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.

When Teachers Are Trusted To Teach: Gabe Howard, Saint Ann’s School

What happens when teachers are given the freedom to inspire a lifelong love of learning? In this episode, I talk with Gabrielle Howard, who recently retired as the head of the Lower School at Saint Ann’s School in Brooklyn, after 35 years.

We’ll talk about why she dedicated her life to fostering a love of learning in young children, why she let them swear in her office, how a school without grades can produce high-achieving graduating classes time and time again, and the deep value of listening to kids. 

 


TRANSCRIPT:

Lauren Schiller:                  From KALW and PRX, this is Inflection Point. I'm Lauren Schiller with stories of how women rise up. I think it's fair to say that I talk with amazing women in every episode of this show. Sometimes they come from far off lands, and other times they're in my own backyard. Today's guest is all three of those things. As the long standing head of the lower school at St Ann's school in Brooklyn, now widely considered one of the top K-12 schools in the country.

Lauren Schiller:                  Gabe Howard changed the way an entire generation of kids embraced learning. So she's amazing, check. She comes from England, far off land, check. And lucky for me and a first for this show, we're related by marriage, own backyard, check. At the same time we were discussing recording this interview, Gabe was preparing to retire from St Ann's, so I had some competition for her attention and a high bar to reach in my questions since her most important constituents got to her first.

Lauren Schiller:                  Gabe told me that her favorite interview so far had been with a couple of third graders who asked her, as you prepare to ride off into the sunset, what kind of horse do you have? I am not sure how to top that, but I did want to know more about, Gabe Howard. And Gabe Howard is a third grader herself, and how that led to her lifelong dedication to education. So, that's where we started our conversation. Gabriel Howard went to school in a small town in England.

Gabe Howard:                     I went to very strict schools for all of my education. And I really loved to talk, and you weren't allowed to talk. I was always in trouble for talking.

Lauren Schiller:                  I began to see just how important her story is. Not only because she helped to shape a new approach to teaching kids.

Gabe Howard:                     Well, I fell in love with the school. Children's voices, what the school was all about. It wasn't about being quiet and not talking too much. It was all about, "We want to know what you have to say."

Lauren Schiller:                  But like many immigrants, her vision of America was a bit idealized.

Gabe Howard:                     Having grown up during the war, and been exposed to Marcel and other Americans magazines I thought, well that is definitely the place to be. So I feel it on suburban houses, and refrigerators and ham and big cars and none of that happened.

Lauren Schiller:                  And also sometimes the things we have to learn from the people we love can't reveal themselves until we just sit down, face to face and talk. Now often the story you hear from women in Gabe's generation is, well, I wanted to be an actress or I wanted to be an engineer, but in the end I had to teach because that's what was realistic. In Gabe's case, she wanted to teach deaf children but didn't.

Gabe Howard:                     It would have meant that I had to go to university at a time when 2% of the eligible population at the University. It was a really different time. And I suppose also it was probably a phase, that I wanted to do that to some extent. You know, I certainly didn't continue to push for it, anyway I didn't do that. I designed bathing suits.

Lauren Schiller:                  It's true she could even visit Marks and Spencer in London and see who was buying which of her designs, but the desire to teach still lingered. Eventually Gabe, got married, moved to America, had children and did go back to college, but between getting her undergraduate degree and going to Grad school, she needed to find work and teaching was work she could do while her kids were in school.

Lauren Schiller:                  And that's how she became acquainted with St Ann's school in Brooklyn. St Ann's was an experimental school that rebuffed all the usual norms about how to teach kids and who could teach them. And in particular, it rebuffed and still does, a speak until spoken to norm that Gabe herself a grownup with.

Gabe Howard:                     I did not love school. And I think that one of the worst things you can do to a child is to beat the desire to converse out of them. And while I wasn't literally beaten, I was sitting really shamed into not talking as much as my inclination would have it. I think they made conversing not come as naturally as it had, when I was little. Maybe that happens to everyone, but I do remember being over time, told that I talk too much.

Lauren Schiller:                  Well, let's talk about what happened between the time that you arrived, decided to stay and then actually did enter education as your career field.

Gabe Howard:                     I went to college. I went to Long Island University because that was where my then husband was teaching, and I could go free. And they would have me with very few academic credentials. So I got a degree and then I was going to go to graduate school. But in between getting a degree and going to graduate school, I wanted to make some money, and I had two small children at that point, and teaching was something I could do without having to pay a babysitter because they were in school when I was in school.

Gabe Howard:                     And I ended up teaching in a private school. But initially I wanted to teach in public school, but I couldn't teach in a public school because I wasn't a citizen. And I didn't in fact become a citizen until a lot later, when I'd never voted in my life, and I wanted to vote for Bill Clinton, so I became a citizen, so he's responsible for a lot of shit.

Lauren Schiller:                  So it wasn't until the 90s that you-

Gabe Howard:                     I'd been here 36 years before I became a citizen. And that's the longing for home, that's the saying, no, I'm not really English anymore, I'm an American now.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah. So, you were telling me that you came over on a visa because your husband at the time was a scientist?

Gabe Howard:                     Yes.

Lauren Schiller:                  Can you talk a little bit more about how that worked?

Gabe Howard:                     Yeah. It was a little after the time that Sputnik had gone up and America was looking for European scientists and he had a PhD in physical chemistry and we had both of us always wanted to go to America.

Lauren Schiller:                  Well, I should probably say that the man you came with, who was your husband at the time was not a citizen, but you've been here in America for a while and were then dating an American. And so you could have gotten citizenship at anytime by marrying him. But you chose not to.

Gabe Howard:                     I guess I didn't want him to become a citizen that much. I mean I didn't really want to become a citizen. I wanted to vote, you know, it was the vote. It was the never, having, had that voice, that motivated me and that the voice that a lot of women work really hard to get me.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah.

Gabe Howard:                     To have.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah. But I am curious about that choice to not get married until very recently.

Gabe Howard:                     Yeah. Yeah. I don't know, we had a good thing going, you know. It didn't seem necessary and then suddenly it did. And I think part of that is just aging. You know, I had visions of being in the hospital dying and Marty couldn't come and see me because we weren't married.

Lauren Schiller:                  Now he can.

Gabe Howard:                     Maybe that would never happen.

Lauren Schiller:                  Okay. Well, let's get back on track. Let's go back to England. What was your life like back in England?

Gabe Howard:                     Well, it was pretty deprived. I mean, I was ... given the possibilities, I was one of the lucky ones. I wasn't shipped off to live with another family. I lived with my mother in the house that we had always lived in. And since it had always been that way, I took for granted that. There wasn't a lot of food, and you couldn't always have what you wanted and you certainly couldn't have candy or sweets as we called them at time.

