Category Archives: Equality

Lean In, Recline – next we’ll be encouraged to levitate

“We need more portrayals of women as competent professionals and happy mothers – or even happy professionals and competent mothers.” – Sheryl Sandberg

“Ladies, if we want to rule the world — or even just gain an equitable share of leadership positions — we need to stop leaning in. It’s killing us.” – Rosa Brooks

Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In was published well over a year ago – and yet, there are still conversations reverberating around cyberspace among both rabid fans and angry detractors. I jumped in the fray myself when I shared a Washington Post article on Facebook called “Recline, don’t ‘Lean In’ (Why I hate Sheryl Sandberg)”. I was particularly struck by this article because it was written by Rosa Brooks, the former U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy and who also served as a State Department senior adviser. This is a woman whose workplace pressures dramatically exceed my own and it was, frankly, such a relief to read Brooks’ exhortations to “fight for our right to lean back and put our feet up.”

In the nonprofit sector, there is a tired old axiom that we are in this only for the greater good, that our passions are enough to fuel our work, that the rewards for driving positive change are all we need.

Not true.

Yes, many of us feel inspired by our work, and passionate about our causes. But the fuel we need is the stuff that goes in our gas tank that gets us from home to work every day, and the rewards we need are the kind that put food on the table and diapers on the toddler. And though we are willing to do this work for paychecks much smaller than our corporate counterparts, it feels wholly unfair to expect and ask us to take on more, build our networks further, and be even more productive as we struggle to simply get through the day. It reminds me of what my mother always said when I was an impatient child, begging for more, more, more: “I’m dancing as fast as I can.”

However, Sandberg, in Lean In, has two important points that resonate with me: first, she asks women to not disqualify ourselves for leadership positions because we aren’t sure we can do them, or because we believe our experience might be perceived as inadequate. Second, she asks us not to refuse leadership positions because we want a family.

I have a dirty little secret: before I accepted my current job, I asked the recruiting consultant to find out if maternity coverage was included in the health care package. I wasn’t sure if this was an appropriate question, but I wasn’t afraid to ask it. My then-job did not cover maternity, and it was truly a deal-breaker. I wasn’t about to have yet another barrier in my way to starting a family.

But many women likely do not feel they can ask questions like that, because they are frightened of scaring off possible employers, and exposing themselves to scrutiny about their priorities. But shouldn’t this kind of information be readily available, without the question even being asked?

On a separate note, what do we do about that fact that so many women, according to Sandberg, undervalue themselves and question their abilities? Certainly many women I know feel like the only way to prove their worth is to work themselves to utter exhaustion. I remember that one of the only days I ever knocked off early at my former job was when I managed to raise $50K in an hour during a lunchtime presentation. That was big potatoes for me at that time, and I allowed myself to leave at 3 PM to celebrate. I’m embarrassed to say that I prided myself on the ridiculous hours I worked, typed away at to-do lists when on phone calls, and went back to work after dinner far more often than I really needed to.

Brooks, in her Washington Post article, has answers for both the undervaluing, and the family issues. She says that we need to “fight the culture of workplace ubiquity” – i.e. the expectation that we are at our computers 24/7 and working all hours of the day and night – and to work on the gender imbalance that still dominates the home life, in that women still do the disproportionate share of housework and parenting.

Good suggestions, certainly. But there is also a great deal of snark and hateful language in Brooks’ article, and Sandberg seems a convenient punching bag for the frustrations of the pressures put on all of us. Why does even this conversation have to be so combative?

Sandberg wants us women to step into more leadership positions, to stop undervaluing ourselves, and to embrace the fact that we can have a family and a meaningful career. She’s also a gagillionaire whose perspective can be a little hard to swallow. Brooks wants us to fight for gender equality, and to make time and space in our lives to allow for more breathing, resting, and reclining.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, well, yes. To all of this. They do not have to be mutually exclusive.

