ruth Whippman:               I worked for various large organizations in the UK in my 20s and sexual harassment was completely and utterly normal. We would have conversations, I was a TV researcher at the time and we just completely accepted as normal that men in power would sexually harass us, and we would talk amongst ourselves about who to avoid the most. Never get in an elevator with that man and never, you know, whatever. But we never would have even thought to question this to higher authorities. We were so steeped in this patriarchal thing. Now, I think the #metoo movement has actually given us all a pair of kind of goggles to see the world in a very different light.

Ruth Whippman:               I remember when I worked for a major TV station and we were asked by the powers that be to pitch ideas for a series which was supposed to be about the major injustices in British society. So it was going to be an episode on each one. And I pitched an idea about feminism. And literally, people laughed me out of town. It's like, well, we can't do that. I mean, that would be ridiculous. And this was, I mean, probably 10 years ago.

Lauren Schiller:                  You are kidding me.

Ruth Whippman:               I mean, it was as though I had suggested the most fringe, peculiar, bizarre thing. And they were like, well, obviously not that. Anyway, back to the man.

Ruth Whippman:               And so things have really massively changed. It's a huge social change I've seen in the last 10 years. And I think there probably is a difference between the UK and the US on that. I think a lot of the trends, I mean, you see the difference now between, actually now, I was going to say you see the difference between the way people responded to Anita Hill and the way people responded to Christine Blassie Ford. But actually, ultimately, those two things ended up at the same place. So no, perhaps there hasn't been as much of a difference as we'd like to think.

Lauren Schiller:                  As we cry into our coffee.

Ruth Whippman:               Yeah, we're all weeping.

Lauren Schiller:                  I'm Lauren Schiller and this is Inflection Point. As we've seen in the past few years, each time we gain ground, those in power push back and then blame us for not working hard enough, not being assertive enough, not being ambitious enough or having too much ambition. Is it the American dream or the American gaslight? We'll talk about that in a moment.

Lauren Schiller:                  Hi, it's Lauren Schiller from Inflection Point. One of the most powerful young voices and international activism is coming to the Bay Area for an Inflection Point live recording at the Bay Area Book Festival. Join me and Khalida Brohi to talk about culture, power and her extraordinary memoir, I Should Have Honor, presented by the Bay Area Book Festival's Women Lit Society, Inflection Point and KALW, Thursday, December 13 in San Francisco. Tickets are womenlit.org, that's womenlit.org.

Lauren Schiller:                  This is Inflection Point. I'm Lauren Schiller with stories of how women rise up. I'm talking with Ruth Whippman about empowerment and individual responsibility for our own happiness. I asked Ruth to respond to something we heard earlier in the season from Dr. Barbara Adams, an organizational psychologist and diversity and inclusion expert. Here's Barb.

Barbara Adams:                 All of that is based on this myth of meritocracy. It's going to go to the hardest worker and they are the people who are going to succeed and it's the smartest people blah, blah, blah. But that basically implies that if you're the black candidate or you're the woman who didn't get ahead, well, it's your fault. And it ignores what's really happening and what occurs in a system that's designed to help ensure that you don't get ahead because that's where all of those biases are built in.

Ruth Whippman:               So I think Barbara Adams expresses it brilliantly. I think this idea of meritocracy is a very, very, very steely thread running through American society. People in this country have this very, very strong belief that if you just work harder at being happy, being rich, being thin, being successful, being healthy, being everything, then you can achieve it. And yes, it is a myth and it absolutely is putting the onus on the wrong people. I mean, it absolutely does not acknowledge, as Barbara Adams says, it does not acknowledge the systemic injustices which absolutely run through this culture and all of the obstacles in getting to that point.

Ruth Whippman:               And I saw a lot with the happiness industry, the self-help industry when I was researching my book. It is this idea that you have this individual responsibility to be happy. I mean, you see these memes that on Facebook, things like happiness is a choice. So the idea is, you know, if you're not making that choice and you're not working hard enough, then you have no right to be happy. Positive psychology and the self-help industry absolutely minimize the effect of our circumstances, whether that's our kind of personal circumstances or our kind of demographic circumstances in terms of our class, our, our gender. They absolutely minimize the effect of all those things and absolutely play up to the max this idea of individual effort and individual control over these things so we can just try harder. It's this kind of bootstraps approach to happiness.

Ruth Whippman:               And same with feminism, this idea, the reason why you're not being paid equally is because you just haven't asked for a raise. Do power poses in the restroom, that should sort out the patriarchy. And you just think, oh please, give me a break here.

Lauren Schiller:                  Exactly. I really tried to convince myself for a while that those power poses made a difference.

Ruth Whippman:               It's all been disproved as complete nonsense anyway. How about getting men to do some capitulation poses in the restroom before a meeting and so that they might listen a little better to people. And let's look at the corporations, let's look at governments, let's look at legislation, let's look at real ways to actually address these very, very thorny issues.

Lauren Schiller:                  What do you think about the rise of these women's only spaces? Women's coworking spaces? I mean, you mentioned the girl assertiveness camps and things like that. I think the idea is that, it's a male free zone so there's no navigating the gender dynamics and you have the space to fail or to express yourself without being shut down, etc, etc. I don't know. What do you think about those kinds of spaces?

Ruth Whippman:               Yeah, I think women only spaces have the place for sure. I think you can absolutely see. I mean, some of it is to do with threat. You see women's refuges and places where women can go because they're literally in fear of male violence, and that's obviously a very important thing to maintain. In terms of coworking spaces and all the rest of it, I mean, absolutely. I think people traditionally who have been disempowered in various ways really benefit from having their own spaces.

Ruth Whippman:               I mean, actually, interestingly, I was reading this article about boys groups in the New York Times. And I think that is an example of where male only spaces can actually be productive as well. I think this is a thorny issue because, obviously, male only spaces historically have been used to exclude women from places of power. But I think with boys, I think there are lots of boys in this article who are expressing this idea that they feel like, usually, they feel like they have to be one of the guys or impress women or whatever, and it was a safe space to kind of express emotions and all the rest of it. So when handled carefully, I think those things can be important too.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah. I feel of two minds. One is this, well, it's fun to hang out with other women. At it's most bottom line. There is something about that that is just feels relaxing and it's fun and we have a different way of talking with each other than we have talking with man. It is how it is. Is it that way because this is the system that we were raised in? Is it biological? Like, I don't know. I think there are definitely pros to it. But what I start to worry about is that we are heading toward another weird kind of segregation of the sexes. We're like by accident going backwards. When really what we're trying to do is create respect for all genders together in the same place where we can be sources of power for each other regardless of our gender.

Ruth Whippman:               Yeah, absolutely. It's a very complex issue and I think it so much depends on the circumstances and why people are doing this and in what situation. I think the future of society is not to completely segregate the two genders and, we're not the Wailing Wall here. I think you're absolutely right. The future is for us all to be able to cooperate together and to communicate and to get rid of this ridiculous system of gender stereotyping and segregation and all of these tropes that we have in place about what you are or can be because you're born either male or female.

Lauren Schiller:                  You wrote an article in Time right before the 2016 election, which was called, I just love it. I mean, we've talked about this, but empowerment is warping women's view of real power. You quoted Sady Doyle. Can you talk about who she and-

Ruth Whippman:               Sady Doyle is a writer and journalist. She's fantastic. And she wrote this very long and wonderful and influential piece about Hillary Clinton, which sort of tracked, amongst other things, tracked people's attitudes towards her in different situations. So when Clinton was in office in whatever role, people regarded her very highly. But when she was seeking her next office, this was when all this kind of vitriol and anti-Clinton stuff would come out. And what she concluded was that it was something about this act of asking for power, which made her unpopular as a woman. So it wasn't her performance in the job. People pretty much thought she did great when she was actually in the job. But when she was seen trying to seek power, people became very, very uncomfortable.

Ruth Whippman:               This all feels like sort of like we're living in a different world now, but we all saw during the election this just absolute spew of sewage against Hillary Clinton for who she was, everything she did, she was scrutinized in a way that no male candidate has been. I mean, the Trump-Clinton thing was this kind of ad absurdum example of this principle that a man can get away with virtually anything and a woman can get away with virtually nothing when it comes to looking for power.

Ruth Whippman:               This was such an extreme example of it. I mean, his corruption reaches levels that are quite extraordinary and she had her emails on a slightly problematic email server, and yet she was the one that was like utterly labeled as corrupt and everyone shouting locker up when, you know, anyway, that's another story. This was a very, very strong example of it. I encourage you to go and read the Sady Doyle piece about it.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah. Well, what was also interesting to me is that the quote that you have in the article is that she talks about prejudice against women caught in the act of asking for power. What actually stood out to me is not only the idea of striving for something more than we have being a problem, but the notion that we have to ask for it.

Ruth Whippman:               Right, absolutely. I mean, that is the whole, I mean, you know, without getting too much into the semantics of it, the word empowering, it's like somebody is handing power to the disempowered person. Who is the somebody handing the power because they obviously still maintains the same power hierarchy. Why do we need to go and ask for power in that way? I mean, it's assumed that men are the ones who by rights naturally have the power and women are the ones who have to go and seek it. People are very, very uncomfortable with that.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah. I actually think that we should spend a little more time on the semantics of empowerment because the more you read about empowerment, the more, I don't know, sometimes I'm like, that's great. The UN is empowering girls by ensuring that they have more education in third world countries and are able to read and therefore take care of their families and earn some income, etc. So like, that kind of empowerment, I'm like, yes, that's empowering because, in fact, a powerful entity is giving power to a less powerful entity. But then sometimes I read about empowerment and it just feels totally fluffy and like meaningless.

Ruth Whippman:               So I think the thing is, we don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I don't know if you use that expression.

Lauren Schiller:                  We do.

Ruth Whippman:               You do. Yes, absolutely, of course, under the banner of empowerment, there are many wonderful initiatives of which you've named some. I think historically, this word started with a wonderful idea which was to put power in the hands of disempowered communities for whatever reason, and it was kind of rooted in activism and all of the rest of it. I think as this has evolved, the word has become associated with this kind of feminism, like this kind of feminism as a branch of the self-help industry somehow, that empowering has become a description, more of a feeling rather than of anything to do with actual power structures.

Ruth Whippman:               So, we talk about, you know, I'm finding this so empowering. What we're describing when we say that is kind of this inner feeling of potency or kind of feel good self worth rather than anything that actually breaks down any actual power structures or puts us in a position of authority, a recognized position of authority.

Lauren Schiller:                  Okay, so let's talk about how we're going to change this system.

Ruth Whippman:               Right, let's do it now.

Lauren Schiller:                  We're going to put the power back in empowerment right here. We always aspire. So another guest on the show is Rebecca Traister, who has a book out now called Good and Mad. And she talks about anger as a tool for revolution. Or is it? I feel like we, like it's not just the righteous who are angry, right? Her theme is really that we need to listen to the stories behind people's anger and take a minute to understand where they're coming from and why they're angry, and that it's not just about all of us women getting out there with our pitchforks and marching angrily down the street and demanding change.

Lauren Schiller:                  But the question that it raised for me, and I feel like this ties in with your work on the happiness industry or the self-help industry, which is like, how do we actually get anything done if everyone's just mad at each other all the time.

Ruth Whippman:               Right, absolutely. I mean, Rebecca Traister is wonderful. I haven't yet had a chance to read her book but I've read lots around it and I've heard her speak on various occasions. I think this is so important, this idea that women's anger has been erased through history, that we need to listen to why women are angry, all the rest of it. Where we perhaps part ways is exactly as you said, I don't think anger tracks neatly nuclear to progressive ideals. I mean, I think there are many very, very angry people in the world at the moment and only some of them share my values. Fox News is an incredibly angry space where people are, hate is spewing forth against immigrants and against women, against all sorts of things. And I wouldn't necessarily say that that was productive. In fact, I would say it was extremely unproductive.

Ruth Whippman:               So, I think to just say, anger, let's harness it doesn't work. I think it's a good starting point because I think anger can motivate people but I think, it's a much more complex and messy field than that would perhaps suggest. I think Rebecca tries to be fair, does acknowledge that as well. And also, anger, there's anger as a kind of political driving force but then there's also anger as an emotion, as a feeling. And I think that anger can kind of cloud your thinking as much as it can clarify it. It's good to recognize the reasons why we should be angry and act on those. But at the same time, I think we're all just in a giant rage all the time, that's not necessarily going to lead to kind of skillful change.

Ruth Whippman:               And a lot of genuine change comes from kind of incremental policy. Trying to get into the nuts and bolts of what things actually work and what things don't work. That kind of is tedious work but it's also important work as well. And I think, you know, us all being in a giant rage ... I think also the thing is like, parallels with women's increasing anger is also men's increasing anger and that is quite a scary prospect. I mean, you see men's rights activists on Twitter, online. I think there has been this huge spewing forth of male anger. It's almost as a response to women seeking power, women becoming angry. Men dig in. And I think as you say, this idea where everyone's kind of ragefull all the time is not actually a particularly productive way forward.

Lauren Schiller:                  This may be the next billion dollar industry.

Ruth Whippman:               Anger industry.

Lauren Schiller:                  I know there's already anger, you can go take an anger management class I guess. What do you think some of the answers are in terms of shifting the way that we think about power and who should have it and how our world works on a daily basis? Is it getting more women in office? Is that one piece of it?

Ruth Whippman:               Yes, getting women in office is definitely a piece of it. Women being involved in politics is hugely important. I think it's also focusing on men and in our personal relationships and personal style, I think it's about targeting man and how men behave in public. Starting with young boys and working on that. I think that's a huge piece of it. I think legislation, it's corporations that need to take responsibility for this. And people, the next Sheryl Sandberg who's writing their feminist manifesto, please can you target it at companies or governments. These systems of power rather than individuals. I think that's a huge, that's what we should be focusing on.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah. That also speaks to, when we get more women leaders inside these companies who have worked their way up through the existing system, it seems that in some cases, they tend to just perpetuate the system that they manage to succeed in.

Ruth Whippman:               Absolutely.

Lauren Schiller:                  I don't know that we have the answer here, but how do we get the women who are making their way up the corporate ladder, breaking that glass ceiling, to then look down and say, that really sucked the way that I had to get here. I want to change it for the next woman.

Ruth Whippman:               Yeah. I mean, I think that is a cultural change, is a complicated thing. And you're absolutely right. Women in power don't necessarily make things better for other women once they get there. They are working within the system. I think cultural change takes time. I think that we are in a period of very accelerated cultural change. We've got pushed back and then we've got acceleration, and then we've got pushback and we've got acceleration. So I think things are changing.

Ruth Whippman:               I think the next generation of leaders have grown up in a very different world than the one that I grew up in. So I think this will happen. But yeah, it's about educating men and boys, it's about a certain amount of education for women. It's about targeting. It's about acknowledging the reality of it and stop it, trying to stop this attachment that we have to this idea of the individual being the one who can affect change. I think we have to acknowledge that systems need to change, laws need to change, companies need to change and people in power need to change.

Ruth Whippman:               If we stop selling this dream of, you know, just stop apologizing and ask for a raise and then suddenly you're going to be fine. I think if we acknowledge that that is a minor, minor piece of the puzzle, then I think we can start to look at the bigger picture.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah. So here in California, recently, one of Jerry Brown's last acts as governor was to sign a law that by the end of 2019, any California based company had to have at least one woman on the board, one female on the board, and by the end of 2021, there had to be at least three females on the board.

Ruth Whippman:               I mean, it's a pretty sort of depressing state of affairs that we actually need that law, at least one women on the board. It's really such a low bar, isn't it? At least one woman. I think it's good that there's incremental change in that way. I would have preferred to see 50-50, but, you know, take what you can. But also, I think we have to look at the kind of nuts and bolts of how we make that happen. How women can rise to the top. What we have in place in terms of flexible working, in terms of maternity policy, in terms of childcare. Those things that actually help women to rise up. And those can be thorny things to work out but I think the devil's in the detail often.