Gabe Howard:                     But there weren't many cars, and that's a good thing. They certainly was a lot less packaging and that's a good thing. But it did look really sort of super luxurious and so on, and that was interesting. I suppose I was about nine when I started wanting to come to America.

Lauren Schiller:                  Wow. That's a lifelong aspiration.

Gabe Howard:                     Yeah, and then I wanted to go home.

Lauren Schiller:                  Once you got here.

Gabe Howard:                     Once I got here. I wanted to go, but that's not entirely true because I love New York. I mean from the get go. I love New York and we actually arrived two days before Kennedy was shot and that was ... Well, I mean it sort of goes without saying that that was stunning, that was stunning for everybody. To me that shooting was so unusual in those days, that nobody ... Harold Macmillan was prime minister in England at the time and that nobody would shoot him unless they mistook him for grouse or something like that.

Lauren Schiller:                  So that was your introduction to American culture?

Gabe Howard:                     That was my introduction to American culture, yes.

Lauren Schiller:                  So what were your impressions when ... I mean that must've colored everything about your impressions when you arrived versus what you imagined it would be?

Gabe Howard:                     I'd say yes and no. It was just part of the whole remarkable experience of being here. And it was ... the weather was so blue and so cold, and coming from England I had to some extent expected that if you had blue skies, you had warm weather and it was absolutely freezing and so blue.

Lauren Schiller:                  So you surpassed your year, when you thought you would go home and I mean, once you got past that, do you still miss England? I mean, did at that point, were you wanting to go back for real? Are you really just were nostalgic about it?

Gabe Howard:                     Yes. You know, I have an immigrant's longing for home and I expect to always have it.

Lauren Schiller:                  When you were growing up in England ... so you got married, but was it a choice of ... I mean, now when you think about that time, it's like going to college versus getting married, whereas now people don't really think about that as a choice. Was that actually something that you had to make a decision about doing?

Gabe Howard:                     No. I went to an art college. I did dress design at Alaska college of Whilock, and I had done that by the time we got married, but we had known each other since we were 17, so it was like a high school relationship.

Lauren Schiller:                  Wow. I didn't know you had a degree in dress design. Do you ever use that?

Gabe Howard:                     No.

Lauren Schiller:                  No. You're not sketching?

Gabe Howard:                     No.

Lauren Schiller:                  Never.

Gabe Howard:                     No.

Lauren Schiller:                  Wow.

Gabe Howard:                     I mean, I did do swimsuit design for a while.

Lauren Schiller:                  You did, professionally?

Gabe Howard:                     Yes.

Lauren Schiller:                  Oh my goodness.

Gabe Howard:                     When I lived in London. That's what I did. I worked for a supplier of Marks and Spencer's.

Lauren Schiller:                  That's so cool.

Gabe Howard:                     It was fun.

Lauren Schiller:                  Do you still have the drawings that you made, the designs that you made?

Gabe Howard:                     No.

Lauren Schiller:                  Do you have any of the bathing suits that made?

Gabe Howard:                     No. I can remember them though. And the office that I worked in was close to the Marks and Spencer's that is on Oxford Street. And you could go down in your lunch hour and watch people buy the swim suits that you designed.

Lauren Schiller:                  That's amazing.

Gabe Howard:                     Or not buy them.

Lauren Schiller:                  Did you ever look at anyone and say, "Hmm maybe that wasn't the right choice for you?"

Gabe Howard:                     I'm sure I did.

Lauren Schiller:                  No judgment, no judgment. How did you get connected with St Ann's to start with? Because it was it's early days.

Gabe Howard:                     Yeah, it was the time on a tradition of nepotism. I had a friend who was friends with the person who was the recurrent head of the lower school there. And she said, "Oh, you have to meet my friend Jim Madison." So I met Jim Madison and he hired me and I stayed for 44 years.

Lauren Schiller:                  That sounds great.

Gabe Howard:                     I was going to teach for a year.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah. You have a lot of one year plans that seem to extend. What's your next one year plan?

Gabe Howard:                     I'm going to die for a year.

Lauren Schiller:                  So we have 44 more years of Gabe Howard. Thank goodness. Can we talk a little bit about the ... just to get to the philosophy of St Ann's and where it all sprang from. So Stanley Bosworth, he was the original.

Gabe Howard:                     He was the founding headmaster.

Lauren Schiller:                  And it was his concept at the school or?

Gabe Howard:                     It was his concept.

Lauren Schiller:                  How did he talk about what he wanted the school to be?

Gabe Howard:                     Well, one of the things that made it work was that he talked about it all the time. He talked about his passionate desire for literacy and for intellectual endeavor and for poetry and for art and for music. And he believed that those things and a few others I haven't named, are what make life and children sacred. And he knew that children were sacred, and that was how the school progressed. And because he said it all the time, everybody, everybody was kind of on board with it. It wasn't never on it.

Lauren Schiller:                  I know. From a far St. Ann's is totally Nirvana.

Gabe Howard:                     It wasn't Nirvana and it was bloody hard work, and it was underpaid. But you've always felt like you were doing something important and valuable and that's what kept me there so long. And if I wasn't there, where would I go?

Lauren Schiller:                  What was the affiliation of St Ann's school with St Ann's church?

Gabe Howard:                     The members of the church ... so members of the church wanted to start a school because the public school in the neighborhood, they didn't like the private schools that were there already. By then there were a couple of them or the public school. And so they wanted to start a school, and so they had to find somebody to run it. And the person who is in charge at the church was a man named Carmen Hawkwood. And he and Stanley, although they were strange bedfellows, not that they ever went to bed, Stanley was fiercely heterosexual.

Lauren Schiller:                  Just to be clear.

Gabe Howard:                     And he was gone by the time, I think the school was seven years old by the time I got there and Carmen Hawkwood had returned to England. But there were stories of him walking the halls and wearing a purple robe and smelling of lavender and telling Bible stories to the kids. But there was the friendship between those two men, other than that st Ann's Leeds has a very large Jewish population was not an episcopalian school and that was a few years later.

Gabe Howard:                     That was ratified in a way because the church, and the school separated. Although we have celebrations in the church, it's available for graduation and concepts and it's a really beautiful, really beautiful old church.

Lauren Schiller:                  So how did you think of your ... coming into this school which sounds completely different from your own experience of school. Like what was your role as the teacher and how did you figure out how you wanted to be that person having not personally experienced anything like that before?

