This podcast features Jay Newton-Small, Co-founder of MemoryWell and author of “Broad Influence: How Women are Changing the Way America Works”, and her Keynote, “Broad Influence – How Women are Changing the Way America Works” from the design leadership conference Prototypes, Process & Play on August 11th, 2017.
Jay Newton-Small – Keynote
Co-founder of MemoryWell
Jay Newton-Small is cofounder of MemoryWell, which tells the life stories of those suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Previously, Newton-Small was Washington correspondent for TIME Magazine, where she remains a contributor. At TIME she covered politics as well as stories on five continents from conflicts in the Middle East to the earthquake in Haiti and the November 2015 Paris terror attacks. She has written more than half a dozen TIME cover stories and interviewed numerous heads of state, including Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
She authored the 2016 best selling book, Broad Influence: How Women Are Changing the Way America Works.
Before TIME, Newton-Small was a reporter for Bloomberg News, where she covered the White House and politics.
Newton-Small received an M.S. in journalism from Columbia University and undergraduate degrees in International Relations and Art History from Tufts University. She was a 2015 Harvard Institute of Politics fellow and is a 2016 New America fellow. She is the 2016 winner of the prestigious Dirksen Award for congressional reporting and the 2016 Deadline Club award for community service reporting.
Broad Influence – How Women are Changing the Way America Works
Executive office has proven the hardest glass ceiling to break. Less than 5% of Fortune 1000 CEOs are women, just 18% of America’s mayors, 12% of governors and, of course, zero presidents. There’s a huge body of research that shows, whether it’s a legislature, a corporate board, a Navy ship, or an appellate court, when women reach between 20-30% of the leadership at any given organization it’s a tipping point and they begin to change how things are done – for the better. Jay shows where we’re reaching that tipping point – all three branches of the government – and the areas where we not – such as Silicon Valley and Wall Street, and why it’s important for us to get to critical mass across the board.
Podcast transcript below. Please note: Transcription was recorded live; there may be errors (typographical and contextual), as well as omissions or other content gaffes.
Additionally, there was microphone feedback that happened in the room from time to time, and we did our best to minimize it in the podcasts. We apologize for any disruptions to your listening experience that this may cause.
So hi. My name is Jay Newton‑Small. And until last November I was actually a correspondent with Time magazine for the last decade. And I wrote a book about women coming together during the government shutdown. And so I had a lot of interest in writing about women in the senate and that piece. It was by far the most mail I ever received for any piece I wrote for Time. And that included two cover stories on Sarah Palin.
It was the first time women ever reached 20 in the senate. And they had an enormous impact in that session. I covered congress for a better part of a dozen years at that point and you could really feel the difference women made when they reached that 20% tipping point. I got interested in the idea of critical mass. So critical mass is an idea that comes from science. It’s the point in which a chain reaction can no longer be stopped. So it’s the point in which a bomb you can’t stop it from going “boom.”
But it’s been applied for sociology for decades. After they integrated schools in the South, after Brown vs. the Board of Education decision, they had a critical mass of 20% of minority students in schools.
And the critical mass for women in the senate was 20%. Women when they reach this tipping point begin to change the culture of the institution. And indeed women in the senate in that two‑year period. That was the 113th congress. They sat on 11 of the 20 committees and they had this enormous impact, this enormous change.
My book looks at the point in which women reached this tipping point. And a chapter involves a good mutual friend of ours. She works in the U.S. digital service. A lot of women self‑select. She works in tech in D.C. They like the idea of effecting change in the systems, rather than just one company at a world.
So the USDS for example is 53% women. So my book has lots of chapters about politics, because I was in Washington and I know about politicians. So there is a chapter on women in the senate, there’s a chapter on women in the house. But the most interesting thing to me in researching this book was that I found that there was this huge difference between the public sector and the private sector.
So the public sector is actually reaching critical mass in all three branches of the government right now. 20% in congress. 30% of the administration in terms of upper level civil service and political appointees. That may change with this administration.
And 36% of the federal bench are women. 40% of state judges are actually women. The private sector has been stuck for the last decade. 20‑21% in the executive suite workforce. They can’t seem to get beyond those numbers.
So I was curious why is the public sector doing better than the private sector? It turns out there are five factors. The public sector is not paid, as well. Two, the unions in the public sector are much stronger. Women who go on maternity leave at the CIA, which is 47% women.
Their jobs are much better protected. They can keep up with what’s going on and they aren’t falling behind when they choose to come back from maternity leave.