Ruth Whippman:               Sometimes I think that there are initiatives which are kind of well intentioned but you just think oh my goodness, I mean, one that I saw recently was in the press was about Goldman Sachs paying for female staff to airfreight their breast milk from wherever they are traveling in the world back to their baby, to their young baby. Oh my goodness, we've got something very wrong here. I mean airfreighting your breast milk, I think we're slightly missing the point about women being with their babies and childcare. What we really need is actual paid maternity leave and legislation making sure that your job is still there when you come back, effective childcare, those sorts of things. I mean, it's not the actual milk that's the issue. It's everything that goes along with it.

Lauren Schiller:                  I'm having flashbacks to traveling and pumping in my hotel room and having to call the hotel staff to come and get it because the refrigerator in the room was not cold enough to freeze it. And then keeping it in the hotel kitchen until it was time for me to leave, at which point they returned to me with a giant baking dish of all my little bags of breast milk, which I then shoved into my little black pumping bag, put on my back and went to the airport, where they then opened it up and were like, what's this.

Ruth Whippman:               I have to say, the women with the like double boob, pump action bag full of breast milk, that is a very American image. Something about this country where there is like a six week maternity leave, which is actually some kind of like disability rather than, with no federally recognized maternity leave, in some awful little corner of the office where people are pumping away while on the phone, while sending an email. I mean, you don't see that in Europe because there is protected maternity leave for the first year. The UK is not the best in Europe for this but at least you do, I can't remember, I think it's 35 weeks of paid maternity leave. There is legislation around this. So I think that image is just such American society gone wrong.

Lauren Schiller:                  Crazy. That to me sounds like actual empowerment, like an actually empowering tool for women and families.

Ruth Whippman:               Absolutely, absolutely. I think that laws are the things that can make changes most effectively. Another huge thing which is not popular here is unions. I mean, union representation is a really important piece of this because these are organizations that can actually bargain for genuine material change for workers and for women. There's a reason why companies hate unions, and that's because union workers have much better conditions than the non union workers. So I think collective bargaining is a huge piece of the puzzle as opposed to this tiny individual power posing in the restroom piece of the puzzle.

Lauren Schiller:                  What's the best advice that you've ever been given about how to recognize a situation where the onus is being put on you as the individual to make sweeping changes in your world when really, it's not actually up to you, that somebody else should be in charge? What do you do in that situation?

Ruth Whippman:               That's a really interesting question. I mean, I don't think I've ever been given a specific piece of advice on that because I think it's so, this idea of the individual making the change is so baked into culture that I don't think anyone's really thinking in those terms.

Ruth Whippman:               Having thought about this quite a lot, I think the advice, the path I would give is that if you're in that situation and it feels wrong and you feel like you're exhausted and overburdened and why should I be the one doing all of this, you know, to stop and think and to call it out and to say, this isn't me, this is the system. And there are problems here and who's really in charge here, who really has the power here and who should really be backing the changes? It's about calling things out for what they are and not accepting that we're the ones who need to make the changes.

Lauren Schiller:                  Ruth Whippman is the author of America The Anxious, and her article in Time Magazine was entitled, Empowerment is Warping Women's View of Real Power.

Lauren Schiller:                  Self-empowerment is the 21st century equivalent of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, which was the 20th century version of let them eat cake, which was the 18th century version of I have no idea what the problem is here. All of these concepts were thought up by people in power who are blind to the advantages they had on their own rise to the top. And as my producer Eric pointed out to me, you can't physically pull yourself up by your bootstraps. If you have some, give it a try.

Lauren Schiller:                  The question is, if the people in power refuse to change the system that gave them their power and the people without power exhaust themselves attempting to make change so everyone has power, how will we ever make a more equal world? Well, we won't. Of course we need to continue to ask for what we want, be assertive, project confidence. And, as long as we're speaking up for ourselves, we need to insist that the individuals running the system, specifically white men, learn from our strengths. There's strength in listening and making room for new perspectives. There's strength in empathy and vulnerability and humility. There's strength in focusing on the greater good. This is how we all rise up together. This is Inflection Point. I'm Lauren Schiller.

Lauren Schiller:                  That's our Inflection Point for today. All of our episodes are on Apple Podcast, Radio Public, Stitcher and NPR One. Give us a five star review and subscribe to the podcast. Know a woman with a great rising up story, let us know at inflectionpointradio.org. While you're there, I invite you to support Inflection Point with a monthly or one time contribution. Your support keeps women stories front and center. Just go to inflectionpointradio.org. We're on Facebook at Inflection Point Radio. Follow us and follow me on twitter at @LASchiller. To find out more about the guest you heard today and to sign up for our email newsletter, you know where to go. Inflectionpointradio.org.

Lauren Schiller:                  Inflection Point is produced in partnership with KALW 91.7 FM in San Francisco and PRX. Our story editor and content manager is Alaura Weaver. Our engineer and producer is Eric Wayne. I'm your host, Lauren Schiller.

Lauren Schiller:                  You have a notebook sitting in front of you which is cracking me up because of this conversation that says the word feminist in all caps on it. It's slightly pink with like kind of a gold type. So talk to me about that.

Ruth Whippman:               This note because probably a great example of this kind of empowerment feminism. My notebook, this was a gift. It is pink. It has gold lettering, it's very feminine, delicate. And it says the word feminist on it. And I think the word feminist in this kind of empowerment feminism sense has got this kind of cultural cache as long as it's cute. As long as it's pretty and it's pink and it's gold and it's lovely, there are all kinds of products that, I think suddenly, it's got this kind of cultural cache that it never had before.

Lauren Schiller:                  Do you think it's ironic that you're carrying it around?

Ruth Whippman:               I think it's ridiculous. And actually, I'm kind of embarrassed of this notebook. But I needed a notebook and it actually has these kind of feminist quotes. We can look at it. "I say if I'm beautiful, I say if I'm strong. You will not determine my story. I will" Amy Schumer. Well, there you go, that's another example of this very individualistic take on feminism because actually, we don't write our own stories to a large extent. Society, the patriarchy writes our quite a lot. And this idea that, you know, I chart my own course, I am my own person, I just need to power pose in the restroom, yeah, it's not quite that simple. Let's try another one.

Ruth Whippman:               Here we go. "It took me quite a long time to develop a voice but now that I have it, I'm not going to be silenced." By Madeleine Albright. I mean great that Madeleine Albright is not going to be silent. I think more important is the actual office that she held and the fact that, this idea that it's just about women speaking up for ourselves rather than kind of changing systems is interesting that that's the quote for Madeleine Albright that ends up in the feminist gold and pink notebook.

Lauren Schiller:                  When she's done so much else.

Ruth Whippman:               When she's done so much. Why is this what we're looking at?

Lauren Schiller:                  Support for this podcast comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Speaker 4:                              From PRX.

 

 Ruth Whippman

Ruth Whippman

The "Algorithms of Oppression" embedded in tech - Dr. Safiya Noble

Dr. Safiya Noble was studying Library Science when an academic colleague suggested she google ”black girls.” The top search results were images that perpetuated negative stereotypes, misogyny and exploitation. That discovery was the beginning of an investigation that eventually became Safiya’s book, “Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism”.

Immediate access to powerful search engines is seen as an empowering force in this world, but what if our reliance on search engines is perpetuating oppressive ideas and hateful ideologies--even swaying elections?

And when you’re done, come on over to The Inflection Point Society, our Facebook group of everyday activists who seek to make extraordinary change through small, daily actions.

Subscribe to “Inflection Point” to get more stories of how women rise up right in your feed on Apple Podcasts, RadioPublic, Stitcher and NPROne.

We rely on listener support, please contribute today to fund the transcript of this episode!

More recommended reading: The Googlization of Everything (and why we should worry), by Jesse Daniels

Safiya Noble.jpg



“There is no peak fury”: Rebecca Traister, Author of Good And Mad: The Revolutionary Power Of Women’s Anger

There’s a reason that women are angry. Since the founding of this country, we have been faced with men in power who are set on shutting us down, and shutting us out. Revolutionary fury isn’t just for the founding fathers, and ladies, even though we’ve been stewing in our ever-growing anger for the past 242 years, we have just begun to fight. Find out how women have harnessed their anger throughout history and how when we listen to the stories behind each other's anger, we can all change the world today. Listen to my conversation with Rebecca Traister, the author of New York Times Bestseller, Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger.

This conversation was recorded live in Berkeley, CA on October 10th, 2018 as part of Women Lit, in collaboration with the Bay Area Book Festival.

 Photo by: One World Journalist

Photo by: One World Journalist

Running for Office In the Era of #MeToo: Minnesota State Representative Erin Maye Quade

At age 32, Minnesota State Representative Erin Maye Quade is positioned to be at the forefront of a wave of progressive political leaders representing a new generation of voters.

She made history while running in the Twin Cities suburbs as a deeply progressive, biracial, openly queer, anti-gun violence, anti-racist, pro-social justice candidate.

There’s no doubt she’ll rise high and go far.

The question is: as an unprecedented amount of women run for office and have a good chance of winning, will the powers that be yield to the kind of change politicians like Erin will bring to office? Or will they double down and fight dirty?

Listen to our conversation to find out.

And when you’re done, come on over to The Inflection Point Society, our Facebook group of everyday activists who seek to make extraordinary change through small, daily actions.

Subscribe to “Inflection Point” to get more stories of how women rise up right in your feed on Apple Podcasts, RadioPublic, Stitcher and NPROne.



Erin Maye Quade.jpg

Death by Diversity Initiative & The Myth of Meritocracy - Dr. Barbara Adams

Organizational psychologist Dr. Barbara Adams says there is transformational power for everyone in diversity and inclusivity, but initiatives like employee training days and inclusive hiring aren’t enough. What we need, says Dr. Adams, is a fundamental shift in mindset about our implicit biases and how they affect every aspect of organizations, from design to hiring practices and beyond. And the goal shouldn’t be to eliminate biases, but to acknowledge them and to do the work to ensure that there’s more than one kind of bias in the room when decisions are being made. Listen to my conversation with Dr. Barbara Adams, author of “Women, Minorities and Other Extraordinary People” to see what’s broken about current organizational diversity initiatives and what we can do to create a workplace that works for all of us.

Dr. Barbara Adams headshot by Blink Inc.jpg

A Boardroom of Our Own: Julia Rhodes Davis on All-Women Spaces and The Future of AI

Ask any woman who’s sat through a long meeting surrounded by men, and she could tell you how exhausting it can be: we struggle to make ourselves heard while carefully avoiding accusations of being ‘bitchy,’ ‘strident,’ or ‘shrill.’ We rarely have the kind of permission to fail that our male counterparts get. We want to take ownership of what little power is tossed our way, yet we’re always at risk of being punished for wielding such power.  


Which is why Julia Rhodes Davis decided to form an all-women board for the non-profit, Vote.org. The question is, can the empowerment that takes place in an all-women board meeting translate into actual, world-changing power once they step outside the boardroom?

Find out what Julia has to say about turning empowerment into power, and also shaping the future so women and minorities don’t need to be “empowered” anymore.

Listen to my conversation with Julia Rhodes, Chair of Vote.org and Director of Partnerships at The Partnership on AI in the latest episode of Inflection Point.

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TRANSCRIPT

Lauren Schiller:                  Women are banding together in ways we haven't seen since the feminist revolution of the 1970s. The Women's March, the #MeToo movement. More women than ever are running for office and actually winning elections. There are girls-only engineering camps, girls-only maker camps, girls-only afterschool clubs, and they're growing like crazy. So it would seem to be an incredibly empowering time for women. But there's the trendiness factor. The word "feminist" on every other t-shirt in yoga class, "Like a girl" and "nasty woman" have become marketable catchphrases on Nike ads and sanitary pads and coffee mugs. I mean, I love it, but is that mug really going to get you promoted? Because there's one question that has been bothering me: "Does all this empowerment equal power?"

Lauren Schiller:                  I thought one good place to start to understand this would be to look at the boardroom. That's a consolidation of power if ever there were one. As the chair of the board of Vote.org, Julia Rhodes Davis was empowered to decide who to include on that board. With her CEO, also a woman, they made a conscious decision to only appoint women. I wanted to know why and what it was actually doing for them.

Lauren Schiller:                  But first, let's take a closer look at this trend of all-girl and all-women spaces.

Julia R Davis:                        I think that all-women spaces could be seen as sort of incubators. In other words, incubators or startups or whatever are these places that foster early-stage ideas and provide extra resourcing around the things that are most vulnerable at startups like infrastructure and funding and access to networks and access to know-how. I think that when you think about all-women spaces in a similar way, it's not that we're going to stay in all-women spaces, to your point, but I think especially for younger women and girls there's so much risk taking and failure that comes with learning, especially in sort of the early pursuit of anything. When the world is conditioning young women to be afraid of failure because our worth is attached to our achievement and, by the way, also our appearance and so forth and so on, it's really existentially unsafe for us to fail. I think that that's a huge loss.

Julia R Davis:                        There's actually an amazing ... the founder of Girls Who Code, Reshma Saujani gives a beautiful TED Talk to this idea that we need to create spaces that are safe for girls to fail, because that's actually how you become an entrepreneur and how you become successful.

Lauren Schiller:                  She's actually been a guest on this show.

Julia R Davis:                        Oh, amazing. Well done.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah, and we do talk about that. So it sounds like you're in the camp of, "Women-only spaces can be a place where we can learn to navigate the "real-word" having gathered our strength and gone out there to make things happen." But do you think it actually is a way of solving gender inequality?

Julia R Davis:                        I think it depends on your timeframe. Here I would really sort of look at how power operates. Right? Let's take a few examples. There are right now, or actually I guess this stat is from 2016 from Time Magazine. 77% of all elected officials in the US are mail, 23% are female. So until we're starting to approach parity in terms of a representative government, I am all for as many organizations as possible working on the issue of bringing more women into public office. I think, similarly, if we look at who's writing political checks right now, 80% of political donors, 80% of all dollars political donations are written by men. That means that essentially ... I mean, that just points to how power is going to operate. So I would push for getting as many women to become political donors as possible to shift that power dynamic.

Julia R Davis:                        Then, you look at nonprofit boards. 80% of nonprofit board members are men. So until we shift that dynamic I am all for going in the opposite direction and really taking an exceptional tact to get exceptional results.

Lauren Schiller:                  What would you see in this polarized time as the role of women-only spaces?

Julia R Davis:                        I'm not sure that the role has actually changed very much from the inception of at least women-created women-only spaces. What I mean by that is-

Lauren Schiller:                  That's such an important distinction, by the way, "women-created women-only spaces".

Julia R Davis:                        Yeah. I mean, the paternalism of men creating women-only spaces is a whole different topic. Right?

Lauren Schiller:                  I hadn't actually thought about it in different terms than "women-created". Yeah, that's so interesting.

Julia R Davis:                        Well, because I actually don't know the founding history of, for example ... my first attempt at college was Mount Holyoke College, which was an all-women's school. It is a very small liberal arts school in western Massachusetts. I had grown up in New York City and I showed up and there were more rules and oversight at college than I had in my parents' home in New York City.

Julia R Davis:                        My parents were neither really conservative in terms of minding my time, nor were they extremely permissive. They were somewhere in the middle. When I really unpacked the Mount Holyoke experience and ultimately why it was not a good fit for me, there was a paternalism that was claimed by the administration of the school, as though we as a school of young women couldn't, individually young women, couldn't possibly make decisions for ourselves that would keep us safe and happy and well, which I just reject outright.

Julia R Davis:                        Anyway, that's just a little bit of a tangent on that.

Lauren Schiller:                  Well, no, but you obviously didn't know that before you started classes. What was your expectation and hopes for why you would go to an all-women's college?

Julia R Davis:                        Yeah, thanks. I think people tout that there's a freedom in an all-female classroom, for example, for women to find their voice and, to be honest, in a lot of ways I didn't have much trouble finding my voice. I probably often have too loud a voice. Although, put me in a room where I feel intimidated and all of a sudden that changes a lot, or certainly when I was younger it changed a lot. So I think I went for the promise of kind of the freedom of finding my voice and not having to fight for a voice in the classroom or fight for attention of advisors to pursue special projects or whatever the case may be. Because I do think that oftentimes women and men compete differently. I think when you put a group of women together, even if it's a competitive environment, if the rules of the game are not prescribed by sort of a masculine framework of power, you often find collaboration.