Gabe Howard:                     I'd always loved kids and even when I was a kid myself, I loved littler kids. And so teaching in a way came very naturally to me and I wanted to know what they had to say. And so I listened to them. I had things that you could teach, you could and you still can teach anything you want to teach at St Ann's in the lower school. You can teach if you want your curriculum to be the Middle Ages, you can teach that.

Gabe Howard:                     If you want it to be ancient Greece, you can teach that. If you want it to be surrealism, anything you want it to be. I mean, as long as you can engage the kids in a passion for learning and as long as they ... along with that learn to read and write and compute and talk and listen to each other. Then I felt that was just fantastic.

Gabe Howard:                     And it is, and it keeps teachers there, because there's so much autonomy. It's really satisfying. And, when you're in a classroom, you know if it's not working. And anybody who walks in, who knows anything about anything to do with teaching would know that it's not working and when it's working it's equally tangible.

Lauren Schiller:                  And as a private school are there test requirements like we have in public schools where you there has to be some sort of measure of the kids progress?

Gabe Howard:                     No. What really happens is in the end they go to college.

Lauren Schiller:                  You have to wait years to know if it worked.

Gabe Howard:                     And if they don't go to college and if they don't go to, the college is that people expect them to go to, then I think that you would soon be out of business.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah.

Gabe Howard:                     In that sense there is a measure. And the kids take the same tests everybody takes. They take the SATs and-

Lauren Schiller:                  The advanced placement tests.

Gabe Howard:                     Yes. But there are no grades. And that's huge because, you know kids will measure themselves and some more than others, but kids will measure themselves against each other anyway. But if you take away the tangible grade expression of what you're doing, then you minimize the competitiveness instead of exacerbating it, you minimize it.

Lauren Schiller:                  Well this idea ... so just thinking for a second about the ultimate measure of how well the school "did for the child," being, did they go to a good college, did they go to the college that their parents wanted them to go to, or the student themselves aspire to go to?

Lauren Schiller:                  I feel like the notion in New York is that if you don't get your kid on the right list for the right preschool while they're still in Utero, you may as well just say goodbye to the entire potential for success for the rest of their life and so much anxiety around that. But it seems like that goal and the philosophy of St Anne's actually don't like ... I wouldn't actually connect those two things together, that the goal would be to end up going to a good college.

Gabe Howard:                     I think, if there wasn't enough kids going to good colleges, then people would question the validity of the school. But in reality, the goal is you leave as a person who ... leaves St Anne's already, as a person who has interests in things they want to do and that they can become an accomplished and happy person. In that way it's transcendent and not just dependent on getting into a good school. But as a New York City, private school, if kids wouldn't going to good colleges, then it would not be considered the success is, even though that an ephemeral success compared to the real success.

Lauren Schiller:                  It's aspiring to think about what happens when teachers are given the freedom and resources to guide their students for discoveries, rather than just toward higher test scores. What happens when we take the pressure off our schools to achieve and instead lift them up. So every teacher, regardless of how wealthy the students are, can inspire a lifelong love of learning. Coming up after the break, we'll go inside the classroom with Gabe Howard.

Gabe Howard:                     You can set them free, and adults just as much as children like to be set free.

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 points society on Facebook or go to facebook.com/groups/inflectionpointsociety.

Lauren Schiller:                  I'm Lauren Schiller and this is inflection point. I'm talking with Gabriel Howard, who recently retired as head of the lower school at St Anne's school. Where she was for 35 years. At the time that you started working with St Anne's even though they'd been around for seven years. The work that you were doing, I feel like was really groundbreaking.

Gabe Howard:                     When you're in a situation where teachers feel trusted and they have autonomy, then they have a big investment in making it work. And they also have to be people who are intelligent and literate and have interests of their own and people who love kids and who have a sense of humor, and if you have people like that, then you can set them free and adults just as much as children like to be set free.

Gabe Howard:                     And so, if you're studying the revolutionary war at one year, and you get tired of it and you decide you want to do Arabian Nights, then you can change it and there is no red tape you just do it, because you're trusted. And then it reinvigorates your teaching to do something like that. You have to study it, making a curriculum is a huge undertaking. And so you know, you're going to be studying it yourself as well, and then the kids bring themselves to it and that really the joy of it.

Lauren Schiller:                  What was your moment of discovering what that could feel like for you?

Gabe Howard:                     That was a really long time. I think it goes back to when I told you that I went there for a year and then I fell in love with it, and I fell in love with the freedom and the trust and with the children who wants you listening to them, listening to them with each other and listening to them with you. They kind of show you the way. And I don't mean by that, that they plan the curriculum, although in some schools they do, do that.But they certainly, guided in different directions. And an art project can be something just amazing that came out of something that a kid has done.

Lauren Schiller:                  Can you get specific?

Gabe Howard:                     Yeah. I mean, they'll sit with a pair of scissors and a piece of paper and suddenly you have a puppet or you have a train or you have a dinosaur and then everybody wants to do it. Or you can ... they just build things and little kids are ... although I'm not working at St Anne's anymore, I go into a preschool one day a week and play with the three year olds, and the stuff that may come up with is absolutely phenomenal and they make art all day long. And all the time they're learning, dexterity and appreciation and they feel like artist and they feel like poets.

Lauren Schiller:                  So you went from being an assistant teacher to running the entire lower school?

Gabe Howard:                     Yes.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah. But you spent a significant amount of time in the classroom and you still would meet with the children one on one even after you were in the administrative role.

Gabe Howard:                     Yes.

Lauren Schiller:                  Right. So in this freewheeling free spirited school, I'm sure that there were still kids who were biting, scratching, kicking, swearing, you know, doing all the things that little kids do to find their boundaries. How did you handle those kinds of situations?

Gabe Howard:                     Well it took a lot of swearing right?

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah, let's do it. I love swearing on the show.

Gabe Howard:                     The thing about a so called bad language in the classroom is not really the language, but that it gets everybody riled up, and you don't really want a whole class of kids riled up about somebody saying, fuck or whatever they say. So I had kids, if it happened which ... and it didn't happen very often but if it did, and the teacher would send a kid to me because they weren't responding to that saying, you can't say that in the classroom. I would tell them, they could say it in the office. They could come and say whatever they liked, because I didn't care what they said and they would look. And so I said, "So, go on."

Lauren Schiller:                  Well, it's not as much fun when you're given permission.