It’s the how. And the how rests with those of us who are in a position to actually do something about this. I have some positional power where I can create an environment that supports leadership, families, and self-care. And I can advocate that others in my field do the same.

Our workload isn’t going to go away. The number of people who need our services in the nonprofit sector is not likely to shrink dramatically anytime soon. And our paychecks are not going to double, either. So what can we do, to ease the burden, to relieve some pressure, and to invite staff members – particularly women – to achieve these ideals?

I have some ideas, many of which I’ve written about before: flexible hours, the expressing of gratitude, rewarding great work (with cash, not just words, if you can!), investing in the personal and professional growth of staff members, encouraging (and insisting, if need be) staff members to take paid days off if they’ve been at full burn.

But I think it’s also important to be honest and vulnerable about our own struggles. I suppose that’s why, even with the snark, I appreciated Brooks’ article. Even though she is certainly a woman of much greater means and responsibility than me, she still seems grounded in the same challenges I face every day. And to have someone like her cry “UNCLE!” and say she can’t take it any more makes me feel relieved about hollering about it, too.

I’m bleeding money every month to cover the cost of daycare for two small children. I’ll miss seeing my family this holiday season because we cannot begin to afford the trip to New York. My three-month emergency savings that I built up as a single person has all but evaporated since my second child came along. I feel intense pressure around money on top of feeling like there aren’t enough hours in the day for me to truly show up for my work and my family.

Comparatively, I’m incredibly fortunate. I make a decent salary, I’ve got a very flexible and supportive workplace, I’ve got a truly wonderful and brilliant husband, and I love my job and my colleagues. And yet, sometimes I feel I’ll collapse under the weight of the pressure not only to do more, but to also do better.

I have to wonder where this pressure comes from – this sick feeling that I’m always falling short. Do men experience this? Do dads spend many hours a day feeling torn in half between work and kids? Do they constantly battle feelings of inadequacy? Maybe, but in my experience, not nearly as much as women do.

I cannot begin to imagine what these work and family pressures must feel like for people in more difficult circumstances – whose salaries are terribly low, who are single parenting, who hate their jobs, who aren’t supported in their workplaces. I think it’s all well and good to invite each other to recline OR lean in but the invitation isn’t enough. Those of us with the capacity to create change in our organizations need to build in systems and cultures that allow people to work the way they want and need to while still ensuring productivity and encouraging passion. And we need to figure out why it’s so difficult for many women to enjoy an ongoing feeling of accomplishment and peace. As a very smart friend said to me recently, “Nobody needs to hold us back or do violence to us if we’ve internalized it.”

I’m on a path to try to figure this out, and to do something about it. If you have any brilliant ideas, I’m listening.






“A happy family is but an earlier heaven.” – George Bernard Shaw

Two Fridays ago, I spent the morning with prison inmates, and the afternoon at a community celebration for breastfeeding.

One of the things I love about my job is that every day is different. There’s never a day when I’m working on the same thing for hours on end, and never a week that looks anything like the weeks preceding it. But that Friday was particularly charged, and frankly, challenging, as I spent the morning reeling with awe and gratitude, and the afternoon feeling both honored and frustrated.

My day began at the Rountree Medium Facility Jail in Watsonville. I was there because the Arts Council gave a grant to the incredible William James Association. The Association, through their Prison Arts Project, hired artist Arturo Thomae to work with the inmates to create a beautiful mural in the jail’s cafeteria. Ten of the inmates who worked on the mural spoke about the experience, and to a man, each expressed immense gratitude. “It took going to jail for me to pick up a paintbrush for the first time,” one of them told me. “It’s not going to be the last.” Another spoke about what it meant to have the opportunity to be transported, at least figuratively, from the jail, during the hours he got to paint. “It’s the only time I’ve not had to look at these four walls, and gotten to think about something other than what it’s like to be here.”

