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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julia R Davis:                        Oh, amazing. Well done.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lauren Schiller:                  What's it called?

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

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

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

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

Lauren Schiller:                  How did you handle that?

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

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

Julia R Davis:                        Oh hell yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaker 4:                              From PRX.