Gabe Howard:                     I think it's a little unnerved. And it just kind of ended. It wasn't really a great way of saying ... I said, I don't really care about the words, but I do care that you don't listen to your teacher and you need to listen to your teacher. And this is why she's telling you this because it makes everybody Giddy, doesn't it? And they go, "Yeah." That's an example of a way to not really be punitive, but to change behavior. And I had one little boy once who took me up on it.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah. Just one out of many.

Gabe Howard:                     He just sat there and he swore like the truth, for about four minutes. But he didn't come back and do it again.

Lauren Schiller:                  I mean it ... St Anne's is ... I would say considered an elite private school and people are banking their entire children's lives and where they go to school from the time they start in preschool, in New York City especially. So, when it comes to the admissions process and the selection, I imagine that there are some people who will try and do anything to get their kid into the school. Are there any crazy stories and anecdotes about what parents have tried, that would be just let's say a cautionary tale to others who might try and do the same, that didn't work?

Gabe Howard:                     Oh, well. We don't accept bribes.

Lauren Schiller:                  Are there people who tried to bribe? You're not answering.

Gabe Howard:                     I suppose as a cautionary tale, I would say don't send too much paperwork, don't huge numbers of letters from people who want to tell us why we should take a child or lots and lots and lots of the kids work. Some of the kids work is fine, if there's a huge file of papers and you haven't admitted the child yet, then it sort of rings bells, cautionary bells.

Lauren Schiller:                  So don't try too hard.

Gabe Howard:                     Right. Don't try to hard. And it's important to find the right school for your kid. And you know, the reason I'm sure there isn't a school in existence that is the right school for everybody.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah, great. But then you read admissions for a while. So what was the spark that you looked for in the kids that came through because he would talk to the kids before they came into the school.

Gabe Howard:                     I did admissions in a different time. I did admissions in a time when Stanley and I were out beating the bushes, looking for kids. And St Anne's was that school in Brooklyn.

Lauren Schiller:                  That weird [inaudible 00:34:05] school.

Gabe Howard:                     Weird school in Brooklyn with a crazy headmaster.

Lauren Schiller:                  Okay. I would just say, how was it characterized at that time?

Gabe Howard:                     Yeah. We took kids that we don't take so much now. We took kids who had been kicked out of other schools, and kids who were very unevenly talented, and we made it work for them. So it was ... you looked for ... or at least I did, I'd looked for divergent thinking. I look for kids who would say really surprising things and wrong answers are often much better than right answers. And so, when you're actually seeing the kid, you can take that into consideration, when you get IQ scores that had been done somewhere else, then the people who scored the tests, can give credit for wrong answers. And I mean in the sense that, the wrong answers are often ... the really great wrong answers come from really creative kids, and that's an important thing to look for. Yeah, it was fun doing admissions when we were beating the bushes.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah, what a different time. At that time did you run into any naysayers who said, "I would never send my child to that school."

Gabe Howard:                     I said that.

Lauren Schiller:                  You said that about your own children. So they were not there while you were teaching at the beginning?

Gabe Howard:                     Not at the beginning, and I was a naysayer. When I looked at the school for my children, and in those days, they didn't show you the school, which was a little suspect.

Lauren Schiller:                  You can go inside.

Gabe Howard:                     You can actually go and see this school, but you went into Stanley's office and listened to Stanley. And I said I would never send my children to a school run by a man, like that.

Lauren Schiller:                  Why?

Gabe Howard:                     Because, he was crazy. But then he hired me and I wasn't so fussy when it came to getting a job. So yes, there were naysayers and and rightfully so, it's not right for everybody. And if you want to get very measured in the sense of a measurement feedback on your child on a regular basis, if you want to be able to go online and look up how they did today. St Anne's will drive you crazy.

Lauren Schiller:                  So I feel like we can't complete this conversation without talking about poetry in the classroom.

Gabe Howard:                     Yeah.

Lauren Schiller:                  That's because the reason I know you, is because you met my father-in-law when you were both teaching at St Anne's, you could say poetry brought you together when he walked into your classroom.

Gabe Howard:                     Yes. He came to teach poetry in Justin's classroom and his son's classroom with whom you were familiar.

Lauren Schiller:                  I am familiar.

Gabe Howard:                     Then he was open to coming to other classrooms too. He wasn't getting paid at this time and the person who hired me, Jim Madison said, "Does anybody else want him?" And I said, "I'll have him," so I did.

Lauren Schiller:                  Sight unseen or after you've just given him a little once over.

Gabe Howard:                     Well, yeah. A little bit once over.

Lauren Schiller:                  So he started coming into the classroom?

Gabe Howard:                     Yes. And then he started coming in more and the poetry that we did, we put up on the walls all over the school, the pathology that the kids had written. And that informed the whole school of what was going on and kids would stop on the stairs and read the poems that had been written by these really little kids and many of them will hilarious. And then he just started teaching more and more. He went till he ended up teaching all of the lower school classes.

Gabe Howard:                     And then when his third graders moved to middle school, he moved to teach just a handful of them. And then it got more and more and more until poetry at St. Anne's became kind of mythic and then he got an enormous amount of support from Stanley who deeply loved poetry. And knew poetry and he would ... one day he called Monte at like 12:00 at night or one in the morning and said, "Bring me Hannah Jones," because he just read a poem by Hannah Jones.

Lauren Schiller:                  Right now-

Gabe Howard:                     Sometimes I leapt out of bed, ran over to Hannah Jones.

Lauren Schiller:                  No.

Gabe Howard:                     No, it didn't.

Lauren Schiller:                  Hannah was a student at the time?

Gabe Howard:                     Yeah.

Lauren Schiller:                  It seems like that started off with the process of collecting the poems from these kids for at least from what I understand, it seems like it started off with listening to them and what they had to say.

Gabe Howard:                     Yes. Here we go again.

Lauren Schiller:                  Here we go again. Yeah. Again, if you could recollect with how that collection process happened or an example of how that happened?

Gabe Howard:                     Yes. He starts by going into the classroom ... going into the first grade classrooms, which is when he starts teaching poetry. On the first day of school and listening to what they're saying and writing down things they say. And then he puts it altogether and he goes back into the classroom for the next poetry time and he reads them what they have said and they get so excited. They say, "I said that, I said that. You said that." And it gives them the sense of how free of poem can be, and how much it can be just a part of your life and there's no constraints.

Gabe Howard:                     The constraints and the value of constraints come later. But that's how he started. And then when he goes in, they've already had two great experiences with him. And so he says, you know, "We're going to poem." They stand next to him and dictate a poem, and he doesn't take more than a page, because some people don't want to start and some people don't want to stop. And so, I suppose there is a constraint. At more than a page, you have to write it yourself and if he had six that's more, a little daunting sometimes.