I admit that I went to this event with some apprehension, about what it would like to be there, and what it might be like to talk to incarcerated men. And I left humbled and floored and utterly grateful for the life I have – one of such privilege, which largely protected me from forces that could have landed me or my loved ones in a similar situation. These men may have done things that led to their incarceration. But they also chose to participate in a project to create beauty that they hope will last for decades. And they also – like everyone – need a creative outlet, maybe even one to inspire them toward building a different kind of life.

After leaving the jail, I rushed to pick up my boys and drove them to downtown Watsonville where the local chapter of Women, Infants & Children and many other partner organizations had organized the annual Breastfeeding Awareness March & Celebration. I was there to accept an award that is near and dear to my heart: the Family Friendly Workplace Award, with Breastfeeding Emphasis.


This award, spearheaded by United Way Santa Cruz County, recognizes businesses that support their employees in their roles as parents. Sally Green, the Arts Council’s Development & Communications Director, and mother of one-year-old Sadie, nominated us.


I’m thrilled we received this recognition, not because what we are doing is extraordinary, but because I hope the very existence of this award helps to move the needle to encourage workplaces to take better care of their employees.

I’ve heard so many horror stories – and been in the thick of them myself – about how workplaces seem to have been intentionally set up for people to fail, and I promise you that there are fewer people more vulnerable than new parents. I don’t think what we do at the Arts Council is revolutionary. At least, it shouldn’t be. But we do everything in our power to set everyone (parents, grandparents, younger employees, more seasoned staffers) up to be as successful as possible.

This is what Sally wrote in her nomination:

“Arts Council Santa Cruz County is a family friendly/family supportive workplace in so many ways – from flexible schedules, Family Leave and accommodation for breastfeeding/pumping to a spirit of welcome for children at events for both staff and the community. Executive Director Michelle Williams worked with the board to create a Family Leave policy that supports mothers and fathers, whether birth or adoptive parents. Staff with grandchildren is also afforded the flexibility to spend time with them to support their children, extending the family friendly and supportive atmosphere to the community. We are invited to bring our selves fully to our work, including our roles as parents and grandparents. “

I’m so delighted that Sally feels so supported. But I am deeply frustrated that what we do is not the norm.

If you are in a position of leadership at your organization, and you think that you could improve conditions for parents, grandparents, and caregivers, but for any reason you are hesitant to do so, I invite you to get in touch with me. If you fear that schedule flexibility will create laziness or a lack of engagement, I’ll quickly dispel that myth. If you think you can’t afford a leave policy, I’ll work with you to figure it out, and show you how employee retention is a LOT less expensive than recruitment. Are you an employee and want to create a campaign for a more family-friendly workplace? I’m your gal. I’ll help you all I can.

Think about this: what’s the quickest way to get a stranger to warm up to you? Ask them about their kids or their grandkids. What’s the quickest way to alienate a stranger (or even an old friend)? Insult their kids or grandkids. It’s the same deal in a workplace. The fastest way to make an employee feel welcomed or valued is to show them that you welcome and value their whole person – including the munchkins they may have at home.

I’m here at the Arts Council for the long haul. Why? Because I love my job, I admire and adore my colleagues, I have a super smart and engaged board of directors – but mostly, more than anything – they all let me be a mom.


What can you do to make your workplace one that, even more, values the whole person? Join us in this movement. Let me know how I can help.





“I was taught that the human brain was the crowning glory of evolution so far, but I think it’s a very poor scheme for survival.” – Kurt Vonnegut

 “The human brain starts working the moment you are born and never stops until you stand up to speak in public.” – George Jessel

Most people want to belong to a peer group of like-minded others more than they want to accept facts.

Actually, it goes deeper than that. People need to feel a sense of belonging to such an extent that they will disbelieve irrefutable facts if those facts will separate them from their peer group. Fascinating, no? For instance, let’s say you are a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association (NRA) and you want to convince a group of Democrats that, say, requiring permits does not reduce violent crime. The worst thing you can do is tell this group of Democrats that 86.4% of Democrats believe that police permits should be required for gun ownership, even if your next statistic is one that indisputably demonstrates that permits do more harm than good in our legal system. (Obviously, I’m completely making that up.)