Julia R Davis:                        You'll get a winner at the end, some woman will rise to the top, but there's probably a lot more collaboration to get to the top than if you're in a situation where the only way is to compete and dominate those around. And, you know, obviously that's an over generalization. But I think that's one of the things at play.

Lauren Schiller:                  So your hope was that by going to an all-women college that you would eliminate all of those variables?

Julia R Davis:                        Yeah, totally. Because, I will say I went to an all-girl summer camp for 10 years, first as a camper and then as a staff member. It was so liberating. I mean, it was an extraordinary experience of finding myself and figuring out how to be in the world in a way that I could feel good about. Yeah, there were no men there, no boys there. It was a really free experience.

Lauren Schiller:                  Mount Holyoke, where Julia Rhodes Davis went to school briefly, was the first of the Seven Sisters All-Women's Colleges, which have collectively produced some of the most influential women of our time. Here's seven of them: Emily Dickinson, Grace Hopper, Jane Fonda, Hillary Clinton, Gloria Steinem, Helen Keller, and Zora Neale Hurston. I myself went to Vassar, but as one school t-shirt proclaims, 1969 was the year Vassar switched position, meaning they let guys in by the time I went there.

Lauren Schiller:                  But before that, in 1837, starting with Mount Holyoke, women's colleges were created because women weren't allowed to learn or be leaders in the same spaces as men. Since the founding of the Seven Sisters, families whose names were on buildings and museums sent their daughters to these schools, not necessarily to empower them, but to wrap them in the safety of high society. The plan was for white women who had means to go to school, meet well-connected friends and find a suitable husband from Harvard or Yale, you know, that MRS degree.

Lauren Schiller:                  It took 181 years to get from Mount Holyoke to the first female presidential candidate to be nominated by a major party. And, well, you know how that turned out. Julia Rhodes Davis, as chair of the board at Vote.org, is working to ensure that everyone is being represented at the ballot box and in the boardroom.

Lauren Schiller:                  Tell me about Vote.org. What do they do? Then let's talk about their board.

Julia R Davis:                        Vote.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan 501(c)(3) organization that seeks to bring about reflective democracy wherein the electorate matches the population. We do that through making it easier to vote, period. We have programs that are focused on leveraging technology as much as possible to do really high-impact Get Out the Vote campaigns and have a number of other programs that are sort of longer-lead focused.

Julia R Davis:                        One of the reasons we don't have electronic or online voter registration in most states in this country has a lot to do with sort of antiquated voter registration laws that, unlike a lot of other voter suppression activities, these are not actually insidiously antiquated, they just are literally antiquated. So over the course of the next several years we're focused on working with secretaries of state to shift those laws. But in the interim it's really about focusing on who's not getting to the polls and why, and taking a double-down effort to get them there.

Lauren Schiller:                  So as far as your role at Vote.org, you're the chair of the board and you had an opportunity recently to reshape what that board looks like and who was on it. Tell me what you did and why in terms of the makeup of that board.

Julia R Davis:                        I think at Vote.org the commitment is really to exceptional results. So we kind of look across the board at, "Well, what's the status quo or what are the norms in this space and how can we think and do differently?" So when it came to board composition, when you look at the fact that 80% of nonprofit board members are male, well, let's be exceptional there and create an all-female board.

Julia R Davis:                        Will this be in perpetuity? I don't know. But for right now it's working really, really well. We convene the new board in January of this year and it's a small board that are all female. We spent 10 hours in a room together doing all kinds of planning and thinking and debating and so forth, and then we had a dinner that followed on. At the end of it I reflected with a colleague, a fellow board member, "You know, normally at the end of any board meeting, whether I'm on the board or on the staff serving the board, I'm exhausted. This time I'm energized. What's the difference?" It took me a beat to realize that not having to facilitate and manage around gender politics in a boardroom was a very liberating experience.

Julia R Davis:                        So back to the idea of the incubator, the all-women spaces and incubator. Just having that experience and that awareness gave me tools to start looking at other boardrooms that I participate in, for example, and helping to bring some leadership to, "Let's imagine if this looked different." Because I actually don't think that mixed-gender boardrooms are the wrong way to go necessarily. I do think that in general people need more self-awareness about how they show up in a room. So whether you're a man who doesn't necessarily have self-awareness about talking over others or taking credit for other people's ideas, or you're a woman who perhaps doesn't listen very well. I think being in a space where we didn't have to spend a lot of energy making sure that all the voices were heard and so forth and so on, because there was just a more natural flow. It gave me a sense of what's possible. So experiencing the art of the possible in one space can actually help to bring examples of making that a possibility in other spaces.

Lauren Schiller:                  I mean, I'm trying to imagine if the chair of a board of, just pick any other organization, was like, "You know what? We're going to make this board all men." Which is happening, obviously. It's 80%.

Julia R Davis:                        I mean, it has been the norm forever.

Lauren Schiller:                  Right. Exactly. I mean, have you received any backlash for making this decision [crosstalk 00:16:56]?

Julia R Davis:                        I'm sure I will now that I've been on a podcast talking about it. We have not received to date any backlash, and the men that were on our board prior to this cycle were extremely supportive of the idea, so I will say that.

Julia R Davis:                        I think that we have to look at these things in a more global context. This sort of comes back to how I was talking about kind of the power analysis. So if men were marginalized, men would need all-men spaces, but they're not marginalized. Every system of power in place right now is still designed with the benefit of men. So until that's different, this is not a one-to-one comparison. Women need to build power to create a more equal society. Until that's not a need, I think all-women spaces are completely justified as one way towards that end.

Lauren Schiller:                  So thinking about the Vote.org all-female board as this sort of incubator idea, a testing ground and a place for new ideas to proliferate, both inside the board and out into the world, have you set sort of a success metric in terms of, is it working, when do you reevaluate, what happens next?

Julia R Davis:                        So there's a sort of goal-setting framework that's pretty common in tech or tech-inspired organizations, the OKR: Objectives and Key Results framework. So we're developing actual metrics for board performance. I think that that is the place where we'll look to first to see if we're making progress.

Julia R Davis:                        If you're asking is there a point at which we're going to say this all-female board thing was a success or a failure, I mean, I suppose that's an important question for us to be asking, but I think it's pretty early days for us to be framing it up that way.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah, or whether you want to ... if you have a seat open up, whether you're going to continue to look specifically for women, or-

Julia R Davis:                        Oh, we will. I would say for the foreseeable future, but definitely through 2020. I think it's too short a timeframe to expect to see any significant results being a two-year-old organization.

Lauren Schiller:                  Julia's feeling optimistic about her all-female board and I can see why. More women-only spaces are popping up so fast it's hard to keep tracking: women's coworking spaces, event spaces, gyms, networking organizations. In New York The Wing and [Cubby 00:19:44] Club, in San Francisco The Ruby and The Assembly. And while some are quietly growing their member base, others are getting admonished. The Wing for not being in compliance with New York's public accommodation law; a law ironically created to further gender equality. And remember when the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin announced it would host two Wonder Woman screenings where no men were allowed at its downtown location? They were accused of violating city equality laws. But as Glynnis MacNicol, cofounder of The List, a network and visibility platform for professional women from all industries, told the male host of the Story in a Bottle podcast, "As a man that has access to every place, why is it a problem to allow women a safe space?"

Lauren Schiller:                  I brought Julia in to talk with me about the Vote.org all-female board and women-only spaces in general. But she also recently took a job at the Partnership on AI for the Benefit of the People and Society. That's the full name of the organization.

Lauren Schiller:                  We've all heard that insidious things like bias and tribalism can be perpetuated by artificial intelligence, but if you've got someone like Julia empowered who applies an equity lens to everything she does, could that actually shift the power dynamic?

Lauren Schiller:                  But first, don't forget to hit that subscribe button. I'm Lauren Schiller. This is Inflection Point. We'll be right back.

Lauren Schiller:                  It's time for a shout-out to Care/of for supporting this show. What is Care/of, you might ask? It's a monthly subscription vitamin service that delivers completely personalized vitamin and supplement packs, right to your door. The vitamin aisle is overwhelming, but there's an easier way to figure out what's right for you. I took Care/of's online quiz, which asks you about your diet, health goals and lifestyle choices to find out what vitamins and supplements you specifically need. It only takes five minutes. For me, I wanted to get more sleep, give my nails a chance to get stronger, and have more energy. They account for all of that. Then, your vitamins get delivered right to your door in personalized, easy-to-remember, daily packs, perfect for a busy on-the-go lifestyle. And, your monthly subscription box can be easily modified at any time.

Lauren Schiller:                  When they arrive, it's so great. The Care/of packs have your name on them, and a little bit of inspiration to start your day. For 25% off your first month of personalized Care/of vitamins, visit TakeCareOf.com and enter "Inflection". That's TakeCareOf.com and enter "Inflection", for 25% off your first month of personalized Care/of vitamins.

Lauren Schiller:                  I'm Lauren Schiller and this is inflection point. I'm talking with Julia Rhodes Davis, the chair of the board of Vote.org and director of partnerships at the Partnership on AI.

Lauren Schiller:                  So, Julia, what is the Partnership on AI?

Julia R Davis:                        The organization is really ... it's a multi-stakeholder membership organization, which really means that it has representatives from corporations and from civil society, from academic research institutions and others, all of whom are working together to really shape the future of artificial intelligence. From my perspective, this is really the frontier of society. There's so much we don't know, and I think early indications of the impact that technology can have on society suggests that we're in for a ride and we really do need to play a more proactive role in informing and designing technology so that it does benefit people and does as little harm as possible, I guess is the way I can say that.

Lauren Schiller:                  So when you said there's already been some indications that there could potentially be harm, are you thinking of a specific example?

Julia R Davis:                        I mean, you could really point to our current democracy in the United States as an example of at least technology broadly that is in some ways supported by aspects of AI technology. I mean, Facebook was used as a platform and by a foreign power to influence our Democratic election in 2016. That is a pretty significant thing that's happened.

Julia R Davis:                        I think that there are a lot of questions in general right now about, you know, for an organization or company who has previously thought of itself as this neutral utility of being a platform to connect people when it can be used for such insidious ends, what is the responsibility of that company to mitigate that risk? I think that's an extremely important question that should be extrapolated to the entire technology industry and to those of us in and around it. What are our responsibilities to society at large?

Lauren Schiller:                  Can you define artificial intelligence? I mean, is it always some sort of human manifestation or human impersonation? What is it?

Julia R Davis:                        That's a great question and you'll get a million different answers to it depending on who you ask. I think first of all it's worth noting I don't have a technical background. I came into this sort of intersection of technology and society in my career about five years ago and have increased my knowledge hundredsfold as a result of working closely with technologists. So I have a different answer than someone who, say, got a PhD in computer science. But in general, this is a very broad term that I think now media has even further muddied the waters generally, because a lot of folks don't understand the technology, so they're trying to put words to it that don't necessarily get us very far in terms of understanding.

Julia R Davis:                        I think it's an umbrella term that really speaks to sort of making machines more intelligent. What I mean by that is, I think in its very basic sense, a computer that can run a program that has some similarities to a decision-making process could be considered artificial intelligence. So, in fact, your entire smartphone runs on all kinds of "artificial intelligence". Really what that means is there are a number of decision trees that are programmed into the different applications on your phone. The thing that supercharges this technology is that much of these formulas or algorithms as they're known in technical parlance actually adapt over time.

Julia R Davis:                        I think one thing for everyone to understand about AI is this is not a fixed too. So unlike a hammer and a nail, they are a hammer and a nail and you really can't change their form very easily. When you're a user of a smartphone or a user of any kind of AI technology at all, your use of that technology actually changes how that technology operates. So we have this iterative relationship with technology that I think few users understand. I think we should all feel more empowered by that, actually.

Julia R Davis:                        When you choose to use Facebook in a particular way to click on an ad or not, you're actually informing Facebook in the future of how it should relate to you. That can sound scary, but I also think it can sound really empowering and I think that the latter is a better relationship that we should start to cultivate with our technology if we're going to have a better future around it.

Lauren Schiller:                  The thing that I'm trying to understand about the role of AI in the human world and how humans are already interacting with each other is how whoever is sort of setting this technology loose influences the way that it interacts with the world and how that might either magnify or reduce the bias that is already in the world, be it racial, gender, pick one.

Julia R Davis:                        Yeah. So this is a huge topic and a really important one.

Lauren Schiller:                  We're going to solve it today, Julia.

Julia R Davis:                        Yes, please. There are a lot of efforts in the technical community to mitigate and solve for the ways in which data carries bias and can further bias algorithms and therefore technology systems. There are unbelievable examples of early apps that were ... I think there was a health app that was put out early on that had been built entirely by a male engineering team and had zero acknowledgement of menstruation as a regular part of the health that women experience on a monthly, daily basis. So those oversights are sort of the most obvious examples of the ways in which who builds the technology and how they think and who's around the table really informs society.

Julia R Davis:                        I think that we have to think about it in a number of different ways. I actually am really excited about my work at Partnership on AI, because there is a deep recognition on the part of the organization that we have to have a diverse set of voices and stakeholders around the table when we are making decisions about what this technology is going to do and how it's built and designed and so forth.

Julia R Davis:                        I think that there's a long way to go in terms of being able to sort of have more practical ways that engineers in a room can kind of have a checklist that helps them recognize where their own biases might be and how to mitigate them in a technical capacity.

Julia R Davis:                        Then, there's a whole body of work around the pipeline issue and the fact that you have far fewer women in STEM, and though that's changing over time, I think it's a slow process. You have a far fewer number of people of color in STEM as well for all kinds of reasons. So there are many, many efforts to address these different ways in which bias can show up in technology. I think it's important for technology creators to bridge the gap, to sort of shift the systemic issues that contribute to the fact that most technologists are male, for example. That's going to take time. So what do we do in the interim and what are the incentives that we have at our fingertips to kind of shift that landscape?

Lauren Schiller:                  Man. It seems like with every new innovation it's an opportunity to get ahead, but it's also just this opportunity to just make it worse.

Julia R Davis:                        Yeah. I heard a really compelling conversation between Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, partner at Greylock, et cetera, I think most people know who he is, and Kara Swisher, who's a really fantastic media editor, I guess, and host of the Recode podcast. They were in a public conversation at a conference in San Francisco and they ... Kara was really pressing Reid on, "Why is it that tech companies so often fail to identify unintended consequences and address them before they become the problematic unintended consequences of, say, an intervened election or something like that?"

Julia R Davis:                        Reid's response, it's on the record, is, "When you have a homogenous group of young, largely white, regularly affluently-raised men around a table building a product, this is a group of people who haven't lost very much in their lives, so they're not all that familiar with what it looks like to be on the losing end of an unintended consequence." I mean, that has just sat with me at the front of my mind ever since I heard that conversation. I mean, it certainly speaks to something I've believed for a long time, but to hear it from Reid Hoffman sort of put some teeth to it in a way.

Julia R Davis:                        I think that that should be reason enough to really push for more diverse rooms, whether it's the engineering room as it were, or the boardroom.

Lauren Schiller:                  We need AI to recognize all different kinds of people right now, but we don't have people working on AI that recognize all kinds of different people right now. So how do we get where we need to be, given where we are in this moment? How does your equity lens that you put on everything you see tie into the work that you're doing with Partnership on AI?

Julia R Davis:                        I think that there's two angles to an answer, or there are two different kinds of answers here, one of which I can speak to more directly and one of which is worth mentioning that it's worthy work that other people are doing.

Julia R Davis:                        Representation among engineers matters tremendously if we are going to solve for a more, both inclusively designed and inclusively executed, if you will, technology. The issues of getting more women into technology spaces is huge and I think that there are a number of incredible organizations focused on that and we need to proliferate those efforts across the board. This has to be a serious focus of every technology company, of every academic institution, of ever undergraduate program, et cetera. So that's a huge undertaking that I fully support and I'm so grateful for people who dedicate their work to that.