Lauren Schiller:                  What's the best advice that you've ever been given about how to carry on even when there are loads of people telling you, "That's not how it should be done."

Gabe Howard:                     I think I'm not very good at taking advice.

Lauren Schiller:                  That's not a shocker. Well, what about ... I mean again, it's easy to look at the work at St Anne's now and think, well it's considered one of the best schools in the country. They're obviously doing something right. But at the time, when you started there in the early days it was going against the norm and you must have had to have some level of fortitude or something that was keeping you going in spite of hearing, that's crazy. What people are thinking over there, and how did you push through that?

Gabe Howard:                     People did say, yeah, people did say it's crazy and the sort of bottom line retort is that, it works for us and it may not work for you. And there are lots of schools in this world, and this is the way we do it. You know, I mean it ultimately kind of draw some line. And really if people do want you to do something differently, then they should find a place that does it differently.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah. So that's-

Gabe Howard:                     If it's a profound difference.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah. I mean that sounds like having the conviction of your beliefs and sticking with them.

Gabe Howard:                     Yeah.

Lauren Schiller:                  Speaking with Gabe made me think more about education in general and right now when it comes to investing in schools, our national conversation has revolved more around revolvers and creating secure buildings and giving teachers guns to defend kids from active shooters? But what happens when we create environments where from a very young age, children are safe to be curious, to experiment, to investigate, and to express themselves, even swear inside these buildings.

Lauren Schiller:                  Investment in this type of education is the best investment you can make to teach kids to stand up and be heard, not sit down and be quiet. Many of you parents out there might be thinking of ways to thank your kids' teachers for their dedication to your children's learning, along with a thank you note, show your gratitude and advocacy for your children's teachers. They're researching how your local representatives vote on investing in education.

Lauren Schiller:                  And vote for candidates who make funding our public schools and giving our teachers a fair living wage's top priority. You can learn more about state education bills currently up for vote, who proposed them, and how your representatives voted at ncsl.org. I'll put a link in our show notes  at inflectionpointradio.org. This is Inflection Point. I'm Lauren Schiller.

Lauren Schiller:                  That's our Inflection Point for today. All of our episodes are on apple podcasts, 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.

Lauren Schiller:                  Just go to inflectionpointradio.org. We're on Facebook @inflectionpointradio. Follow us, and follow me on twitter @laschiller. 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. 

 

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How Kids’ Books Can Inspire Activism: Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein-Stahl, co-authors of “Rad Girls Can”

Now and then a “girl power” book pops up that is truly inspiring and, better yet, timely. And even better, written by an actual feminist, parent, and educator who wants to use her books to incite change by creating role models our daughters and sons can relate to. Sounds pretty rad right? That’s actually the name of a book series...”Rad Women”...”Rad Women A to Z”; “Rad Women Worldwide”, and now, Kate Schatz and her co-author/illustrator the rad Miriam Klein Stahl are out with a third book called “Rad Girls Can.” I talked with Kate and Miriam at a benefit for children's literacy hosted by Reading Partners, an organization that mobilizes communities across the Bay Area to help students read at grade level by fourth grade. Join me for a special on-stage discussion with the authors of RAD Girls Can, Miriam Klein Stahl and Kate Schatz. The book is available now.

If you want to help elementary schools with one-on-one reading support, consider becoming a volunteer or donating to Reading Partners, a national nonprofit that helps students with the one-on-one tutoring they need to read at grade level by fourth grade.

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TRANSCRIPT

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

Lauren Schiller:                  A woman walked into my studio two years ago wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the word feminist on it. Cool, right? That may not even seem unexpected for this show, but actually this woman was the first and only of my guests to own that title on a shirt in my studio, and it was right before the election of 2016 when we thought we'd see the first woman president. Why did she feel the need to tell everyone she's a feminist?

Kate Schatz:                          It's incredibly important for me to proclaim that and I do it publicly with t-shirts and buttons and Facebook headers all the time because not enough people do that. I want people to see this t-shirt and either smile at me and nod and say, "Right on," and, "I like your shirt," but I also welcome people to question me if they're ... if they don't quite get it, if they don't understand it. Feminism is misunderstood. It's much maligned and I'm happy to speak on it and speak about it at any time when anybody wants me to, and placing it in a public visible context is a big part of that.

Lauren Schiller:                  Back then, only two years ago, I wouldn't have been able to wear that t-shirt. I of course was, and am, a feminist, but I wasn't ready to wear it on a shirt. I wasn't sure why I was so impressed by her shirt. I think we were still unsure as a culture whether it was socially acceptable to proclaim that you were a feminist, even if you held feminist values. So I asked, "So what is your definition of being a feminist?"

Kate Schatz:                          Oh, the definition question. I'm going to go back to the classic one-

Lauren Schiller:                  Got to ask.

Kate Schatz:                          A feminist is someone who believes in the equality of all genders. What I always add to that is it's also someone who believes in the equality of all genders and who also recognizes the utter inequality that exists currently, and has historically, all around the world and who believes that that needs to change.

Lauren Schiller:                  So who was this out feminist and what was she going to do to create change? Well, her name is Kate Schatz and she co-founded a group called Suffragette Sundays, now Solidarity Sundays, to bring people together in person, beyond the online petitions to make phone calls and send emails and go to swing states to act when something's not right.

Kate Schatz:                          We felt like people were so tired of Facebook activism, clicking on a petition or just sharing a link and we felt ... we were sensing a lot of isolated anxiety from people as they watched more and more gun massacres and violence against women, and all of these things happen. As we saw the rise of a certain political candidate.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yes, so Solidarity Sundays is still going strong since it seems like every week brings a new call for, well, solidarity against the dark forces of far-right lunacy. And Kate does other things too.

Kate Schatz:                          Now I write feminist children's books.

Lauren Schiller:                  I know, I know you can't walk into a bookstore these days without being confronted with an onslaught of books empowering girls. You could almost get cynical about it. Is someone trying to make money off of girl power? Probably. Are they just revisiting the same old, same old women we always hear about? Likely, but now and then a book pops up that is truly inspiring and, better yet, timely, and even better written by an actual feminist, parent, and educator who wants to use her books to incite change by creating role models our daughters and sons can relate to. She sounds Pretty Rad, right? That's actually the name of her book series, Rad Women, Rad Women A to Z, Rad Women Worldwide and this July, Kate Schatz and her co author, the Rad Miriam Klein Stahl, who's the co-founder of the arts and humanities program at Berkeley High School, are out with a third book called Rad Girls Can. Because as rad as those other books were, they all featured mostly adults.