The Democrats – even after hearing your fantastic statistic – will only believe more strongly that the permits should be required, because unconsciously, their highest need is a sense of belonging to their peer group. By citing what that group believes, even though you follow it up with a statistic that refutes that belief, you’ve reaffirmed what they already believed rather than shifted their thinking. Changing their belief would mean separating themselves from like-minded people, and that is against our basic human hard-wiring.

So what do we do with this information?

I’ve just finished the second week of the Spitfire Strategies training and my head is spinning, even faster than it was last time. We learned about the “facts vs. peer group” phenomenon at the last session, but we’ve built upon it the last few days, and this idea – of cognitive dissonance – is making me rethink the fundamentals of our communications.

One afternoon during the training, we were treated to a precious hour with Shankar Vedantam, NPR’s science correspondent, who talked about unconscious biases and what really drives decision-making. The thrust of his talk was that in this country – unlike many others, particularly in Europe – we Americans are almost entirely motivated by independent motives rather than interdependent motives. Meaning, if we think something will better our own lives, we will be more motivated than if we think it will benefit the greater community more. For example, I will, with this logic, care more about the drinking water where my kid goes to school than I will about the health of the water in the greater Monterey Bay.

There are examples around this in both the left and right. “Gun rights” activists are more successful than gun control advocates because they make their case around personal liberty and safety and the right for individuals to bear arms. But pro-choice advocates are currently more successful than anti-choice advocates because the issue is such a personal, singular one about each woman having control over her own body.

Now while this priortization of individual good over collective good might be both disturbing and debatable, it is prevalent. And yet, the majority of our messaging at the Arts Council is centered around collective good. By our very nature, we connect people, we create gathering places, we inspire common dialogue, we strengthen schools, we reduce crime, we spark economic activity. These are the stories we tell. Less often do we talk about what it means to be personally engaged in the making of or enjoying the arts.

And yet, when we immerse ourselves in the arts, we are most fully present. When we are captivated by live theater, when we are dancing in a club or in our living room, when we are spending a solid hour mixing blue and white paint to perfectly capture the shade of a midday sky (and yes, I did that, once), both our hearts and our minds are completely engaged. And that is what it means to be truly present. It’s difficult to achieve that state outside of the arts, and yet we spend very little time making the case that the arts can actually make you feel better, make you happier. I can’t imagine a more personal, self-serving (in a positive way) motive.

But back to the facts.  And back to the fact that facts don’t matter. Perception is reality, and more than anything, people need to feel like they belong. So what do we do with this information?

The best part of this training has been learning all of the science around how our brains work, and what really drives our decision-making. And what we learned is that most people will simply never change their minds. And the more we throw facts at them to try to get them to change their minds, the more they will believe what they believed in the first place. There are people who will never think the arts are important. There are people who will continue to think being gay is a choice, or a sin. There are people who will deny climate change to their grave.


“Follow the leaders”, or “Politicians Discussing Global Warming” – Isaac Cordal, Berlin, Germany, April 2011

So, what does all the science say to do with these folks?


There’s nothing to be done. Lock a progressive in a room with ten channels turned on Fox News and 24 hours later they’ll only be more of a lefty. The same would happen to a die-hard conservative locked up with MSNBC – they will emerge even more convinced of their original beliefs. What we need to do, instead of trying to change the minds of the masses, is energize our base. Fire up our most evangelistic supporters. Get them to influence that wee 15% or so of undecided folks in our community. Don’t soften our messages in hopes of gently winning the opposition. It won’t work, and it will cause defection in our ranks. Instead, message with hope, with passion, and with conviction, believing that we are on the winning team (even if it doesn’t feel like it) and if the opposition hates our message it means we hit the mark.

What if our opposition is loud, and maybe even wrong in their (to borrow from Steven Colbert) truthiness? That will only serve to energize our base, and throwing facts or statistics back at them is a waste of breath.