Julia R Davis:                        At Partnership on AI, I am looking at this question right now in terms of who is our current membership. We have just over 70 members currently and they represent corporations, they represent think tanks, they represent academic labs, research labs, also human rights organizations, advocacy organizations. There's more representation from some parts of sectors and less from others. There are certain constituents who are more and less represented. So I'm very actively trying to understand whose voice is at the table and whose voice is missing and how do we balance who's around the table. That's really at the forefront of my mind in day eight of my job as the director of partnerships.

Julia R Davis:                        We have an institutional commitment, both in terms of our executive director, Terah Lyons, who comes out of the Obama White House, as well as our board to really make sure that our multi-stakeholder organization is representative of and represented by a diverse set of stakeholders, and more to come on that. I think we're doing a good job and I think there's more improvements that we can make in terms of, you know, to get back to sort of the impetus for the question, "How do we make sure that AI is built for and by everyone?"

Lauren Schiller:                  Most of us move through the world with blind spots. Those blind spots are typically created where we grew up and by the stories we were told. Julie Rhodes Davis seems to be called to make places of power blind-spot-free so everyone's story is represented. Where did her obsession with representation come from?

Julia R Davis:                        I come from a long line of change-makers, especially on my mother's side of the family. My mother's family is from North Carolina. Back in the turn of the 20th Century, my great grandfather was one of the leaders around opening the first school for black children in Pender County, North Carolina. And as a result, my grandmother, his daughter, grew up with the Ku Klux Klan regularly visiting the house to intimidate the family, my family, and to try to get them to close the school down.

Julia R Davis:                        Family story goes, you know, hard to fact check this one, but my great-grandfather would regularly go out and meet the Klan and just stand there with actually a shotgun in his hand and just acknowledge them but not kowtow. The line was, "I'll see you in church on Sunday."

Julia R Davis:                        That translated to my grandmother and grandfather participating a lot in Civil Rights marches in Louisville, Kentucky where they raised their family and where my mother grew up. My mother has gone on to build a really impressive institution that trains progressive religious leaders to help bring about a more just and equitable society.

Lauren Schiller:                  What's it called?

Julia R Davis:                        Auburn Seminary. So with that background, you wonder where does technology fit in.

Lauren Schiller:                  Well, even before we get to where does technology fit in ... I mean, as far as you growing up, and that's obviously ... it's sort of baked into your growing up experience and the stories of your family and stuff like that, but have you personally experienced your own ... I mean, you're a white woman, but have you experienced your own inequity or anything you'd care to share that might also have influenced your trajectory? Like the first time you were like, "Hey, that's not fair."

Julia R Davis:                        I wish I could remember the first time. I mean, I think the most ... I mean, first of all, I remember seeing a movie, I think I was probably seven or eight years old, I can't really remember. It was called Class Action. I said to my parents, "I want to be a litigator," once I saw that movie. So I think very early on I kind of understood that there was a way in which standing up for what's right and being a precocious young person and girl was somehow subversive.

Julia R Davis:                        I was really politicized really early. I mean, I remember Clinton and Bush running against each other and really feeling very strongly that Bill Clinton should win the election, and I was relatively young. So certainly I was aware of politics, I felt sort of engaged by politics, I was writing current even articles in the seventh grade about politics. I think abortion actually ... abortion access was the first issue that really hit home for me, just in that I remember hearing male relatives speaking about abortion access as though they had any right to any opinion whatsoever. I remember being at a family function and I was probably 16 or 17 years old, talking to 10 fully grown male uncles and grandfather, all of whom were anti-choice, and basically just holding the line and arguing sort of every angle of the point, but ultimately, not willing to see ground around reproductive rights.

Lauren Schiller:                  How did you handle that?

Julia R Davis:                        You know, righteous anger is a good thing, Lauren. I mean, I think on some level I do feel in my bones what is right. Bodily autonomy is something that we all need. It is a human right. The fact that there are women in this country and around this globe who literally every day do not have full control over their bodies is unreal. It's a horrifying thing.

Lauren Schiller:                  Since you brought up abortion and pro-choice/anti-choice, are your parents ... are you guys in the same camp?

Julia R Davis:                        Oh hell yeah.

Lauren Schiller:                  Okay. It's just the uncles. It's always the uncles.

Julia R Davis:                        Exactly. Again this is why I sort of put it in the frame of bodily autonomy. The my mind, the political issue is about controlling women. It has nothing to do, really, with the individual case or what is claimed.

Lauren Schiller:                  I probably should know what this means, but what does it mean to pray with your feet?

Julia R Davis:                        Oh, it's shorthand, I think, for the behaviors we engage in. How we show up in the world I think is the evidence for our beliefs. So if you believe in justice and equality for all, what are you doing to, in the real world, to bring those beliefs about? Quite frankly, if you are pro-life, what are you doing to live that value?

Julia R Davis:                        I mean, this is where I think language really matters. The religious right, the conservative right that sort of started in the Reagan era and built power through Jerry Falwell's church and so forth, they did a masterful job of claiming language. But if you don't stand up for people on death row who have not gotten a fair trial and who are there because of racism and because of xenophobia, that is not pro-life to me. If you put the life of a woman behind a nonentity, that's not pro-life to me either. Quite frankly, if you put your ... let's go down the list, and there are much more articulate people than I on this subject, but the effects of climate change ... is killing our planet and really changing the course of the lives of our collective children. The right has done nothing to preserve life in that regard.

Lauren Schiller:                  I'd love to know what the best advice that you've ever been given is about how to find and be your authentic self.

Julia R Davis:                        You know what's interesting? I've gotten unbelievable amounts of wonderful, wise advice over the years. I've had an incredible access to women of all ages who've played tremendous roles in terms of mentorship and advice-giving and wisdom, both in sort of more formal settings and also just friends around the dinner table.

Julia R Davis:                        At the end of the day, the thing I've learned, it's not someone else's advice, the thing I've learned is any amount of advice is only as good as how much work you're willing to do yourself; how much work I've been willing to do myself. I think everybody's sort of demons are different in a way, but I guess my take on that is you have to find ways to internalize your wins and really fundamentally believe that you are enough just the way you are.

Lauren Schiller:                  Julia Rhodes Davis created her own all-woman space in the boardroom for Vote.org and is willing to give it some time to see if it not only feels good, it does good. As the director of partnerships for the Partnership on AI, Julie is making sure diverse voices are at the table when it comes to who and what technology is used for.

Lauren Schiller:                  I want to hear your stories of how empowerment has led to power. Tell us about a moment when you were empowered by going to our Facebook group, The Inflection Point Society, or go to InflectionPointSociety.org. I'm Lauren Schiller and this is Inflection Point.

Lauren Schiller:                  That's our Inflection Point for today. All of our episodes are on Apple Podcasts, RadioPublic, Stitcher and NPR One. Give us a five-star review and subscribe to the podcast. Know a woman with a great rising-up story? Let us know at InflectionPointRadio.org. While you're there, I invite you to support Inflection Point with a monthly or a one-time contribution. Your support keeps women's stories front and center. Just go to InflectionPointRadio.org.

Lauren Schiller:                  We're on Facebook at Inflection Point Radio. Follow us and follow me on Twitter @laschiller. To find out more about the guests you heard today and to sign up for our email newsletter, you know where to go: InflectionPointRadio.org.

Lauren Schiller:                  Inflection Point is produced in partnership with KALW 91.7 FM in San Francisco and PRX. Our story editor and content manager is Alaura Weaver. Our engineer and producer is Eric Wayne. I'm your host, Lauren Schiller.

Speaker 3:                              Support for this podcast comes from the Corporation For Public Broadcasting.

Speaker 4:                              From PRX.

 

Season 8 Trailer: "Empowerment"

It’s 2018 and women are more empowered than ever. But how do we turn that into actual power?

We’re living in the era of the Women’s March, #MeToo, the surge of women in politics and t-shirts proclaiming “the future is female.”

Then again, Roe vs Wade is under threat of being overturned, confessed sexual harassers get standing ovations at comedy clubs, and female political candidates of all parties are threatened and harassed on a daily basis.

This season, the podcast Inflection Point with Lauren Schiller is taking a journey into the whole “empowerment” thing and how that turns into actual power. Lauren will go way past the buzzwords, asking questions like:

How did we get to the double standards women live with today?

Are women-only spaces preparing women for leadership... or are they keeping women cloistered?

Is there a place in the world where women, especially women of color, genuinely have power without living on the margins?

And explore what’s possible when women are really in charge…

And what can go wrong…

Check out the new season of Inflection Point with Lauren Schiller from KALW and PRX. And subscribe!

A Brief But Spectacular Conversation with Steve Goldbloom, Flossie Lewis and Mahogany L. Browne

After Brief But Spectacular creator Steve Goldbloom filmed 94-year-old retired English teacher Flossie Lewis and “Black Girl Magic” poet activist Mahogany L. Browne, their short segments on PBS NewsHour went unexpectedly viral. Although they come from entirely different backgrounds, the two women share a deep passion for language and an appreciation of its power to heal and to harm. Join our live conversation, recorded at the Commonwealth Club to learn how, despite our differences, we can find connections that bring us together.

TRANSCRIPT

Lauren Schiller:                  From KALW and PRX, this is Inflection Point, stories of how women rise up. I'm Lauren Schiller. I've always believed that when you share the story of great women, everyone wins. So that's why I want you to know about a new podcast called Great Women of Business. They focus on the little-known details of the well-know women you're always hearing about, classics like Coco Chanel, Martha Stewart, and Julia Child.

Lauren Schiller:                  Great Women in Business explains how Debbi Fields started her empire at age 20. Plus, you may never look at tupperware the same way again. With captivating and well-researched stories, each episode takes you through the harrowing journeys and struggles that led these women to greatness, as well as the business principles she utilized. Find the 12-episode series of Great Women of Business on your favorite podcatcher, or visit parcast.com/business to start listening, that's parcast, P-A-R-C-A-S-T.com/business.

Lauren Schiller:                  Just as we are kicking off the summer and I was thinking about the next season, the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco called me up to ask if I would moderate an upcoming panel. They are the nation's oldest and largest public affairs forum and every year present hundreds of forums on topics ranging across politics, culture, society, and the economy. The forum they called me about would feature the creator of Brief but Spectacular that airs on PBS NewsHour and of which I am a great fan.

Lauren Schiller:                  Steve Goldbloom and two of his most popular guests, Flossie Lewis, age 94, reminded me of my grandmother and all my brilliant great aunts, and award-winning poet Mahogany Browne, who wrote the sensational poem Black Girl Magic. They asked if I'd be available to moderate a live conversation between these seemingly different people about how despite our differences, we can find connections that bring us together.

Lauren Schiller:                  Obviously I agreed immediately. The evening finally arrived this August at her beautiful venue on the Embarcadero in San Francisco and began with a 15-minute excerpt from a film about Flossie Lewis by Steve Goldbloom and his team. So without further ado, I present a special episode of Inflection Point featuring this conversation at the Commonwealth Club of California. So we just watched this excerpt from a short documentary about you, Flossie. How does it feel to see your name in lights?

Flossie Lewis:                      It makes me feel like a fraud.

Lauren Schiller:                  Why?

Flossie Lewis:                      Because there were teachers who made me a teacher and colleagues who kept me honest. And I'd like to mention their names wherever they are.

Lauren Schiller:                  Okay.

Flossie Lewis:                      At Lincoln High School Marian Shepherd, at Lincoln High School, Genie A. Ecloff* at Lincoln High School ... Oh, I'm trying to think of a few more people, but they escape me now. At Lowell High School, Joanne Stewart*, who is still with me, and we still talk about teaching and books. At Lowell High School there was Maurice Anglenda* , there was Barbara Bates*. Thank you, Leanne Torlikson*. Thank you, Gwen Fuller. And I've left out so many. *Spellings may not be correct

Lauren Schiller:                  Always.

Flossie Lewis:                      But for me to receive all the credit when I know that every name I mentioned was as good as I shall ever be, and I still hear the sound of Genie A. Ecloff's middle English. Her middle English was better than any prof that I ever had. She taught me this sound of Chaucer. And I'm thinking of Joanne Stewart, who was littler than I am, but had as great a wallop. And I'm eternally grateful for what they taught me.

Flossie Lewis:                      And I'm grateful to this company because there is such a thing as teachers who aren't recognized. And there is such a thing as teaching. And I beg your pardon, there is such a thing as good books that deserve to be taught. I'm a little bit disenchanted with the Internet. And of course I don't like anything about Twitter.

Lauren Schiller:                  Does anyone?

Flossie Lewis:                      And not because our president is such a practitioner.

Steve Goldbloom:             Of course she went viral.

Flossie Lewis:                      But to think that we have come to the point where we accept Twitter as a form of composition is moving in the direction of duck speak in 1984. Thank you very much for the moment.

Lauren Schiller:                  A cautionary tale. Well, Steve, will you tell us a bit about how Brief But Spectacular got started? What is it that you're hoping for when people see these glimpses into other people's lives?

Steve Goldbloom:             Sure. Well, first I have to pick up on a theme, which is, Flossie, about collaboration and credit. I'm up here, but there's other people I have to mention. Zach Land-Miller, I don't know where he is, but where is he? There he is, my long-time producing partner from episode #1 makes Brief with me, and he does about 15 different jobs in one; Melissa Williams who runs my production company Second Peninsula, and she helped produce this event and countless others; and lastly is PBS NewsHour because if it was not for PBS NewsHour, nobody's up here. And two people I want to call out. Mike Rancilio is the general manager. He's here. And Sara Just is the executive producer of NewsHour, and she commissioned and greenlit this show over three years ago, and I'm eternally grateful to you for doing that. So thank you.

Steve Goldbloom:             But the intention, as you said, was always to invite viewers to walk in somebody else's shoes. And we in the beginning felt a lot of pressure to book these big guests. So we went after Alec Baldwin, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Marina Abramović. And people were pretty excited to see them. But what has been heartwarming to learn from doing the series is to see the audience's overwhelming response to people that they didn't know. And the two best examples of that are Flossie and Mahogany, by the way, the two best names we've ever had on the show, Flossie and Mahogany.

Steve Goldbloom:             And all the accident involved in how we met also melts my heart. I met Flossie completely at random in her retirement home. We were shooting a movie with Rita Moreno, and we literally bumped into her and just knew she was an original force of nature. And I said, "Will you talk to me?" And she said, "Sure, I'll talk to you."

Lauren Schiller:                  My understanding is she said, "Now, what are you doing here?" 

Steve Goldbloom:             Yeah, "Who are you? Why are you here?" So I explained myself, and then I had always wanted to interview somebody about life in their 90s. That had been something I'd wanted to do. And as we were talking with Flossie, Zach and I got this rush of adrenaline that you know as a journalist too, and I got the same feeling with Mahogany, which is, "Oh my God, people are going to see this. People are really going to see this."

Steve Goldbloom:             And it was halfway through the interview we just looked at each other and said, "We have to get out of the way, and we have to go home, and we have to represent this person's story." And we just had a hunch that people were really going to spread this thing around. And they both reached millions within a day. And that just doesn't happen with everyone. I'd like it if it did, but it doesn't, so that's what they have in common: They're both truly original voices.

Lauren Schiller:                  I wanted to ask you, Flossie, I mean, you have a platform now. You have a platform about growing old with grace. So now that you have millions of people viewing you and hundreds in this room, is there anything ... not to put you on the spot. What do we all need to know? What is it you would like us to be aware of that we should talk about? Because nobody wants to talk about getting old.