Lauren Schiller:                  This book is all girl. I was able to talk with Kate and Miriam at a benefit for children's literacy hosted by Reading Partners, an organization that mobilizes communities across the Bay area to help students read at grade level by fourth grade. I was blown away to find out that nationwide only 35% of incoming fourth graders can read at grade level proficiency or above. Without these skills by fourth grade, students are four times more likely to drop out of high school.

Lauren Schiller:                  I want to talk with you about how we inspire a lifelong love of reading and what's great to talk with you both about it is because you come at it from multiple perspectives. You are parents, you are educators.

Miriam K Stahl:                   Yes.

Lauren Schiller:                  And you are published authors.

Miriam K Stahl:                   All of those things.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yes. So let's just start with something super easy, which is when you were growing up, this is for each of you. We'll start with Kate. What was the book that inspired you or rocked your world as a kid?

Miriam K Stahl:                   That's not an easy question.

Kate Schatz:                          It's not an easy question, but the book, when I was ... So I'll first say that I was when I was very, very young, before kindergarten, my mom worked in a children's bookstore. I grew up in San Jose and if anybody's familiar with [Hicklebees 00:05:40], it's an incredible independent children's bookstore and that's where she worked part time, and she would take me to work with her and instead of ... I don't know, it was the '70s, so it was like fine to just bring your kid. She would put me in this in the corner kind of.

Kate Schatz:                          There was this old clawfoot bathtub full of pillows and ... it's a very quirky store ... and she'd put me in this old bathtub of pillows and give me a stack of books and then she would go work the register and sell children's books. That's where I taught myself to read and I have so many memories of being in there. I was so lucky to grow up with a love of books. It's just always been part of my life. I'd say the books that really rocked my world as a kid, Harriet the Spy, which I believe we share in common.

Miriam K Stahl:                   We do, who hasn't walked around with our [crosstalk 00:06:29], right?

Kate Schatz:                          Which showed me this tough, weird, cool little curious girl. Island of the Blue Dolphins was a really, really ... I read it a million times. You see, I gravitated towards stories about strong, adventurous, independent girls, which is what I wanted to be. Then the book series that really rocked my world was the Anastasia Krupnick books by Lois Lowry. It is literally where I first encountered the word feminist, so it was in one of those books. I would read those over and over and over. Those are some of my favorites.

Lauren Schiller:                  What about you, Miriam?

Miriam K Stahl:                   When I was about six, I got this book by Lynn Ward at a garage sale. It was a first edition and it was hand printed, and it was a couple hundred pages telling a story with just wood engravings. It was kind of an intense story about a artist selling his soul to the devil to become famous. It was this book that was all pictures, no words, and it just blew me away and I still have it. It's like my favorite book and I loved everything Maurice Sendak as a kid and I still do. Then when I was a little older in high school, James Baldwin's Another Country was my favorite book. Then I also discovered Audrienne Rich's poetry and I still love all of those books.

Lauren Schiller:                  Well, I was thinking as you were talking about the book that was all pictures and no words and you're reading books that are mostly words and no pictures. That's like your whole life has been leading to this moment where you've been ... where you're collaborating. Writing the words and providing the illustrations.

Miriam K Stahl:                   We were meant to me each other and create books together, I think, because-

Lauren Schiller:                  Exactly.

Miriam K Stahl:                   ... because our books, I think, speak to the kid that was like me that needs pictures and is really drawn into a story through pictures and, and Kate's just the best writer-

Kate Schatz:                          Oh, you're so nice.

Miriam K Stahl:                   ... and the words bring you in.

Lauren Schiller:                  So what role do you think illustration or heavy visuals play in bringing along a reluctant reader? I mean, you have your own experience having done that. Do you have any more thoughts on how that could work for other kids?

Kate Schatz:                          Well, when I had the idea to do our first book, Rad American Women A to Z, I knew that I wanted to have a really strong visual component and I wanted the images to be really, really strong and bold and to kind of reflect, I think, the strength of the women that we write about. So our books tell stories about powerful, inspiring women from history and today. I didn't want them to be super cutesy. I wanted them to really reflect a kind of strength. But I also was thinking a lot about creating a book that young people and adults would enjoy.

Kate Schatz:                          I think those of us who spend a lot of time reading to children, which I think is a lot of people in this room, know that there's some books that we're really excited to read a million times and there are some that we're like, "Really? This one again?" So I was thinking, as a parent of young children, I was thinking about creating a book that would visually and intellectually appeal to grownups as well as young people. And I knew Miriam's work, to me, had that aesthetic and would be able to draw someone in from a range of ages.

Miriam K Stahl:                   Yeah. I think the way that we set up our book with an image, and then a quote that's bold, and then a longer format story gives many entry points to different age kids. A kid could have the same book and ... as like a three or four year old, just look at the picture and maybe identify letters and maybe read the quote. Then as they grow older, they'll be ... they'll go back and see the image that they loved and then read the story. I think images can pull kids in and that way too, at different, ages.

Kate Schatz:                          I liked that you used the term reluctant readers. Actually, our first book was one of the ALA's picks for reluctant readers for the reason that it would ... can really draw in young people. I've seen kids kind of flipping through, looking at the pictures and they'll see something that catches their eye and then that will lead them to the text. That's always an exciting moment.

Lauren Schiller:                  Well, that's another area I wanted to talk about, is about what catches your eye. One of the girls that you write about in your new book noticed that there was a stunning lack of diversity in the books that she was reading, Marley Dias. She decided to do something about it. Could you tell us a little bit about her?

Kate Schatz:                          Yeah. So our new book is called Rad Girls Can, and it comes out in July, yay.

Miriam K Stahl:                   July 17th.

Kate Schatz:                          Yes. And that's a galley. The real book is hardcover and everything. But yeah, so we write about ... it's 50 stories of girls under age 20 who've done amazing things before they were 20. One of the girls we write about is Marley Dias, who when she was 11 years old she was an avid reader and she started thinking about how she wasn't seeing enough books about black girls like her, staring black girls, centering them as protagonists. So she started this online hashtag campaign, 1,000 Black Girl Books, and she started soliciting donations of books centering black girls and she received over 10,000 books, started a whole organization and she got a book deal. Her book actually just came out a few months ago and it's called Marley Dias gets it done. She's gone from being ... I know, she's amazing.

Kate Schatz:                          I mean, she interviewed ... she's talked to Oprah, she interviewed Hillary Clinton. She's like 13 and amazing.

Lauren Schiller:                  Can I have her number?