I find all of this a great relief. Yes, there are times when we need to change the minds of people who hold great influence over policy or funding or PR that dramatically affect our work. To these folks we cannot turn a deaf ear. But if we can energize our base, spark a movement, turn some of the undecideds into our evangelists, and put great social pressure on those decision makers, we will have created a peer group that the person of influence will, hopefully, want to join.

Sometimes the way in is sideways.

I’ve got much more to digest, but as I barrel through the sky at 35,000 feet, finally returning home to my sweet little boys, I’m thinking about how all of this applies to us in Santa Cruz. My friends and colleagues are all engaged in hard work to make Santa Cruz the most terrific and enlightened place on earth to live, work, and play. How can we use this information to better make our case, and change our world?



being the change

“Don’t agonize – organize.” – Christine Pelosi, quoting her mother Nancy

I turned 40 years old this past June. My life has changed dramatically over the past four years – I now have a brilliant husband, a wonderful son, another son on the way, a job I adore, and a home in one of the most magnificent places in the world to work and raise a family. Though I’m basically always exhausted, due to the motherhood + full-time work equation, I still am keenly aware that my life is amazing. But sometimes I wonder about my personal impact on the planet. Am I making the kind of difference I believe I was born to make? When I leave the planet, will I have left it different and better? I know that just being a great mom can change the world, and if I can do that, terrific – but I also wonder about my personal and professional impact and who I want to be beyond the circle of my little family.

Well, last week I got a pretty big kick in the rear. I attended the Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce’s Women in Leadership Forum, aptly entitled “Making SHIFT Happen”. I was a little wary of cheesy empowerment stories and bad music (and yes, I heard Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like A Woman” a few too many times) but overall, it was incredible. It began with an interactive lecture by Melanie Stern, who took all 200 of us through the “True Colors” personality profile to determine our dominant personality type. Having been through Meyers-Briggs and a half a dozen other kinds of platforms of this ilk, my result was not surprising (I’m a blue, it turns out, and an ENFP, thank you very much), but what did surprise me is where my colors are “dim” – i.e., orange. Orange is the color of big risk-takers and extroverts and energy and living life to the fullest. I think this color has dimmed for me since becoming a parent, but I do hope to “brighten” that color a bit in my professional life. And according to Melanie, such things are possible!

But the real juice for me was in the keynote speech by Christine Pelosi. Certainly, this is a woman who was born into a situation that was primed to cultivate greatness, but even with this background, what she’s been able to achieve in her 40+ years is humbling and inspiring. She’s only a few years older than me, and yet her national accomplishments and critically important posts are too long to list here. Even more than that – she’s just a regular ‘ol awesome human being. She met her husband only a few years ago, had her now three-year-old daughter shortly afterward, and hasn’t skipped a beat in her professional life even through those big transitions. I wonder if I could say the same. I wish I could take her out for coffee, just to find out how she balances it all, with a perspective more in line with mine than, say, Anne-Marie Slaughter’s.

Christine spoke without notes for over an hour. Obviously she’d given this speech before but it was punctuated with comments highly relevant to the theme of our gathering. She took the time to tell us that she was a huge San Francisco Giants fan and welcomed updates to the game currently being played throughout her speech. She was unapologetic about her accomplishments, and those of her family, while still being so human and accessible. And she implored – nay, commanded us – to take action of our own.

She talked about being “change agents”, though she never used that phrase. She said that we can’t always wait until we are elected, or until those who are elected are sympathetic to our cause, or until there is already a movement afoot, or even until there is a critical mass willing to tackle a problem before we take action. She said that sometimes we just need to get everything rolling ourselves and be the catalyst to make all of the above happen. And she talked a lot about the empowerment of women.