Flossie Lewis:                      I want us to be aware of how tyranny asserts itself, how it comes to be. And I'm thinking now of a book by Professor Stephen Greenblatt, who was one of my profs. The name of the book is Tyranny. It came out in 2018. There were lots of authorities on Shakespeare, but he's outstanding. Sometimes he's a little bit ... he sells too many books, so that makes people suspicious, but he's worth the read. And in Tyranny he takes the great tragedies that Shakespeare has written and shows that the tyrant doesn't make himself. He needs enablers. He needs agitators. He needs people to push him. He needs people who whisper things in his ear. It may be a Steve Bannon. It may be a bunch of witches. The witch is in the eye of the beholder, the witches in the self as well.

Flossie Lewis:                      And to think about that book and remembering Shakespeare the way I taught it is to make me a better teacher and is to make me able to say, look at what we have today. Who are or who were his enablers? Who were his agitators? Why did they push him into the position he now occupies, and what's the answer to getting rid of him with some degree of our dignity? So I hope that answers the question.

Lauren Schiller:                  So that is actually a great setup for Mahogany because the role of poetry in telling the stories of the tyrants, and the saviors, and the angels, and the devils, and the truth, just telling the truth, as a poet I'm wondering for you, Mahogany, can you feel a poem coming on? How do you know when it's time to tell something through poetry?

Mahogany Browne:         I no longer write from inspiration only. For the past I guess 10 years I've been practicing every day writing and just what does that mean to exercise the muscle as a writer. I mean, I write every day about everything. I'm writing about the cigarette lady in Brooklyn. I'm writing about the fact that it cost $15 to get to Staten Island and who wants to go there on purpose. I'm writing ... That's just like one way.

Lauren Schiller:                  It's not 25 cents anymore?

Mahogany Browne:         No.

Lauren Schiller:                  What happened? All right.

Mahogany Browne:         So I have these just like everyday moments. Like it's you're talking about you're writing history as it's happening because the poets and the writers, those are the first historians. So the poem really happens when I read it into the space with other people and I see how it affects them. And then I think, okay, so I've worked on the craft of it, and I know that it needs to be said, and now I know like I have to like finesse it and make sure that it can stand alone whether I'm here or not. So usually it takes two different settings--the writing is one, which I do every day for an hour a day, even on Twitter. And I-

Flossie Lewis:                      I knew it. I saw your face. I knew it. I knew it.

Lauren Schiller:                  Okay, I will just say you're the one redeeming quality on Twitter.

Mahogany Browne:         I love it, but I can admit that like if you have a bad timeline, it could be trash. You just have a moment where you're like, "Who gave you Internet access? Net neutrality for everyone but you." So, yeah, I think when the poem hits the air, that's when I realize this poem is super necessary. Also when I'm scared, I'm realizing that a poem is happening.

Flossie Lewis:                      So, Mahogany, you and I are going to get together, and you are going to show me your Twitter fold.

Mahogany Browne:         Done.

Flossie Lewis:                      Okay?

Mahogany Browne:         Yes.

Flossie Lewis:                      That's a deal.

Mahogany Browne:         We're going to record it. That too will go viral. It's going to be good too.

Steve Goldbloom:             Yeah. Perfect. That's our next episode.

Lauren Schiller:                  There you go, a promise.

Steve Goldbloom:             We'll be there.

Lauren Schiller:                  It's that Brooklyn-Oakland thing, I'm telling you. So we want to show the clip of you reading or speaking, I should say--I'm reading Black Girl Magic, you're speaking Black Girl Magic--this poem that you wrote, which I would say actually reads two different ways. When I read it on the page and when I hear you say it, the power in your voice is so incredible, and everyone is going to get to experience this in a moment. Is there anything that you want to say about that poem before we show it, which is a weird thing to say, before we show your poem?

Mahogany Browne:         It speaks for itself.

Lauren Schiller:                  Okay. I agree.

Steve Goldbloom:             I agree.

Lauren Schiller:                  Okay. Can we play that?

Mahogany Browne:         https://www.pbs.org/newshour/brief/172844/mahogany-l-browne

Lauren Schiller:                  it's brilliant.

Mahogany Browne:         Thank you. That day was funny because I was late, and we did it in this library in Brooklyn at Pride Institute.

Steve Goldbloom:             We were going to JFK.

Mahogany Browne:         Yes.

Steve Goldbloom:             And we almost didn't make it in time. And you gave us one take and said, "That's it."

Mahogany Browne:         Yes.

Steve Goldbloom:             I hoped ... I looked at Zach. I said, "Did you get it all?" And he said, "Yeah," because that's all we have.

Mahogany Browne:         He was like, "Do you want to do the other thing?" I was like, "No. We're done."

Steve Goldbloom:             Yeah. You left it on the floor.

Flossie Lewis:                      You know, this kid and I could have hit it off.

Lauren Schiller:                  So I, in Poetry Magazine, which a poet pointed me to, you called this poem a triumphant and explosive war cry.

Mahogany Browne:         Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Lauren Schiller:                  And in it you're directly addressing black girls. But yet I am clearly not a black girl, but I also feel like you're talking to me so that I can understand how it might feel. And I wonder as you ... Let's talk about that poem specifically. Are you thinking in both those terms? Is it about 'I want other people to understand where I'm coming from'? Or is it about 'I want you to know I know where you're coming from too'?

Mahogany Browne:         I wrote that poem, when I said "war cry" in the Poetry Magazine essay, I was really speaking about how the poem came to be, which was going to these community rallies and seeing the mothers of the slain victims of police brutality stand up and be there for everyone. And they asked poets all the time to share a poem. And a lot of heart-wrenching poems happened, but I just wanted a moment of redemption to say that I see you, and also I see myself, and also I see my daughter. So when I wrote the poem, I was clear that I just wanted to have a moment of joy even though we are surviving trauma. What does resilience look like?

Mahogany Browne:         And I think when people who are not black find joy in it, that is the moment of humanity. That is when you are seeing someone see themselves, revel in themselves, and that is a joyous moment, and that's where our connection is. The first thing I did wrong was look at the video and then look at the comments section. Oh, it hurt my heart. The first thing I saw was like, "What about white girl magic?" And I was like, "Really?" 

Mahogany Browne:         Like, you have America, mama. You all right. You're good. You're good. We've got two minutes, 15 seconds. Give me this. But really it was just the moment of here we are making space. Here I was trying to make space where it felt like there was none, right? And that's not true. If I'm honest, my pillars are Gwendolyn Brooks, and June Jordan, and Audre Lorde, and  Ntozake Shange. And those black women writers make, made space for me to be able to even say that, to even find the articulation of what it looks like to love yourself when everything around you says don't.

Mahogany Browne:         So when I see people loving that poem and not being a person of African or African-American descent, that is what it's supposed to do. It's supposed to show you what self-love can look like in a time where love is very hard to present itself.

Lauren Schiller:                  Well, it's also interesting just you talking about, both of you talking about people who come before you. And I will say that is one of the things that I do like about Twitter is that it leads you to people you might not otherwise discover. So if I follow who you follow, then I'm going to learn a bit more about where you're coming from.

Lauren Schiller:                  But I guess Twitter leads us to the question of polarization, and difficult conversations, and everyone getting into their own camps. And I wonder--I mean, this is really a question for all of you, and whoever would like to answer it first--how do we have these hard conversations without being at each other's throats? How do we open those doors?

Flossie Lewis:                      You start in the classroom where if the kids are going to tear at one another, you still have some authority to say, "Cool it." You start with a book that dares to touch on some of these issues. You start with a poem by Gwendolyn Brooks called Abortion, where the black mothers says, "I loved every one of you, but I couldn't feed all of you." And that's hard to take in the light of so many stereotypes because black women don't have as many abortions as white women do, and not alone because they can't afford them. So I think you start with the classroom. You start with books that you think not only should be read but that you want to teach because you have something to say about them. And then you fight it out.

Lauren Schiller:                  And how do you do that civilly? Because that's, I feel like, the skill that we all need to learn is how to find the common ground and stick to your point.

Flossie Lewis:                      You fight it out by taking a stand and letting the kid fight back, and you do that not only by office hours, you do it through composition. You do it through writing. And sometimes you have to lose a battle. I think one of the things that I learned early was that some of the kids I was teaching were 10 times smarter than I was. And once I recognized that, half the battle was over.

Mahogany Browne:         I love that idea of it starts in the classroom. I agree. I facilitate poetry workshops around the world, and the one thing I always return to with the young poet is, "I don't believe you. If you're going to write this, be honest. Don't write what you think I want to hear. Write what actually needs to be said." And that's where the hard conversations happen, when you're willing to stand up and say this thing that's super difficult, and it may not be the pleaser for the crowd, but it's necessary to start that pivot in how we deal with each other, and how we change ideas, and how we change movements. So, yeah, I love the classroom.

Flossie Lewis:                      See, you said, "I don't believe you." And I would say, "Watch out for the passive voice."

Mahogany Browne:         That's why you're the teacher.

Steve Goldbloom:             I have to say-

Lauren Schiller:                  I see a co-teaching collaboration in our future.

Steve Goldbloom:             I have to pick up something Flossie said. There's two books you should all get. First is Black Girl Magic. They should buy your book, and they should also buy a book by Flossie Lewis that I found on Amazon called Getting Engaged: Falling in Love with Your Paper, which you wrote in 1984. I got a copy of it on Amazon. And there's a stretch in the book where she ... By the way, it's all brilliant, but there's a stretch in the book where she talks about falling in love, falling in love with your paper, taking your paper out to dinner, making love to your paper, at one point you said.

Steve Goldbloom:             And here's the line she says, this is directly to the student, "I know you are sometimes stuck. You're tied to a paper you have to finish. You have this act to perform, and you want to get it done as quickly as possible. I repeat, don't. It's so boring. It's so boring to pretend to love. It's such a drag." Those are your words.

Flossie Lewis:                      Yes, it's so boring to pretend to love, yes, indeed.

Lauren Schiller:                  So I want to talk about this point of authenticity and what you really feel because I feel like we are living also in this time of totally curated personalities and that we all feel like we're not people anymore, we're brands. And we have to stand for something, and we have to look a certain way, and we have to be consistent about it or we get yelled at by other people on the Internet.

Lauren Schiller:                  How do you ... This may be a personal advice question, but how does a person stay authentic in the middle of all that pressure to be, I don't know, something they really aren't or that other people expect them to be?

Mahogany Browne:         Have a Flossie in your life. You really need a good tribe, and that means who are your circle of friends? Who do you check and balance with? Sometimes I get caught in the hype, or I could write a poem, and I think, "Oh, this person said it's amazing." And then I'll take it to a friend. I'm like, "What do you think?" And they're like, "Mmm." And I'm like, "Ugh. But he said it was great." But you need the circle of people who want you to push forward and be better. I think that's how you can be your most authentic self.

Mahogany Browne:         And also Instagram I find I feel like you feel about Twitter, I feel about Instagram, which is the curated brand. It's the perfect picture, the perfect filter. There's this filter app now where you can do this and make yourself skinnier. It's bananas, and of course I was like, "I just want to see." Oh my God, I'm a 2. That's insane. I deleted it. Don't worry.

Lauren Schiller:                  Does it work on like ankles?

Mahogany Browne:         It works everywhere.

Lauren Schiller:                  Everywhere.

Mahogany Browne:         But you look kind of like an ocean of a body instead of your actual. It's weird. But that said, I'm looking at those apps now, and I'm thinking the best way to stay authentic is to be honest with like our flaws and how we're changing. And you can love something today and not tomorrow. And you can like support someone and then find out they did something that is less desirable than humans need and say, you know what? Call that out instead of just strong and wrong. It's okay to be wrong. If we say that three times a day, we will feel much better. But then you also have to meet the "It's okay to be wrong" with "What am I going to do to make it better?"

Mahogany Browne:         You can't just walk in the wrong and it's like, "Oh, my flaws are so dope. I'm out here harming people with my flaws. It's all good because I said it three times today, so I'm okay." No.

Lauren Schiller:                  Right. Just live with it?!

Mahogany Browne:         Once you accept that it's a flaw, it's something that can be changed, then you have to accept the responsibility of how to make it better, how to do better.

Lauren Schiller:                  That sounds like good parenting advice too.

Mahogany Browne:         I have a twenty-year old, so we have these conversations often.

Lauren Schiller:                  Steve, through Brief But Spectacular it seems like you also have an opportunity to get past this sort of curated approach. It feels like when I see the stories that you produce, I feel like I'm seeing inside the person that is talking, that they really are presenting their true selves. How do you do that?

Steve Goldbloom:             We're always searching for that answer. That's what we're always looking for. And we were really lucky to meet Flossie and Mahogany. But now we have a science that we're using to find our new subjects. And so one of the things that we're doing right now with Brief but Spectacular is looking at some of the leading issues in the country like misuse of prisons, substance abuse, mental health. And we're going to areas in the country that are most underrepresented.

Steve Goldbloom:             And so to give you an example, last week Zach and I were in Tucson speaking with a young woman whose mother was deported, who raised her siblings and just graduated high school. We were the next day in Navajo Nation speaking with the lone female delegate on the Navajo Council about sexual abuse. The next day we were in Olympia, Washington, speaking to a mother whose son is incarcerated in 23-hour lockdown, has bipolar. He's bipolar.

Flossie Lewis:                      Oh my God.

Steve Goldbloom:             And we talked to her about the criminalization of mental health. By the way, we're only able to do this right now because of the Heising-Simons Foundation, whose mandate has been that we get outside the coast and tell these stories. And so what we're trying to do is plant a seed with people, find these original voices, and then come back to them.

Lauren Schiller:                  So actually on that note we have a question from the audience that says, "How will I know when I have a brief but spectacular moment? I'm in my late 60s and still waiting for it, dear Steve."

Steve Goldbloom:             "Dear Steve?" Okay. I have to say this because my parents are here. My wife is here. My dad's father is the namesake. When I was little, he lives in Nova Scotia, I would sneak out of synagogue, walk around the block, make it look like I'd been there the whole time. When I came back, he would say, "Brief but spectacular." That is the name. And he ... It's true. His name is Dick Goldbloom, and he's the 100th episode. We interviewed him on what it feels like to have memory loss or dementia, which he is experiencing now. So your brief but spectacular moment, the answer is I don't know. Email me, and make your video and make your voice known because we'll know it when we see it.

Lauren Schiller:                  But it feels like inside ourselves we should be able to recognize that too. Do you ever have a moment like that where you're like, "This is it?" Maybe it's black girl magic.

Mahogany Browne:         No. I have the moments when I'm telling the story and someone goes, "What?" And you're like, "Oh, that's odd? That's a lot?" And they're like, "How did you get out?" And I'm like, "I don't know. I just did this thing, and then I wrote this poem." And they're like inspired, and I did not know that it was brief but spectacular. Black Girl Magic wasn't even the poem they asked me for. So that's funny.

Steve Goldbloom:             That's right.

Mahogany Browne:         Yeah. You asked me for something else, and then I said, "Eh, I have this other thing I really feel good about. Can I do that?"

Steve Goldbloom:             Yeah. That's right.

Mahogany Browne:         So in the moment I didn't think of it as like, "This is it." I just thought, "It's just on my heart. I really want to share this, and hopefully it'll change someone's mind." And since it aired, I've received about five that I know of to my person account, five videos from five young girls, all ages 4th grade and lower. I don't know what age that is, but they like this. And they use the poem in oratorical contests now. And I literally am like balling on the side of a freakin' mountain watching someone send me ... And I'm like, "What is she doing?"

Mahogany Browne:         And then she starts this choreography, and she does like the voice. Like, when I say, "You are this," and she does it, and I'm like, "Are you kidding me? This is amazing." I'm going to cry now. Okay.

Steve Goldbloom:             Well, I have to say, we were typing, somebody asked us if Brief was on YouTube. And so we searched it, and we saw a couple of them on YouTube, and then I saw all these other videos called Brief but Spectacular on YouTube, and I was like, "What? What is this?" And I clicked them, and there are hundreds of user-generated videos from people around the country and saying-

Mahogany Browne:         Doing everything.

Steve Goldbloom:             ... everything. And I was like-

Lauren Schiller:                  There you go.

Steve Goldbloom:             ... I even had Sarah Jess, and I was like, "I don't know. I'd love to take credit for these videos, but we didn't shoot these. These aren't ours." So that has been one of the unintended consequences.

