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Leadership columns

Previously published by The News-Press

"Women still lag men across the board...which means the potential of half of humankind is unfulfilled."

"Women have to consistently look behind as well as ahead."

Ladies, lean into the action circle 

Published in The News-Press on 9/29/13


Former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week headlined the annual Clinton Global Initiative in New York, a star-studded forum founded in 2005 to “turn ideas into action.”


After three days, CGI boasted that members had made 160 commitments that would impact 22.2 million lives and be worth $10.8 billion. Tough issues. Serious progress. Pretty impressive.


But when Bill Clinton was on CBS This Morning Tuesday, what was the question that drew the most attention? Would his wife Hillary Clinton rather be president or grandmother.


Bill Clinton responded, "If you ask her, I think she'd say grandmother..but I have found it best not to discuss that issue.”


How disheartening, on so many levels.


First, that some TV producer thought it would be fun to ask such a question, as if there was a choice to be made. Can you imagine asking Bill Clinton the same question had he been pondering a 2016 presidential run? It’s a gender specific question, one that limits and constrains. 


Secondly, that Bill Clinton affirmed there is an “either or” option. This despite Charlie Rose giving him an out in how he asked the question, "Do you think she'd rather be -- today, she can do both -- president or a grandmother?" (I give Rose points for apparently ad-libbing to salvage the dialog.)


And thirdly, that more voices didn’t loudly decry that line of questioning—including Hillary herself. These types of explicit and implicit choices, of societal expectations and limitations, are critical reasons why opportunities for women are far from equal.


Women still lag men across the board in pay, roles, responsibilities—especially in leadership positions. Which means the potential of half of humankind is unfulfilled.


What Hillary Clinton did say at the forum on Wednesday was she was committed to “the unfinished business of the 21th century, the full and equal participation of women.”


That’s a call to action shared by many, including another high-profile speaker at the event , Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. She just published a new book, “Lean In,” which my friend Heather Mazurkiewicz gave to me a few days ago. (Thanks, Heather!)


Sandberg’s message is that women are hindered by internal obstacles as much as external ones: society has taught us to pull back, to compromise, to settle. She urges women to “lean in,” to dream big and achieve their full potential. “If more women lean in, we can change the power structure of our world and expand opportunities for all,” she writes.


We see glimpses of this all around. Sometimes there is a collective leaning where the rich possibilities take our breath away. 


Such was the case at the recent Apex celebration at the Sanibel Harbour Marriott.  Hosted by the Women in Business committee of the Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce, the annual event celebrates women for professional excellence, community service and for assisting others in professional goals and leadership skills.  You could see and feel the electricity in the air as this circle of special women—hundreds of leaders and leaders-to-be of all ages--seized this opportunity to shine, connect and lean in to each other. 


“Strong and compassionate women are the pillars of every major charity event and organization in Fort Myers,” says Peri Bluemer, Vice President of Employee and Community Relations for Scott Fischer Enterprises. “Women have to consistently look behind as well as ahead.  We must balance our own efforts to move forward with making it easier to help the women behind us get to the next level.”


“Women leaders thrive when provided opportunity to be successful in their professional and personal goals,” says Tessa LeSage, manager of Lee County’s Office of Sustainability and mother of two.  


They were among nine fellow Apex nominees. I was honored to be this year’s recipient, following the heels of Sandy Stillwell, Samira Beckwith, Gail Markham, Sarah Owen, Mary Kay Peterson, Rose Bernal and Christin Collins.


All of them not only lean in but push and pull and prod and carry and nudge—for the greater good. 


LeSage is one of those younger, quiet leaders. She helped engage more than 35 community partners to develop Lee County’s first comprehensive Sustainability Plan, recently earning a $10.5 million grant to implement the Complete Streets Initiative.  Being nominated for the Apex “motivates me to do more,” she says.


“It is important to give all women of diverse backgrounds the chance to reach their full potential, and that’s a long process,” said another nominee, Beth Lobdell, Executive Director of Childcare of Southwest Florida. Our limiting factors? “Individual priorities and ambition.” 


Adds Bluemer: “Don’t wait till you have a title to be a leader; we can all lead by example.” 


Indeed. As I said to the Apex audience, a community is only as strong as its stakeholders. It is strong because of its stakeholders.


So I urge you: Don’t be limited, by others or yourself. Don’t be forced to make choices when they’re unrelated. Lean in. Engage. Join the circle. Change a piece of the world, and you change the world.


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