Changemaker Chat NYC“Wear The Shirt”: A Conversation with Gloria Feldt

Gloria Feldt has been called the “Voice of Experience” by People Magazine and we couldn’t agree more. In a packed house at HBO, walls adorned with posters to some of our favorite shows, Gloria captivated us with her remarkable story like any hour of primetime. From teen mom and high school dropout to president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America to feminist icon fighting for gender parity, inspiration oozed through Gloria’s every word. Here are a few of our favorite moments.

Say Yes
Gloria’s third child refers to himself as her “light bulb child,” because it was shortly after his birth that she realized she wanted more out of her life. The key to getting more? Saying Yes. Instead of succumbing to self-doubt, Gloria implored us to say yes more often. It’s not that doors of opportunity aren’t open for women, but that not enough women are walking through them.

From Personal to Political
A woman cannot control her life if she cannot control her fertility. Pregnant at 15, Glorialearned this lesson first hand. The advent of the pill not only represented a shift in her own life trajectory, but a paradigm shift for women everywhere. During her tenure at Planned Parenthood, Gloria’s first victory was getting contraceptives covered by insurance. Oh are we thankful!

Be the Generation of Courage
We’ve heard it before: If we keep doing what we’ve always done, we will get the same results. Women have been stuck at under 20% of leadership positions across every sector, even non-profits where women are 77% of the employees. In order to advocate for issues like reproductive justice, Gloria says the focus needs to be on gender parity in leadership. But for women to take the lead, it means we must be courageous enough to break the gender stereotype and risk being called a B**** if it means we get a seat at the table.

Tool Time: Wear the Shirt
While at Planned Parenthood, colleagues asked Gloria whether they should change out of their clinic t-shirts at the end of the day to avoid having to explain themselves to people outside of work. But Gloria affirmed there’s no on/off switch for your values, instead you should express them all the time as an extension of your identity. Wear the shirt is one of the nine tools Gloria explains in her book No Excuses, helping women equalize gender power.

Speaking of Power
Women have an ambivalent relationship with power; we often want what power gives us but are turned off by what it takes to get it. Gloria noted that our relationship with power is culturally influenced and thus can be unlearned. She suggests we quit the zero-sum-game way of thinking, and instead view power as a hammer: You can build something with it or break something apart. By redefining power from power over (someone) to power to (do something), we can change the narrative and can be more productive leaders.

Just Be You
Rhyme schemes aside, Gloria and Dr. Seuss agree “No one is you-er than you.” And Gloria sees your you-ness as an asset. “What sets you apart is what gets you ahead.” She recommends we think intentionally about who we are, how we want to be perceived, and give a little bit more of ourselves than required.

Advice to New Activists
Don’t march against everything, march for something, strategically. From civil rights to gender parity, Gloria knows a thing or two about activism and shared her quick tips:

  1. Be a sister or brother. Find the people who share your points of view and feed your soul.
  2. Pick a cause and have the courage to raise the issues. Have conversations that matter.
  3. Put the sister/brother and the courage together with a strategy. A march shows the potential of people to band together. But to be effective, potential needs to be turned into a disciplined strategy.

Thank you, Gloria, for leading by example and paving the road for so many to follow. For more information on Gloria‘s work, please check out Take The Lead.