Lauren Schiller:                  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Steve Goldbloom:             It's beautiful, yeah. It-

Flossie Lewis:                      Steve, may I say something?

Steve Goldbloom:             Of course.

Flossie Lewis:                      She is a hard act to follow.

Steve Goldbloom:             So are you.

Mahogany Browne:         I'm staying with Flossie forever.

Flossie Lewis:                      But the world is hers. My world is passing. Her world is coming. And I think most of us realize that, and we will accept it gratefully and graciously very close.

Lauren Schiller:                  This is Inflection Point. I'm Lauren Schiller. This conversation with Steve Goldbloom, creator of Brief but Spectactular of PBS NewsHour and two of his most popular briefs, writer and teacher Flossie Lewis and poet and professor Mahogany L. Browne. It was recorded live at the Commonwealth Club in California on August 22, 2018. We'll be right back.

Lauren Schiller:                  Hey, there, it's Lauren. Before we get back to it, I want to let you know about our new Facebook group for everyday activists. If you're someone who wants to connect with other ordinary people seeking to make extraordinary change, come join The Inflection Point Society. Together we'll have important conversations and come away with simple daily actions to help each other rise up. Search for Inflection Point Society on Facebook or go to Facebook.com/groups/inflectionpointsociety.

Lauren Schiller:                  I'm Lauren Schiller, and this is Inflection Point. This conversation with Steve Goldbloom, creator of Brief but Spectacular on PBS NewsHour and two of his most popular briefs, writer and teacher Flossie Lewis and poet and professor Mahogany L. Browne. It was recorded live at the Commonwealth Club in California on August 22, 2018.

Lauren Schiller:                  I love that girls are sending you their videos because one of the things that I have been thinking about and has been sort of bothering me lately is that we have had a lot of talk of empowerment. And I want to know how are we going to get from empowerment to actual power? And what is that bridge? And how do we actually make change with the momentum that is being created around all these issues that we're tackling around racism and sexism and ageism, and add your ism? Fill in the blank.

Mahogany Browne:         I think mentorship is key. I also the young people, they have it on lock. They know the verbiage is changing so drastically and so quickly often times there is little grace when you're learning and relearning. But the young people have a great idea of the way in which we're going, and I'm talking high school, y'all. I'm talking middle school, just talking to young people about pronoun use and racial epithets.

Mahogany Browne:         They are on it, and they're super empathetic. They're super compassionate, and they're ready to like fight for what's right, which I think for some reason there was this lull. I don't know what it is. Maybe it was like reality TV, which I love. I just want people to know, I'm here for all of it, but it's anthropological research. It's research. But they like the ... But I don't know when the disconnect happened, whether it was like money, whether it was the crack epidemic, and then of course the generations that it affected. But right now, the time is now, and the youth, the young people who are writing, and speaking, and protesting, they have it on lock, so I think the power is already in their hands. It requires younger teachers to really just like show them the way, like open the door, make sure the door is open, right? Like Game of Thrones, hold the door--we're supposed to do that. That is our job, not like-

Lauren Schiller:                  [crosstalk 00:35:49]. Yeah.

Mahogany Browne:         Thank you. Not fight them on respectability, not fight them on civility. That doesn't matter when you're trying to get free. When you're trying to liberate a people, civility ain't going to work.

Lauren Schiller:                  So there is another question here about which poet should we turn to to feel like we can take their words and turn them into action? Who will inspire us to do that?

Flossie Lewis:                      Well, let's talk about gender issues or relationship between men and women. I think we start with some of the old fashion stuff. We dare to start with how Shakespeare treats men and women in love. We dare to start with Romeo and Juliet, and we dare to see how equal their relationship is and how much they're hemmed in by a society that won't let them love. But I think that language itself can be liberated. I know that sounds like a lot of malarkey, but it has worked for me. And I remember when I would teach Romeo and Juliet, and I would let the kids take over, and they would do the balcony. And I would have to separate them with hot water.

Lauren Schiller:                  You mean while they were kissing? [inaudible 00:37:20].

Flossie Lewis:                      No, they don't kiss in the balcony scene, but my kids did.

Steve Goldbloom:             I can't. Can I tell you, can I just say one things I've learned from Flossy, watching, rewatching the video just now with you? The scene in the cab, I'm so terrified in that car ride. I don't know if you know that, because I'll remind you, it was raining. I was worried about transportation, and I was worried the kids weren't going to show up. And I was worried that I was going to have wasted your time. And I was petrified in that car ride. And I remember there's a lot of silence. And I look to you and I said ... This is what you were wearing actually, and I said, "This is a beautiful whatever." And you said, "Don't make small talk."

Steve Goldbloom:             But it tells you everything you need to know about Flossie because it's the power of intention. When I called her even the other day and I said, "You've reached 100 million people. It just ran on NewsHour Friday night." And I said, "And the comment that keeps coming up is you inspire people and you remind them of teachers in their life."

Steve Goldbloom:             And you just said, "Let me internalize that. Let me think about that." And I thought, how long do we do that in the rapid form of communication or Twitter? How often do we just sit and think about what was just said? And so I've learned that from you. So thank you.

Flossie Lewis:                      Let's see what I have learned from you.

Steve Goldbloom:             Oh [crosstalk 00:39:06]. Wrap it up.

Flossie Lewis:                      But a gonif is always lovable. Don't use that term unless you are deeply for that person.

Steve Goldbloom:             Flossie called me a gonif. And-

Flossie Lewis:                      Yes, he is a gonif.

Steve Goldbloom:             Crook, thief in Yiddish. And I said, "That's not ..." But you said, "Because you steal my heart." That's what you said.

Lauren Schiller:                  Nice.

Steve Goldbloom:             I was so glad you said it because I was worried about that one.

Lauren Schiller:                  You didn't know this was actually a conversation about love, did you? It's actually what it's all about. So, Flossie, so I want to get back to this question that is so hard to talk about, which is growing old and growing old with grace, and you put it in your Brief but Spectacular story. How do you prioritize your time? How do you decide what you want to do each day as you think about the time you got-

Flossie Lewis:                      Well, if you live in a retirement community, there are activities. You can participate. You can sit. And if you sit, invariably you will fall asleep. But if you take an active part, we have a poetry class every Monday. And I work with the activity director. And we have a topic, a theme, and we have anywhere from 10 to 15 old ladies and some gentlemen who go back to find a poem that illustrates that theme. And if they can't, maybe they start writing themselves. And that's something to see at age 80 and 90 and getting up there.

Steve Goldbloom:             That's part of the film that we didn't show, which includes we were there for one of those poetry sessions, and it was unforgettable. And Flossie took a backseat to that one and really let the other residence shine, and-

Flossie Lewis:                      And were they ever good. And there was Hugh Richmond, who was dying of pancreatic cancer and said very clearly, "I've had a good life. I'm ready to go." And he, knowing that he would be dead in a few more days because, guess what, his doctors had given him permission, he could stand up and read [inaudible 00:41:44], Robert Frost, and make the room shake. He hadn't gotten yet close to, how shall I say, Derek Walcott, for example, whose poetry he would have loved too, or Langston Hughes, or Gwendolyn Brooks, or some of the other guys and girls.

Lauren Schiller:                  And this brings us to another audience questions, and I apologize, the original question was for Mahogany, which is how can we all learn to use poetry to get through hard times?

Mahogany Browne:         We had a poetic protest responding to the police brutality. And it is called Black Poets Speak Out, and that was with Jericho Brown, Sherina Rodriguez, Amanda Johnston, Jonterri Gadson, and myself. And it was a moment where all of these artist and poets and professors were like, "What are we doing? How do we respond? I feel like I'm going crazy. I feel like I don't understand. I feel silenced. I feel like I'm silencing myself." 

Mahogany Browne:         And we decided to do this initiative, which in turn still exists, and it is an archive of poetry written by all people from 40 years ago to two years ago. And I learned that poetry can be the balm that we require as citizens, as global citizens, as aware citizens, as human beings. There are times when we can't articulate the frustration. We don't know yet how to process what we're feeling. It just all feels kind of jumbled. Then you read the right poem, and it just kind of like clarifies. The room becomes still. I think someone else is doing a particular project for Poetry Review or Paris Review, Sarah Kay, who introduced us.

Steve Goldbloom:             The first episode we did it.

Mahogany Browne:         Mm-hmm (affirmative), and she did this ... She's doing it now, and you can find it on parisreview.com. And it's called Poetry Rx. And I think the basis is you ask. Someone sent in a letter: "I'm having heartbreak. What do I do?" And they prescribe a poem to read, and a specific poem, and it's really, it's such a great that you're in that moment of inarticulation, and you read that thing that thing that articulates it all, and you're like, "Oh, I'm not alone." And what does that mean to just not be alone, to not be the only one feeling this way and to know that there is, for lack of a better cliché, light at the other side of the tunnel? Gosh. Sorry.

Lauren Schiller:                  We're living in hard times. It's okay.

Mahogany Browne:         I know. That was a bad one, guys.

Lauren Schiller:                  Right. Poets are not supposed to make bad, like those cliché metaphors.

Mahogany Browne:         Yeah.

Lauren Schiller:                  Is that the ... Okay.

Mahogany Browne:         I was going to blame Twitter, and-

Lauren Schiller:                  No, no, no. It just gets ingrained in you. Sometimes you can't help it. "Dear Flossie," this is turning into an advice column, "why did you decide to get a PhD after you retired from Lowell? your PhD classmate Hillary."

Flossie Lewis:                      I'd like to answer that question. Because I was scared. The PhD, for me, was unfinished business. We had so many principals in the public schools, even in San Francisco, who were semi-literate as far as I was concerned. But they had their EdD, their doctor's degree in education. And I thought, "Well, I can do that. I can get a doctor's degree in education. I've been a teacher for a long time." But I took my sabbatical years at Cal, and since I was a teacher of English, I got to work with some of the loveliest, greatest people I've ever known in my life.

Flossie Lewis:                      And in my first sabbatical year, I met Professor AAlex Zwerdling, who died very recently and who opened my eyes to what the English language was all about. And in his class when I was already an experienced teacher, he gave me my first real taste of George Orwell, which wasn't 1984, but which was politics in the English language. And that made me a teacher, that I could see how you could lie, how you could twist, how you could kill with language. And even though I killed some of my kids by making them avoid the passive voice, it became I had something to hold onto to.

Flossie Lewis:                      And when I became disillusioned with the courses in education, I had by that time become something of a writer. I had some short stories published, and I found that I wanted the PhD in English, and I thought that when I had finished my work as a teacher in high school, I would go back as a student, and those were some of the richest years in my life. That's why I waited. I wasn't sure of myself. And when I was a little more certain, then I could take on the rigors of the PhD at UC Berkeley. And let me tell you, it was not easy. Even though I was a high school teacher, I'd get my composition slashed the way only the profs could do it.

Lauren Schiller:                  They're hardest on the good students, you know. You may have heard that.

Flossie Lewis:                      Taught me a lesson in humility too.

Lauren Schiller:                  Well, thank you so much. Thank you, Flossie, Mahogany, and Steve for joining us all this evening. I'm Lauren Schiller, and this meeting of the Commonwealth Club of California, the place where you're in the know, is adjourned. [inaudible 00:48:27]. Yeah.

Lauren Schiller:                  This conversation with Steve Goldbloom, creator of Brief but Spectacular on PBS NewsHour and two of his most popular briefs, writer and teacher 94-year-old Flossie Lewis and poet and professor Mahogany L. Browne, and me took place at the Commonwealth Club of California. Many thanks to them for inviting me to participate. I'll put a link to Brief but Spectacular and the Commonwealth Club on my website at inflectionpointradio.org.

Lauren Schiller:                  And while you're at it, remember to subscribe to Inflection Point. We're on Apple Podcast, Radio Public, Stitcher, and NPR1, and all your favorite podcatchers. I'm Lauren Schiller, and this is Inflection Point. That's our Inflection Point for today. All of our episodes are on Apple Podcast, Radio Public, Stitcher, and NPR1. Give us a five-star review and subscribe to the podcast.

Lauren Schiller:                  Know a woman with a great rising-up story? Let us know at inflectionpointradio.org. While you're there I invite you to support Inflection Point with a monthly or one-time contribution. Your support keeps women's stories front and center. Just got to inflectionpointradio.org. We're on Facebook at Inflection Point Radio. Follow us and follow me on Twitter at laschiller.

Lauren Schiller:                  To find out more about the guests you've heard today and to sign up for our email newsletter, you know where to go: inflectionpointradio.org. Inflection Point is produced in partnership with KALW 91.7 FM in San Francisco and PRX. Our story editor and content manager is Alaura Weaver. Our engineer and producer is Eric Wayne. I'm your host, Lauren Schiller. Support for this podcast comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Speaker 5:                              From PRX. 

 

 Photo taken at the Commonwealth Club of California, by Ed Ritger

Photo taken at the Commonwealth Club of California, by Ed Ritger

Stitch Fix Founder Katrina Lake gives the C-Suite a Makeover

At age 35, Stitch Fix founder Katrina Lake became the youngest female founder and CEO to take a company public in 2017. Stitch Fix is now worth over two billion dollars. She has not only changed the way many of us shop for clothes, but she’s also changing how we think about leaders. Find out she learned to embrace her history-making role as the youngest woman to take a startup to IPO.
 

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TRANSCRIPT

Katrina Lake:                       " I was almost like prickly about being a female CEO in the early days and I think it was at a time when you would see companies like Dropbox and AirBNB and whatever else and I was like, I just want to be a CEO and I don't need to be a female CEO, and I don't need to be the female CEO. "

Lauren Schiller:                  Meet Katrina Lake. If you've got a Facebook feed there's a good chance you've come across her online personal styling company, StitchFix. If you haven't come across this phenomenon it's like having a personal clothing stylist pick out clothes for you, ship them to your house and not complain when you send anything back. At age 35, in 2017, Katrina became the youngest female founder and CEO to take a company public. Stitchfix is now worth over $2 billion, and she got there by breaking the mold of what you might still typically think of when you think of leadership.

Katrina Lake:                       "I think a lot of the things that you think about as an entrepreneur, you think somebody who's like super risky and somebody who's going to stay up for all hours tinkering with something in their garage. Not that I didn't spend all hours doing StitchFix at some point, but you know, I don't think that I had like the typical traits of an entrepreneur. "

Lauren Schiller:                  Katrina has not only changed the way many of us shop with StitchFix, but she's also changing how we think about leaders. For one thing, you may have caught all the press hullaballoo over the picture of her from the Nasdaq IPO when she stood onstage with her young son on her hip unintentionally setting the tone for a new generation of women leaders. Her executive team is as close to a 50/50 gender split as you can get and now she plans to send a message intentionally about the importance of family leave because she's pregnant with her second child and is going to take a full 16-week maternity leave.

Katrina Lake:                       "I had to do the same research of trying to figure out who were the people before me that took a maternity leave when they were a public company CEO? Like, I mean, you can do the math. If I was the youngest female founder and I'm 35, you know, there's not going to be a lot of other examples out there of people who faced that, and so there's not a lot of precedent. So, somebody who now is raising young people and is thinking about like how the world that you see impacts who people become, there aren't great examples."

Lauren Schiller:                  I mean, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. Case in point, before starting her own company, Lake was convinced that someone somewhere would have developed a new vision for disrupting retail, but after meeting with hundreds of entrepreneurs she became convinced that the only way to find that company was to start it herself. I spoke with Katrina Lake onstage at Inforum at the Common Wealth Club to find out what makes her tick and how she turned this startup into a successful IPO.

 (LIVE CONVERSATION)

Lauren Schiller:                  I have to make a confession before we really get into it, which is that I had to change my clothes like 14 times before I got here.

Katrina Lake:                       I did too. It's okay.

