What is your story?
Since I was a teenager, I’ve been fascinated by how understanding the past is essential to creating a better and more just America. That basic insight knits together the different threads of my career as a historian, author, consultant, professor, and policy specialist.
Over the past decade my focus has been on writing, consulting, and public speaking on women’s empowerment and the intersection of gender and American politics. I’ve published two books about this, Breakthrough and Delirium: The Politics of Sex in America, and numerous articles in national outlets, including the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the New Republic, the Guardian, Rolling Stone, and elsewhere. I give speeches around the nation on women’s leadership and other subjects.
What message do you like to promote to others?
When women are in leadership, we all win. Many of us experience this first-hand in our personal and professional lives. But the research also supports this view. Particularly when it comes to issues that impact women, whether it’s equal pay or women’s health, women leaders are more likely to make advancing women’s opportunity, well-being, and rights a priority. We see it all over the world.
In what capacity do you LEAD UP in your community?
I’ve served on several boards and government commissions on which the mission is to promote gender equity and tackle problems of racial injustice and economic inequality. I love canvassing for candidates and issues I support to help persuade people on the importance of voting, and I do it during most elections. I spend a lot of time writing for work, which is a pretty solitary experience. Working with other people toward a collective goal both grounds my writing in the real world and recharges me personally.
In business and/or in life, share a struggle you overcame that other women can relate to?
In my mid-30s, I ended up divorced and a single mother of two preschool aged daughters. Besides being emotionally devastating, it upended my career. But with the support of a close network of friends and a willingness to take some risks myself, I made it through the difficult first years. Ten years later, my daughters were thriving, I had a new interesting career, a loving and funny new husband, four fabulous new stepchildren and their partners. Absolutely I got lucky. But what I say to women who face the same crisis, it does get better.
Did you have a Mentor, Coach or Sponsor along the way that was essential to your growth and success? If so, who was it and why?
That I’ve been able to publish four books and make a living as a writer is entirely due to my mentor and graduate school advisor. Sure, she advised and supported me and taught me the ropes of the profession. But more importantly, she was not afraid to deliver hard lessons. When my work wasn’t good, she minced no words in telling me so. But she also made it clear it was about the work and she was confident I could do better. From this experience, my advice to women starting out in a career is to seek out mentors and sponsors who will hold you to the highest possible standards and push you to reach.
What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do?
I love speaking to college students and community organizations, and helping to motivate people to put their values into action. Which brings me to your last question…
If you could give one piece of advice for the women who are entering the workforce or launching their own business what would that be?
I’m often asked at my speeches, “What’s the most important thing I can do? Is it X or Y or Z?”
My answer is any of the above.
Women particularly operate under this myth of perfection. That there is one perfect path to accomplish a goal. Or that everything has to be perfectly lined up and in place before you can start something. It can be paralyzing. Once you accept that everything worth doing will be done with other people and diversity makes everything better, it’ll be clearer where your special talents can be best directed.
To solve any big problem or create a new business requires lots of different skills and talents from a diverse group of people. So figure out what you’re most passionate about and honestly evaluate what skills you possess that can contribute to the enterprise. Don’t ignore the crucial X factor — how do you like to spend your time, given your temperament. And then act. Your contribution will be better and you’ll be more satisfied in your career if you find this fit.