Kate Schatz:                          Yeah, right. And it all came from her love of reading and her seeing ... loving reading but really seeing that she wasn't being reflected and really [inaudible 00:12:42] to reach out and find books like that. All those books that she received as donations, she's then donated out to schools and organizations. So we got to write about her. It was really fun.

Lauren Schiller:                  Love that. You look like you wanted to say something.

Miriam K Stahl:                   The picture I made of her also makes her look kind of like a superhero because she's holding many, many books in both hands.

Lauren Schiller:                  I actually looked at that illustration and I thought, did she pose for that or did you actually like [crosstalk 00:13:07]-

Miriam K Stahl:                   Totally made that up. That's how I imagine her, just like I have these books. I couldn't find them when I was little, and here they are now for all of you to check out.

Lauren Schiller:                  Coming up after the break.

Kate Schatz:                          My heart is sad. I would like to ask you to speak with the president and Congress in legalizing my parents because everyday I am scared that they will take them away from me.

Lauren Schiller:                  Before we get back to the conversation, I want to turn you onto 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 congressmen 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 Reckonings on your preferred podcast app and at www.reckonings.show.

Lauren Schiller:                  I'm Lauren Schiller, and this is Inflection Point. Talking with Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl, authors of the new book Rad Girls Can. There's another great example in the book, which I would just ... I'm just going to connect the dots and say that it, for me, is ... tells me the role that literacy can play in social justice.

Female:                                   Yes.

Lauren Schiller:                  And it's the story of a five year old girl, Sophie Cruz. I just was wondering if you ... one of you ... would read a little bit of her story because that's-

Kate Schatz:                          I will.

Lauren Schiller:                  ... an amazing story.

Kate Schatz:                          So in this new book, one of the things I wanted to play with in this book, among many things, is stories of varying length also because I think that's also a really good entry point for readers and for teachers is there are some stories that are about 700 words and are over two pages and then there's some that are just like a couple paragraphs.

Kate Schatz:                          So this is a really short story about Sophie Cruz. She was born in Los Angeles in 2011, so really recently. All right, so five year old Sophie Cruz became one of America's youngest immigration rights activists when she delivered a powerful message to Pope Francis. During his visit to Washington DC in 2015, Sophie ran up to the Pope and gave him a letter that she'd written. It read quote, "My heart is sad. I would like to ask you to speak with the president and Congress in legalizing my parents because everyday I am scared that they will take them away from me." Sophie was born in America, but her parents weren't. They came from Oaxaca, Mexico, escaping violence and poverty. Because they weren't American citizens, they could be deported at any time.

Kate Schatz:                          Sophie's bravery made an impact. The next morning, Pope Francis addressed Congress and he discussed immigration policy at length. He asked the congressmen to treat immigrants with the same compassion with which we would want to be treated. Soon after that, Sophia was invited to the White House where she got to meet President Obama. In January 2017, Sophie was the youngest person to speak at the women's march in Washington DC. In both English and Spanish, she told the massive crowd quote, "Let us fight with love, faith, and courage so that our families will not be destroyed."

Female:                                   [inaudible 00:17:13]

Kate Schatz:                          So now Sophie's seven, so much older now.

Miriam K Stahl:                   She's retiring.

Kate Schatz:                          But no, she's still [crosstalk 00:17:28] on the book deal, but I've been able to be in touch with folks who have worked ... we work with her and her family and she's still active.

Lauren Schiller:                  It's amazing. I mean, I don't know if anyone still has chills, but that gave me chills.

Miriam K Stahl:                   There's just a big mural that went up of her in San Jose.

Lauren Schiller:                  So this book Rad Girls Can, has a title, I would say, is biased toward action. Was that your intention?

Kate Schatz:                          Absolutely, yes.

Lauren Schiller:                  So what role do you see in books for inspiring activism and creating change?

Kate Schatz:                          Oh, I mean, that's ... So yeah, I mean, the focus of this book really is action. In writing a book about young people, where our other books are about more historical figures, whose stories are kind of written, though many of the figures we write about in our other books are still alive, their biography and their story is relatively complete. With this book, we were writing about five ... literal five year old. So it was a different task in creating these stories. It wasn't about ... as much about who they are and their whole biography, but what they've done, an action that they took.

Kate Schatz:                          So we wanted this book to be really focused on that one thing that a person did. One idea, one action, one way that they saw something in the world that they wanted to change, something that they really love to do, something they believed in and then the action that they took to make that happen. Some people in the book, it's one small thing and some people, it's a huge thing. That's what I hope translates to readers, is the idea that you can have one thing that you really care about. Then how are you going to make that happen? What can you do with it? What is the thing that you can do in your life to kind of make that dream become reality?

Lauren Schiller:                  What I love about your ... the first book in your series is that it's got the A to Z in it and you've got posters, pretty much, of all of the various women from A to Z. I just love the idea of thinking about kids' rooms all over the country. Just instead of having little fuzzy animals with each of the letters of the alphabet. There's these rad women just [crosstalk 00:19:37]-

Kate Schatz:                          Now they all have Angela Davis on their wall.

Miriam K Stahl:                   I mean, I think not only posters on their walls, but we're seeing great student movements happening right now at the ... I mean, obviously Parkland was very inspiring around gun violence, but also dreamers really stepping up and talking about immigration and so Kate and I just feel like this book is coming out at exactly the right time when kids do feel activated and feel like their voice ... they're ready to step up and put their voice out there, and they're doing it. We're learning a lot from the youth.

Lauren Schiller:                  I'm Lauren Schiller. I hope you enjoyed this special on-stage discussion with the authors of Rad Girls Can, Miriam Klein Stahl and Kate Schatz. Their book comes out July 17th. If you want to help elementary schools with one-on-one reading support, consider becoming a volunteer or donating to Reading Partners, a national nonprofit that helps students with the one-on-one tutoring they need to read at grade level by fourth grade. I'll leave links to Rad Girls Can and Reading Partners in the show notes at inflectionpointradio.org. While you're clicking around, don't forget to subscribe to Inflection Point on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Radio Public, all of them, to get more stories in your feed about how women rise up. This is Inflection Point. I'm Lauren Schiller.

Lauren Schiller:                  That's our Inflection Point for today. All of our episodes are on Apple Podcasts, 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's 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 guests you 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.

Speaker 4:                              Support for this podcast comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

 

What trans women can teach cis women (and vice versa) - Daniela Petruzelak, diversity activist

Three years ago, software developer Daniela Petruzalek took the leap to transition to her true female self. One of the first things she had to get over were her own internalized prejudices.