Lauren Schiller:                  I don't know about all of you, but it was really hard to decide what to wear, especially when sitting down with a fashion entrepreneur such as yourself, but it made me start thinking about what the role of clothing is for women and men and the way that we thinks bout it and how it says who we are, and I'm curious what your thoughts are? Your entire business is around making sure that people are wearing stuff that they look good in and that they're comfortable in. How do you think about the role of clothing?

Katrina Lake:                       It was a major point of inspiration to me and I think two different angles. So, one, there are so few other categories where people really thoughtfully think about like oh, I'm coveting this and I want this and you think about something for weeks and you get inspired by it and I mean, there's so few other categories. Food is probably one of them also where you have the same emotional connection to it, but with clothing it's just one of these things that is so important in people's lives, and not in a materialistic way, but in this way that like you thoughtfully decide every day what you're going to put on your body and that means something. And, so, I think that made it very attractive to me because I think it's just this really interesting huge category that people weren't really thinking about what does technology bring to it and what's the next generation of it? I think the second element they're getting to a little bit is like it really does have an impact on who you are. I know this, and this was shared recently, but I'm now, I don't know, four or five months pregnant. I'm in that phase where you're like chubby but not pregnant yet.

Lauren Schiller:                  Nothing fits.

Lauren Schiller:                  Congratulations!

Katrina Lake:                       Nothing fits and it's such a good reminder of the humility of like how much I really appreciate when I have clothes that fit and when I know what I want to wear every day. The reality is if you're feeling great about who you are, if you're feeling confident about who you are, it really does impact all the touchpoints in your day. I think all of us know that feeling of when you're not quite feeling that way or the flip side is when you are and I think how electric that can be and I think in all these little micro moments in your day it can change your life of how kind you are to somebody, how kind you are to your kids, how outgoing you're going to be, how confident you are when you're at work doing something that's really important. For all those reasons I love that apparel was both super meaningful in people's lives and I think in these really small, but meaningful ways has an impact on people's lives every single day.

Lauren Schiller:                  What was happening in your life when you came up with the idea for StitchFix?

Katrina Lake:                       It's hard to say exactly when I came up with the idea, but I guess some history. Growing up as a ten-year-old, if you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I would have told you a doctor. It had never occurred to me that I should want to be an entrepreneur, I would be a good entrepreneur. You take all these, I forget what they're called, like a Myers-Briggs test. You take these tests when you're growing up and like zero of them told me I should be a entrepreneur. My mom was a public school teacher here in San Francisco for a long time. My dad was a doctor, but always in the university system. He was here at UCSF for probably over 20 years or so. There was not like an entrepreneurial bone in my body.

Katrina Lake:                       My journey was a little bit of an unconventional one where I worked at a consulting firm. I did that kind of out of indecision because I thought I wanted to be a doctor, but I wasn't ready to do that yet. I worked at a consulting firm and was lucky enough to kind of stumble into the retail and restaurant practice, and that is where both retail and restaurant I love because they're just these big meaningful categories.

Katrina Lake:                       The journey was more like I loved those categories and I was like, I want to work at whatever is going to be the future. I spent a bunch of time looking to join that company, and so I interviewed a bunch of places. I almost took a job at Starbucks. Ultimately, it didn't quite feel like that was exactly it and then I worked at a venture capital firm, thinking, okay, this is going to be a great way for me to meet the person who's going to create the future, so I went and met with 100 entrepreneurs in my two years there and didn't meet the person that I thought was going to be the future of retail, but got to meet 100 people who were all like pretty normal people who were not qualified to be an entrepreneur. I realized that any person could be this, and I think you get exposed to the Mark Zuckerberg and the Steve Jobs of the world and you don't have in your frame of reference that could be me. By meeting 100 people, you meet a lot of different types of people, so I realized I could do it. You know, I was really on this journey of I just want to work at whatever company is reinventing retail in the future and the formation of StitchFix was really just realizing that like, if I believe there is a different future out there, I could start it.

Lauren Schiller:                  Just create it. Just make your own future.

Katrina Lake:                       That was the beginning.

Lauren Schiller:                  Were you always a shopper? I mean, from an intellectual standpoint it was interesting to you, but in terms of your own personal, was that something that you either hated doing or loved doing?

Katrina Lake:                       Maybe both. I have a sister actually who's here. She's not the shopper either, but we have a sister who's the age in between us. She was a shopper and so she was the one who was definitely always the expert. She was the one taking the fashion risks. Natalie and I were probably more the followers in taking her hand me downs. What I still loved, and what I think even people who hate shopping can resonate with is there is nothing better than being able to feel like you have clothes in your closet that you love and there is nothing better than putting on an outfit and being like, this is a great look. Like, there is nothing better than that feeling. I really loved that and I loved the ways that clothing could contribute to that.

Katrina Lake:                       My middle sister literally will like, she would spend her free time looking at like the new arrivals on websites and that's not really how I spend my free time.

Lauren Schiller:                  Now you just have a company that has a combination of machines and people doing that for you.

Katrina Lake:                       Right. Well, and I think that's part of the inspiration too is there are people who love doing this and who are experts and know everything and in their free time love to do this, and wouldn't it be great to be able to create a job for people like that. That actually ended up being part of the inspiration too.

Lauren Schiller:                  How important was going to business school and creating this idea?

Katrina Lake:                       For me it was important because I wasn't this super risky entrepreneur type. I was never going to quit my reasonably well-paying job and have a gap on my resume. That was not something I was comfortable doing. For me, it was important because it created this two-year period of time where I could take this risk. I went to business school and my plan was to have a company off the ground, paying myself a salary, paying back my student loans the day I graduated, and if I wasn't able to have a business idea that was good enough that someone was going to give me money, if I wasn't able to have an idea that I wanted to do so that I would want to spend so far seven plus years on, then the worst case scenario is well, I have this MBA and I can go work at a great company. So, I saw it as kind of a risk-reduced way to start a company. For me, it was really important because I have a hard time imagining how else I would have been able to find kind of a two-year time period like that.

Katrina Lake:                       You know, I think that there's a network element that's somewhat valuable. The classes were great. It's so fun. I think, kind of like, probably the reason many of you are in this room, like getting to be an adult and go and learn is just like a really fun experience and getting to choose what you're going to learn. I definitely valued the experience, but the time was actually the part, I think, that was most valuable to me.

Lauren Schiller:                  Well, I'd love to talk a little bit more about this idea of risk because, you mentioned this a few minutes ago, that people have this idea in their head that entrepreneurs are these massive risk takers and anything goes. In fact, I saw a book just earlier today that said, How to Raise An Entrepreneur. It was like, teach them to take risks, like all these things that just go counter to what the actual common wisdom is about how you start a successful business, which is not necessarily to just let it all fly. Can you talk about your mentality around that and what you've run up against in terms of the perception of what an entrepreneur should be?

Katrina Lake:                       First of all, I think I am a good leader and a good CEO. I don't know necessarily that I was a great entrepreneur, to be honest, and, you know, maybe people think of, I mean, I don't know. Like, I just, it wasn't kind of where my comfort zone was. I don't sit back. You'll meet some founders who get to this stage of the company and they year the scrappy phases again and they like the building part. You'll hear that from people. I did like it, and it was really fun and crazy, but I don't know that that's the part that I feel like I thrive in, and we'll probably talk about this later, but you can also argue that I wasn't good at it. We've built a $2 billion company using $40 million of capital, not because I was like, I want to raise as little money as possible. It was because I could not raise more than that much money. In today's world a good entrepreneur is one that can raise the most money and hire the most people and buy the most time. You could argue I wasn't good at those things and ultimately was actually good at creating a company, which is maybe different.

Katrina Lake:                       I hope to be able to be a role model of a different type of entrepreneur because I think there are lots of women and men out there that might be thinking to themselves, that's not for me. I can't see myself being that crazy out-there person, and I felt the same way and I think ultimately like I actually think I'm good at this job and I don't know that I would have discovered it had it not been for kind of the convoluted path that I took.

Lauren Schiller:                  When you talk about StitchFix, I've heard it talked about as a fashion company, a technology company, the intersection of fashion and technology, what is it?

Katrina Lake:                       I mean, it is both. My theory on the whole thing is I think the world is, we are going to a place where like being a technology company will be table stakes for you to exist. You know, the idea of a tech company doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Like, I think Facebook is a marketing company, Uber is a transportation company, AirBNB is a hospitality company and we sell clothes. That is our business model. I think the reality is if you want to be around ten years from now,if you want to be successful ten years from now, all of us are going to have to be technology companies. Technology is certainly what is differentiated about stitchfix. I think what is very special about StitchFix, that at the end of the day the business that we're in is retail apparel. Actually, I just heard that on the analyst side, the investor side that Tesla has now been moved into the auto category for most, which makes sense. They make cars.

Lauren Schiller:                  They make cars. Where were they before?

Katrina Lake:                       They were in technology, and so there's this weird catchall bucket of people who have used technology as a differentiator that, like I think you're going to see more and more of that migrate back into. Even at StitchFix as a stock, we're covered by mostly tech people, actually, and then a couple retail people. I think you'll see more and more people recognizing that like, hey, these businesses are the same businesses they were before, just powered by technology in a way that we didn't see before. You know, I think we're both, but I think the marka tion ten years from now will probably be retail.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah. You had these big goals for yourself coming out of business school. Did you meet them right away? I mean, you wanted to pay yourself a salary. You wanted to have a stay-at-home business.

Katrina Lake:                       Not right away, but I really wasn't going to do this if I wasn't paying myself a salary and paying back my student loans. That wasn't an empty promise. Like, I really wasn't going to do it. So, I was very committed. I spent a lot of my second year in business school out here. I spent probably a week or so a month, like sleeping on people's couches. I was able to get a term sheet from Steve Anderson who's a seed investor who's one of the first investors I saw Kevin on. This was all real. Kevin was actually like my reference check for Steve the investor. He was the first investor in Kevin at Instagram. I was lucky enough to meet him early on and so he gave us what would now be considered a very small seed check of a half million dollars and so we closed that. In April of 2011, we started shipping fixes in that month and then I graduated in May and then kind of moved everything out here in June. I guess we closed the money a month before I graduated and so maybe I got in just under the wire. We didn't have a sustainable business model yet at that point, but I was able to pay myself a salary, pay rent, hire some people.

Katrina Lake:                       I think the other part that was important to me too in the investor thing is yes, it was important to raise money, but I think it's also important to have somebody who believes in you invested in the business. There's a lot of, I think, confidence and credibility that comes from the fact that an investor who's met a lot of entrepreneurs and seen a lot of companies, believes in the business. I think one of the things that you can do as an entrepreneur is delude yourself into really, really believing in something. Sometimes that's great and sometimes it's not reality. Having investors involved I think also helps to build confidence that like this thing is real and it's possible.

Lauren Schiller:                  How many nos did you have to hear before he said yes?

Katrina Lake:                       I mean, the seed was relatively easy I would say of just like, I think fundraising at StitchFix has always been either really hard or really easy and nothing in the middle. With him, I had worked with this woman Sue Kenderson-Cassidy who had been an advisor of mine and mentor of mine and she introduced me to him and so that part worked out well. Basically, he gave a term sheet for $750,000. He was going to put in $500,000, and he said, "Go find whoever else to fill in the rest of the $250,000. I probably talked to, I don't know, 20 or so people and everybody else said no, and I was very freaked out, like is he going to get cold feet when I go back to him and say nobody else wanted to. He actually said, and I think he meant it, he was like, "I'm glad that nobody else did. I'm happy to put in the other quarter million." I was, great.

Lauren Schiller:                  That's amazing.

Katrina Lake:                       And so, you know, he was like, "It just makes me even happier to see something when other people don't see it," is kind of the way he put it. That round we got done. Later rounds, I think, were a little bit more difficult.

Lauren Schiller:                  Did he tell you what it was he saw, I mean, what it was that made him believe in you?

Katrina Lake:                       I mean, at that stage anybody can come up with this idea. Anybody can come up. StitchFix has this great product market fit because when you tell people, wouldn't it be great if you could fill out a style profile and have a stylist who would send things to your home and then you could try things on at home and just pay for what you keep. The concept is so strong itself that I think we benefit from having a lot of just natural product market fit from it, but the flip side of that is anybody can think of that and anybody can pitch that to an investor. And so, I think with Steve it was really about am I going to be the right person to do it and honestly I had no experience that should have led him to believe that I was credible. Like, I had no entrepreneurial experience whatsoever. I had no network of engineers and whoever else to draw from, but for whatever reason he felt like I was going to be the one to be able to do it.

Lauren Schiller:                  Well, congratulations to him and to you for that. I want to go back to you maybe being a doctor at some point when you were ten. I understand that your mom came to America from Japan to go to graduate school. Did she have that immigrant mentality that my daughter must achieve absolutely everything to live up to the expectations of our new American family? Did you run into any of that growing up?

Katrina Lake:                       I'm looking at my sister. I don't know really.

Lauren Schiller:                  Keep her honest.

Katrina Lake:                       I think academics were very important in my family. Both of my parents really believed that succeeding in school, that having a great education would open doors and so I think that element was definitely very much ingrained and growing up, my mom immigrated here from Japan for graduate school and so we spoke Japanese growing up. In San Francisco there are schools you can go to so that you can keep up with the Japanese curriculum because Japan has a national curriculum and so every Saturday until I was in seventh grade I think, every single Saturday and then every day in the summer I went to Japanese school. I mean, that's like a lot of days of school if you think about it.

Lauren Schiller:                  That is.

Katrina Lake:                       Of 365 days, like, the vast, vast, vast majority of them were spent. I basically had every Sunday off. That's right.

Lauren Schiller:                  That's a lot of school.

Katrina Lake:                       I had 52 days off of school in a year.

Lauren Schiller:                  Did you resent that?

Katrina Lake:                       Well, yes. The reality is there wasn't like anything better that I should have been doing. It was so funny, too, because it was in the nineties and so everybody thought Japanese was going to be so useful. It's still useful when I'm in Japan or occasionally in a Japanese restaurant in San Francisco, but it wasn't quite the business onlot people thought it would be.

Lauren Schiller:                  It's not over yet.

Katrina Lake:                       It's more just like I do feel like they instilled the importance of education in us, so we definitely worked hard in school and definitely liked succeeding in school, and on the family side, I don't think I've realized this until being an adult and actually really in the last few years, I had a lot of exposure to women in my family who had done amazing things. Part of it was my mom immigrating here and not knowing English and she didn't learn to drive until she had had two kids in San Francisco and she was like, "Well, the bus isn't going to work anymore," and had to figure out how to drive. I mean, all of that is kind of amazing. The longer story is my mother's mom, so my grandmother, was actually the one who really desperately wanted to be an American. She had grown up in Japan at a time. She grew up during the war when Japan was in a very difficult place and she just always dreamed. She would see American movies or posters or God knows what the influences were, but she just desperately wanted to be an American. She was growing up in a time when women weren't driving. They had very little opportunity. She was in an arranged marriage. She actually ultimately did follow my mom. After my mom moved here she followed my mom here and she did actually ultimately become an American.

Katrina Lake:                       It's like an amazing thing to think that of all the things that you think are hard in life, imagine growing up in Japan in that moment and being able to think to yourself, some day I'm going to be an American and make that happen is like amazing. The other one is on my American side, actually, or on my Caucasian side. My greater grandmother, so it was my grandfather, my grandfather was raised in this very unusual household where my grandfather, basically his mom and her sister both lost their husbands. This was before welfare. It was before there were social services that were available. So, what these two sisters did was they were like, "Well, we're just going to create a household." I think they had, I need to fact check. I think they had four or five kids between them and they were like, we're just going to combine our households and one of us is going to go to work and one of us is going to stay home with the kids and two sisters are going to raise these kids together. So, my grandfather was the youngest of those. He had been raised by these two strong women. He had never even known his dad. To be able to have these examples in your life of like people doing ...

Katrina Lake:                       Anything that I achieve is never going to be as amazing as the things that they did. It's just a great example to be able to have in your life because I think it opens up kind of what's possible in a way that I really appreciate.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah. Do you think that changed his world view?