There are still far more men than women in power, across political and professional spheres. There is still not equal pay for equal work. There are still men taking credit for ideas generated by women. And there are still men and women – everywhere – who sit back and allow this to happen. One of her analogies was that of a staircase: in many situations, where men have one flight of stairs to climb, women will have two, and lesbians or transgender people might have four, five, or six flights to climb for the same job. She asked, “Have you ever been in a meeting where ‘Jane’ proposes an idea, and then five minutes later, ‘Jim’ proposes the same idea, and then everyone in the meeting erupts about what a fantastic idea it is?” This sounds so 1950’s, but it happens all the time. Christine said that this is when we MUST speak up, and say, “Jim, that is a great idea, and Jane, thank you for bringing it up!” We must all be change agents for equality, and that means, probably more than anything, that if we as women find ourselves in positions of power we must do our part to give credit where credit is due, publicly and privately. And TAKE credit, when it is due to us, whether it is men or women who try to steal it. And we must continually find ways to reach down the ladder to make sure that the climb up is equally easy or arduous for everyone.

Although there are spheres where inequality bares its fangs more frequently than others, this is still a huge problem. And there are painfully obvious examples of this. If men were the ones who had to give birth, do you think there would be any question or controversy about insurance companies covering the cost of birth control? If men were the ones who needed to breastfeed and who were typically the primary caregivers during the first few months of life, do you think America would still trail all other developed nations in federal maternity leave policies?

I know I’m treading into dicey territory here, but I bring this up to demonstrate how we can all be change agents. As a new mom, and a mom-to-be again, the maternity policy issue is one that has me enraged. The US federal maternity policy states, in a nutshell, that you can’t legally be fired from your job as long as you return within four month after giving birth. Period. No maternity or paternity paid leave, no caregiver assistance – you are “allowed” to take off work, but beyond that, you are on your own to pay and care for a wailing blob of life that will suck you and your bank account dry. (It’s worth it, but still.) And the rules are different for companies with fewer than 50 employees – which is a heck of a lot of companies, by the way. Compare us to countries around the world and it is just embarrassing. Heck, *Slovakia* pays 70% salary to new mothers for THREE YEARS! Zimbabwe, and many other African nations, pays their mothers 100% of their salaries for three months. Guess who else funds three months of fully-paid maternity leave? Afghanistan.

The United States? Zip. Zero. Now – a few states – California included – have created leave policies that partially fund salaries, with a cap. Here, we get 12 weeks of “disability” payments at roughly 55% of salary. Which is a great help. But most companies – and almost all smaller companies – have no supplemental assistance and follow the federal guidelines.

When I got pregnant, I looked at the Cultural Council’s personnel handbook, and the state and federal policies, and realized that I would not be able to afford to take more than a few weeks off to be with my new baby. This was unacceptable to me, both for personal reasons, and for the kind of organization I want to run. I worked with my then-board president, the executive committee, and a human resources consultant to see what would be possible. In the end, they were fantastic and supportive and we created a new maternity/paternity policy that provides one week of full pay and an additional four weeks of pay at 45%, to make up the difference of the disability payments – AND allowed that the employee would continue to be on the insurance plan for up to four months.

Hey, it’s not Afghanistan, but it’s a huge step in the right direction. And now, when similar organizations are thinking of reworking their own policies, and they call me to find out what we offer, I promote the Cultural Council as a model and an advocate for supporting employees as they enter into the wildest transition of their lives. And this doesn’t just help the employees: it helps the organization by creating an environment where people feel supported and cared for – which is critical for employee happiness and retention.

Christine’s speech reminded me that in this one area, I’ve been a change agent. And she’s inspired (nay, commanded) me to find other areas where I can and will make a difference. Sometimes I think that attacking the federal maternity/paternity policies might be the next big thing in my life – when my kids are older and it’s time for me to bring on fresh, new talent to lead the Cultural Council. That day is far off, but it’s good to be thinking about what I can do then – and what I can do tomorrow.

So, I ask (command?) you: What do you think needs to be fixed, in your organization, globally, or somewhere in between? And what are you going to do about it?