“I come from a family where they had traditional morals and were quite homophobic.” She said. “And I had to deconstruct everything. It took me many years to do so. I was a white cis heterosexual male... and nowadays I'm a lesbian.”

Not only that, she was back to competing in the male-dominated world of tech, but now--as a woman. She immediately noticed the double standards rooted in gender bias.

“The only time in my life I was unemployed was after my transition and took me 6 months to get a new job.” She told me. “When you send resumes as a man, even if you aren't a fit for the role, the people will call you and talk to you. But when you send a resume as a woman they expect you to have like 100 percent of the skills or they wouldn't want to even start talking with you.”

Now Daniela uses this knowledge to fight for diversity and inclusion in the tech world. Learn what trans women can teach cis women—and vice versa—in our conversation.

 Daniela Petruzelak

Daniela Petruzelak

What Happens When Sexual Assault Goes Unpunished: Sarah Delia, Host of “She Says”



When radio journalist Sarah Delia heard a story about the sexual assault of one of her listeners, “Linda” (not her real name), she knew it was a story that needed to be told. It’s also a story about how one survivor took matters into her own hands when the police department she turned to for help seemed to be failing to help her. And it’s a story about how our criminal justice system handles sexual assault cases nationwide--and what needs to change to make violence against women the exception rather than the status quo.

Sarah turned Linda’s story into a new investigative podcast series called “She Says”. Listen to our conversation about the courage it takes to tell your story of sexual assault--and keep telling it---until you are heard by someone who can help you get justice. And also--what it takes to be the person who takes on the “second-degree trauma” of listening to and reporting on stories of sexual assault.

To learn more about what to expect from the criminal justice system in cases of sexual assault--and how you can help advocate for better policies, you can check out these resources on the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).

She Says also has a list of resources on their website.

And if you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault and need to talk about it with someone, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE.

TRANSCRIPT

 Sarah Delia  Photo by Logan Cyrus

Sarah Delia

Photo by Logan Cyrus

Are We Teaching Our Girls Too Much Empathy? - Emily Abad, The Mosaic Project

Empathy is often seen as the magic bullet against intolerance. But when we take on too much empathy for others it can be difficult to create emotional boundaries when it comes to our own needs. At the same time, when we put up emotional walls, we’re judged as being selfish, cold or “bossy.”  

Emily Abad is someone who was raised to always put others’ needs ahead of her own and not speak up for herself. She’s always struggled to find that perfect balance between empathy and assertiveness. When her religious father refused to accept her after she came out as gay, she was at a loss as to what to do.

Then she began working with kids at The Mosaic Project, an experiential education program addressing issues of diversity, empathy, and conflict resolution. Hear how teaching kids the power of speaking their truth from a place of love helped Emily to find her own voice.

Listen to the episode, and leave us a review on Apple Podcasts.

Emily Abad.png

Aging Without Apology: Author Nina Collins on Why Her Facebook Group for Women of a Certain Age Is Feminist AF

Hormonal changes. Marital problems and infidelity. Dating after divorce. Finding sensuality in your post-multiple-pregnancy, middle-aged physique. Having regrets about taking a career break to raise kids. Cosmetic procedures. These are things that we rarely talk about in public or even privately with our friends, but we need to talk about it with someone. The question is, who?

In 2015, author Nina Collins created a secret Facebook group. It was a place where she could seek the advice of her friends who had already experienced perimenopause and other physical changes related to aging. Friends invited friends and now the group, called “What Would Virginia Woolf Do?” (WWVD) has grown to a 17,000 member community in which women share--and sometimes overshare--the challenges and fears and triumphs of life over 40.

Clearly Nina Collins has broken the ice for a conversation that women over 40 have been desperate to have: one in which we confront our shame, embrace our imperfections, honor what makes us unique, and benefit from our collective wisdom so that we can lift each other up.

Sounds like feminism to me.

Nina has captured the essence of this group and her own reflections on “aging” in her new book, "What Would Virginia Woolf Do? And Other Questions I Ask Myself As I Attempt To Age Without Apology." Listen to our conversation here on Inflection Point.

CollinsNina_AuthorPhoto (c)_.jpg

Do haters deserve our compassion? Sally Kohn, Author of "The Opposite of Hate"

Can you find compassion in your heart for the haters in your life? CNN political commentator and first-time author Sally Kohn says if we keep on hating the haters, the cycle of hate will never end.  She’s believes compassion to be one of the keys to breaking the cycle of hatred that pervades our culture in today’s divisive world. 

The question is, how can compassion defeat a system fueled by hate? 

Listen in on my conversation with Sally Kohn, author of “The Opposite of Hate” on what she’s learned from her own missteps as a former school bully and, paradoxically, as a well-meaning liberal, breaking the cycle of hate, and cultivating compassion for her perceived enemies.
 

 Photo by Paul Takeuchi

Photo by Paul Takeuchi

"I am powerful by just living" - Sarah McBride, author of "Tomorrow Will Be Different"

In 2016, Sarah McBride made history--and a childhood dream come true when she stood on the stage at the the Democratic National Convention as the first transgender person to speak at a national political convention. As of 2018, more than half of LGBTQ people live in states that don’t protect them from discrimination or are even actively hostile towards them. Some states have enacted laws that allow businesses, healthcare providers and government officials to actually deny services to LGBTQ people.

In the most challenging moments--the 2016 election results, everyday sexism and misogyny and the death of her young husband-- even then she fights to update our laws to protect and include LGBTQ people.

Sarah is now the national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBTQ civil rights organization. And she’s the author of the new book, “Tomorrow Will Be Different. Love, Loss and the Fight for Trans Equality.”

RESOURCES referred to on this episode:

Human Rights Campaign

Transgender Law Center

 Sarah McBride (photo by B Proud)

Sarah McBride (photo by B Proud)

Will Girls Ever Feel Like They’re Enough As They Are? Rachel Simmons, Co-Founder of Girls Leadership

For many girls today, the relentless pursuit of accomplishment is fueled by harsh self-criticism and an acute fear of failure. Rachel Simmons has been researching young women for two decades, and her research plainly shows that girl competence does not equal girl confidence—nor does it equal happiness, resilience, or self-worth. As an educator and the author of Enough As She Is: How to Help Girls Move Beyond Impossible Standards of Success to Live Healthy, Happy and Fulfilling Lives, Rachel teaches girls and women skills to build their resilience, amplify their voices, and own their courage so that they—and their relationships—live with integrity and health.

Want to read more about Rachel? Check out my piece in Salon and on Medium.

 Rachel Simmons (Credit: Phoebe Jones)

Rachel Simmons (Credit: Phoebe Jones)