Katrina Lake:                       It totally did. My grandfather was the one. He like taught me to use a computer. He taught me to drive. I look back now and I can recognize those things as being really cool things that he did, but like, I think he came from a place where, oh, yeah, of course women are going to do these amazing things and of course my three granddaughters are going to do whatever they want to do and learn how to do the stuff on a computer. He definitely had a different perspective than I think a lot of people in his generation did.

Lauren Schiller:                  What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a new business? What's the one thing you wish you had known that nobody bothered to tell you, or the ten things?

Katrina Lake:                       Oh, God. There's so many. There's a bunch of things. I think one, this is a very permanent decision and so as much as you can do of like learning and validating along the way I think is really valuable. I do think there are times when you can delude yourself into like well, it's just one more product change and then everybody's going to love it or it's just one other thing. I think the more you can really get like concrete points of validation and I think it's called lean startup now, which is basically like how to build a shell of what you're going to create and then see if people like it. What do they like about it and then iterate from there rather than trying to have like a build-it-and-they-will-come approach. You know, I think that's definitely a big one. This is my personal philosophy, but I don't believe in entrepreneurship for the sake of entrepreneurship. You devote a lot of time and energy and a lot of your life to this and you really have to love it. So, not to sound like I'm discouraging entrepreneurship, but I think really making sure you have that like one thing that you really want to devote a lot of your life to. I think, I don't know, people can rush to imperfect ideas and, I don't know. I think that's one thing.

Katrina Lake:                       The last thing is just surround yourself with people who are smart that you learn from. That's true if you're an entrepreneur or just a regular person in your career like I was. You know, I think to be able to surround yourself with people who challenge you, to be able to feel like ... There's nothing worse than stasis and staying the same. It's a hard thing, actually, these days in how little I think we get exposed to other perspectives these days, but if you try to think about when was the last time I really changed my mind about something important? Like, it's a hard question to answer, and I love being proven wrong, and at work I get proven wrong probably more than anywhere else, and I learn from it. The only way that you grow is through learning and so I think that's just the best advice of like as you're building a team, as you're building a board, as you're thinking about your advisors of just really holding the bar high for people who are going to challenge you, people that you're going to learn from and people who are going to help you stay on this really steep learning curve.

Lauren Schiller:                  As the CEO of a public company it's kind of this high wire act. Like, almost anything you say could affect the share price, and you don't necessarily know what that thing is going to be. So, everyone is listening all the time. I'm wondering, as you think about the values that you want to instill in the company and what's important to you and where your priorities are, how do you balance that sort of like, "we've got to pay attention to what the shareholders want," versus, "We've got to pay attention to what's right for the company?" Maybe sometimes they don't always match up.

Katrina Lake:                       Yeah. I mean, I might have like a Pollyanna view on it and maybe we're early at this. We've been public for three quarters, but I really believe that what the right thing is going to be for the shareholders is also going to be what's right for the company, and you know, I don't look at the stock price on a daily basis. For better or for worse, I don't know what the fluctuations are or what causes them. Where we go in the longterm is definitely important and I think a lot of the things that we do are really looking at how can we make sure that we can create the most value for ourselves, for our shareholders, for our clients and the other brilliant thing about our model that I love is that there's this amazing alignment. Like, in our business model the more I can send you clothes that you love, the happier you are and the better our business is. There's like really, really great alignment that you don't always have. Like, if you think about Google's business model, for example, the more ads they can show the more ads they can get people to click on, the better their business is.

Katrina Lake:                       As a consumer you don't really want to see all the ads. You just want to use Gmail. There's this interesting, I think, kind of dance that a lot of executives have to walk of just like what's good for the business versus what's good for the customer? I have this amazing advantage where it's very aligned in a lot of the cases and so it helps us in prioritizing because if we can just focus on how can we help people to find what they love and how can we help people to find more of what they love? It just makes it really clear of what we need to do to create value. So, I'm hopeful that they are the same thing and that we won't have to feel like a lot of conflict of short-term versus longterm, but I think so far we've been, when we talk to investors we spend time with investors and it is actually in a lot of ways just like being a private company. There are investors that we can talk to at certain times and hear their perspectives. I think it's my job to make sure that everybody knows what that longterm vision is and to make sure that people all see it and believe it.

Lauren Schiller:                  We have so many entrenched ideas about how a company should be run because they've mostly been run by men of a certain age and hair color or hoodie, but Katrina Lake has been finding lots of ways to disrupt business as usual whether she intends to or not, and her vision for StitchFix has paid off so far. But it also comes with a spotlight on her every move.

Katrina Lake:                       Like, there are just these weird conversations around like well, what do you do with earnings when you're on maternity leave?

Lauren Schiller:                  That's coming up after the break.

Lauren Schiller:                  Before we get back to the conversation, I want to turn you on to a podcast that I just love. It's called Reckonings and it explores how people change their hearts and minds. Episodes have ranged from a deeply-conservative congressman who made a dramatic shift on climate change to a white supremacist who transcended a life of hate and became a force for nonviolence to two teenagers who managed to overcome bullying. In a time that feels so polarized, it's refreshing and hopeful to see people capable of such monumental shall we say reckonings. You can find in Reckonings on your preferred podcast app and at www.reckonings.show.

Lauren Schiller:                  I'm Lauren Schiller. This is Inflection Point. This conversation with Katrina Lake, the founder and CEO of StitchFix, was recorded live at Inforum at the Common Wealth Club.

Lauren Schiller:                  I mentioned at the very beginning of this the iconic photo at the Nasdaq with you and your son on your hip, and it was a head turner. Are you tired of headlines that focus on taking your company public and being a new mom or just recently there was a headline, StitchFix CEO Katrina Lake talks about leading a public company and her upcoming maternity leave?

Katrina Lake:                       My perspective on it has changed over time. I had some pride about me, I think, that prevented me from embracing that early. This is more on reflection of looking back and thinking, why did I not think I could be an entrepreneur and now I just think it's so important. And so, even if it's just like I'm just an example, like I think it's good and I'm happy to be that example and like I said, I hope there's going to be many more people after me that can be ... Like, it's totally normal. There are just these weird conversations around like well, what do you do with earnings when you're on maternity leave and you're a public company CEO? There are all these things that like, I don't really know what the right answers are and I'm going to try to figure it out. There just needed to be more, I think, just having more examples of what different types of stories look like and different possibilities look like is super important.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah. I mean, it's one of those sort of can't-win situations in some ways, right, because like Marissa Meyer got dinged for only taking a couple of weeks of maternity leave, and you're probably going to get dinged for taking the entire maternity leave. I mean, it's like ...

Katrina Lake:                       Well, and these situations are all really different because I think when Marissa Meyer was in her place, I think she had like active shareholder issues. She had a company on fire situation, and so was that the right thing to do when your company is on fire? This is the problem is that there's so few examples. Actually, I was with a public company CEO literally last week who he has a six-week old at home and he is taking his paternity leave. He was happy to meet me at brunch wearing golf clothes and shorts and he was on his paternity leave. I think all of these situations are unique. You can't fault, I think, one person for having a different choice, but the challenge is that there's really only two situations now that you're going to be able to look back on and I think for many other men there's hundreds. Hopefully, this can add to what people think of as what are my options when I'm in this situation?

Lauren Schiller:                  Where is your husband in all of this? Does he like ... It used to be, like I remember, I don't know 10, 15 years ago, like Carly Fiorina, when she was running HP that whole story was on her husband was at home taking care of the baby and that's how they made it possible because they invested the typical relationship. So, do you and your hubby ever talk about divvying up the responsibilities so you can both do your thing?

Katrina Lake:                       Yeah, we definitely do, and he's not at home taking care of the kids as his job full time. It's not. We have a nanny and she's wonderful. But, that being said, I think to myself like am I being sexist in thinking this because it's less about this year. I travel quite a bit, but I think about next year and I think about we're going to have two kids and one's going to be a toddler and one will be an infant, and I have this enormous guilt around that seems really hard for me to be traveling and leaving him to deal with two kids at night, even though he's not taking care of them during the day. It's a lot of work in the nights and the mornings. I would think to myself, am I sexist in thinking that because there's many, many men before me that had wives that traveled and left their two kids with their wife and probably didn't think twice about it. I still haven't figured out like how are we going to do that next year?

Katrina Lake:                       I think I'm very, very lucky and grateful that I have a husband that's very supportive and a husband that probably takes more of the mornings and nights than I do, and I do think in this world it does take somebody who is willing to kind of put in a little bit more, I think. I don't think it's necessarily that you need somebody who's going to be like a complete kind of stay-at-home parent or anything, but I do think the reality is that it's hard. You know, the reality is there's sacrifices that one or the other is going to be making every single day and then just trying to figure out how you can do that and have a healthy relationship with your kids and a healthy relationship with your spouse and it's all puzzle pieces that aren't super easy.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah. Wow. Well, it sounds like you've surrounded yourself with a great team that come from a variety of big-brand backgrounds and Netflix and Google and Lulu Lemon was in there somewhere. Do you have a mentor? Do you have that one person you can turn to and be like, I can't ask anyone else this question?

Katrina Lake:                       I do, and I've had many throughout my journey and I would say I have different people that I turn to for different topics, and so actually one of the things that I think has been really fun and unexpected about being a public company is that it's not like I had lots of public company CEO's that I knew. I had met a couple. I really didn't know any. It was really amazing how people kind of came out of the woodwork and helped. You know, now it's all water under the bridge, but our [inaudible 00:38:10] show process, the process to getting public was difficult. It's like in the bucket of when I say fundraising has either been really hard or really easy. The IPO process was really hard, and we weren't kind of seeing the traction we wanted to see. We weren't getting people bought into the story in the way that we needed to. And I had a public company CEO who, through an investment banker, was like, "Hey, if she needs to talk, tell her to call me. It was somebody I'd never met before who had been through the process and kind of knew exactly how I was feeling in that moment. There's been others also who have kind of reached out since.

Katrina Lake:                       I think that was network that I didn't necessarily knew existed and where I didn't feel like I was part of it before. That just kind of emerged to be helpful. That's been great. You know, I think I have, my board actually, I have a lot of great people on board who I turn to a lot and over the course of the last seven years I've bene lucky enough to kind of build a network of, in a lot of cases, other CEOs, the people who are in the space and not in the space who are going through similar things that I can talk to and get advice from and you know, I think I've been very fortunate that there are a lot of women that I've met also along the way who are very happy to make time for me whenever I ask. It's certainly something that I hope to be able to repay the favor for.

Lauren Schiller:                  What do you look for, because I know you're involved in a few things that are female-focused in terms of investments and the female investment fund, something called Moving Forward, which is about diversity. In terms of when you now look at other companies that are looking for investments, what do you look for?

Katrina Lake:                       What do I look for? I mean, I don't do a ton of investing, but I mean it is really important to me that founders that I meet and kind of companies I'm involved in are committed to building diverse teams. That has a women angle, but I think it's much broader than a women angle of like, I think one of the things that StitchFix that has made the company great is the diversity of team and perspectives that we have and so the fact that we have data scientists who are sitting next to stylists and being like, why are you picking that one? Wait, why did you not pick that one? I don't understand. What's going on in your mind? They're just fascinated and really have this great respect for the job that they do, and I think part of what's amazing about StitchFix is I don't know if there's every been like a data scientist who sat down with a stylist and gone into their brain about why they're choosing clothes. I think we've really benefited from the diversity of people and perspectives that we have. I think it's really important for founders to start like that.

Katrina Lake:                       I think one of the bigger challenges of why we see so little diversity at the top and the technology companies is because so often founding teams are built by repeat founders who go back to their network to build the team. So, they're just perpetuating this kind of lack of diversity that has existed in the industry for 20 years. No one's putting up a job posting for a cofoudner. Like, you're just drawing from people in your network. So, as I have the chance to meet with founding teams, I push on it a lot. I push in with their board. I push on it with, you know, I've noticed you don't have any women on your founding team. What is your commitment on that? I think that's an area that I think helps to make companies better and I think also kind of creates a better ecosystem for all of us.

Lauren Schiller:                  Well, let's talk about your team and how the values that you're espousing are playing out inside your company around diversity. So, your executive team is 50/50, men and women. I actually went to your website and I counted. It's true. It really is true. Most of your on-the-ground employees are women, I think 86%. Is that right?

Katrina Lake:                       The number is a little hard because we have a 3,500 stylist organization and the vast majority of our stylists are omen. These are women who are working part time and mostly work from home. So, that skus the number to make it 80-something overall company wide, but then we also have 1,500 warehouses where it's about 50/50. Our headquarters I think is about 60/40 women to men. So, if you put in the 3,500 stylists into our 6,000 employee figure, then it becomes very skued sounding, but on average it's a little over parody where we have women a little more represented than men.

Lauren Schiller:                  One of the things I've been thinking about is we already know what the downsides are of a culture dominated by men and so I'm just thinking about what happens when you have a company that's kind of dominated by women? What's the outcome there?

Katrina Lake:                       I mean, first of all I would contest that culture dominated by women. Our management team is 50/50. Our board is 60/40 women. Like, I don't think that's dominated by women and I don't think that you would ask a male CEO who is progressive enough to have a 50% female management team. Like, you would never ask him about a culture that's dominated by men.

Lauren Schiller:                  I might now. I might now. I mean, maybe not five years ago, but now I definitely would. I'm just curious. I'm not saying that's what your situation is, but just sort of philosophically speaking, if there's any sort of up sides or down sides to having, even jut having at 50/50 is, in a sense, more dominated by women than it has been in the past.

Katrina Lake:                       Unquestionably, it is more so. I don't know. I mean, I think the down side is I get questions like that not in an insulting way, but in a way that like it's not obvious to other people, like that it's not something people are experiencing all the time, so it becomes something that is unusual. I think that's unfortunate, because I think there's a lot of up side to it. I think there's a lot of upside to it just like having different perspectives in diversity. I think there's also, we were just talking about parenting, so it's top of mind for me, I think there's also a lot of upside from the perspective of people who are men and women who are trying to live a life and work. I think there are a lot more conversations and there's a lot more empathy that happens when you see both sides of the equation every day at work. I don't know. I think, it's also all I know. I can't speak to the downsides or the upsides, but I think we've been able to create a place that people love to work and that has been able to take kind of this what people academically talk about is being important, and diversity and actually show, this is what it looks like and this is how it works and this is an example of it in a way that I don't know that we've had a lot of examples before.

Lauren Schiller:                  All right. I have one last question for you, which is an Inforum tradition, which is your 60-second idea to change the world?

Katrina Lake:                       I don't know that I have a specific idea, but like, I think that one of the things that has been a real challenge, and you can see it in kind of the political landscape also and loss of community. So, I think even just like this group of people getting together to do something like this in an evening is a really great part of that. I think there's been just kind of a loss of humanization of a lot of things that we do. So, when w'ere buying things, the way that we engage with each other, like a lot of it has been kind of dehumanized in a way that I think has taken away from communities. So, I don't know what the exact ID is, but ways that you can bring more commerce into communities, ways that you can make things like buying clothes a more human experience and a more human-to-human experience I think brings back the humanness that connects us a country and as a community.

Katrina Lake:                       I think a lot of, especially in eCommerce, it's become very anonymous and very transactional and I think that the harms of that are greater than what we're seeing in terms of the impact that it's having on how we think about each other and how we think about the space that we occupy together. So, I'd love to see anything that kind of just brings back a sense of community and brings communities together in more human ways.

Lauren Schiller:                  Katrina Lake's company StitchFix is often described as being at the intersection of fashion and technology, but at the end of the day she's using technology to solve one of the oldest problems in the book, what am I going to wear, and she's doing it by putting people first. It's bigger than just how we shop for clothes. She sees a problem with the lack of diversity in tech and makes sure her company is an example of how diversity makes good business sense. She sees a problem with the lack of parental lave and has made it her dedication to family as much a part of her public identity as her extraordinary success. I look forward to the day when Katrina's success and her dedication to a diverse and family friendly workplace is no longer extraordinary. It's just how business is done.This is how women rise up. This is Inflection Point. I'm Lauren Schiller.