Three, women have an easier pipeline. I know that sounds a little weird. But take – there are 400 members of the lower house that represent 3 million residents in New Hampshire. So it’s a small jump to go from running for your local school board than running at the state level. It’s 100 more people. They can impact kids and as the kids get older they can start taking on more responsibilities. Running for higher office. And in the last five years, New Hampshire actually having the governor, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the state senate, were all women. They have different bosses. In the private sector it’s almost completely older white men. But in the public sector, you have to answer to voters. And women vote a lot more than men do.
On average, in presidential elections women vote 10% more than men do. Politicians have to actually get women to vote for them. They have to show that they’re appointing women to offices and that helps bring more women into government.
By far, the hardest part that women face is executive office. That shouldn’t be surprising. But there’s very different standards that people expect from executive office versus legislative office or a board or group activities. When you’re running for legislative office, people do that to collaborate. And women’s strengths of consensus building and getting everybody on the same page is something that is good. They’re going to get everybody together and find some sort of compromise and everything will be great. But those strengths actually hurt them running for executive office.
So running for executive office people believe they need to have a very strong sense of decision making. You need to be able to make decisions independently without a lot of counsel and very quickly. And women are perceived at being weaker at this. They need to prove themselves in ways that men don’t when they run for executive office. There is a test that women face that they don’t face when they run for other offices. So you have to prove yourself capable enough without crossing over to being a bitch. That means you’re unlucky and people don’t like you. As you know, there’s never been a female president. Only 17% of our country’s mayors are women. And only less than 5% of Fortune 1,000 CEOs are women. Same rules apply in the public sector as they do in the private sector.
Having executive women super charges the products that women make. Nancy Pelosi, she almost single handedly increased female participation in the house. And having executive actors in the Senate really helped make progress. So the reason why critical mass is somewhere between 20‑30% because we have executives and people who are powerful. You don’t need as many. So they rank or chair 11 out of the 20 committees. They were incredibly powerful. You need 20 of them to reach critical mass. But if you don’t have the critical actors, you need more sheer numbers. More than 3%.
But to get back to the idea of women as that capability test. I covered both Hillary Clinton’s campaigns for Time. Both in ’08 and in ’16. And you can see in the first campaign she ran she had to prove she was capable. She never really talked about being a female candidate. She didn’t really bring up the historic reach of her candidacy. And she campaigned with generals and a lot of authority figures. And her campaign slogan was “Ready for day one.” By the time she got to 2016, she proved she was capable enough. The problem was she wasn’t likable anymore because she crossed that line to being a bitch. I’ll say this as an aside. She had a lot of other baggage. She herself said she was a terrible candidate. There was a lot of Clinton stuff out there. But this apply to anyone who runs for executive office.
She talked about being a grandma. She talked about, you know, how much progress she had made for women. She tried to make herself very likable. And that’s really tough when you’re running for executive office. They’re all incredibly pragmatic women. Angela Merkel, Margaret Thatcher. Theresa May. BREXIT, we’re going to elect a woman. Most female CEOs are appointed when companies are struggling. Mary Berra, when she was appointed to head of GM, she went onto the Today Show. She was asked isn’t it true that you were just appointed because you are a woman and you’re harder to attack. She said no I’m an electrical engineer and I’m good for the job.
There is the glass cliff. They’re shot off the glass cliff when the company fails.
They’re put in this tough position. And they’re almost always replaced by white men. So it is incredibly difficult for women to be inspirational in executive offices. Barack Obama can talk about the – and it’s so inspiring. But women are not expected to inspire. I remember Hillary in New Hampshire, the first time. When we flew from Iowa to New Hampshire right after she barely won the Iowa caucus in 2016. We’re in New Hampshire there was an airport rally and hundreds of people there. And she gave her speech. And even I waslike that was so shrill. She was tired and she was screaming and it was loud. And everyone has hair sticking up on the back of her neck. And right after that on Morning Joe he said she is so shrill. I can’t listen to her. That’s unfair for all women in the world. Every time a woman raises her voice in passion, she’s considered screaming, she’s so shrill. It’s hard to show passion. Yell at me for 40 minutes, and you’re like yay, yell at me for 40 more! But Hillary, you’re like oh my gosh this is awful. Mom is yelling at me. It takes generations of women raising their voice in passion before we get to the point of getting used to hearing women yelling in passion about what they feel strongly about.
Hillary tried to rename it. She would get really quiet – And it was terrible. It lasted less than a week. (Laughing) So this is hard. Electing women to executive office is really, really difficult. And I remember being in New Hampshire and asking a young woman why are you going to vote for Bernie versus Hillary. She had been to rallies for both. She said if you think of going to a political event like going on a first date. Going to change the world, free healthcare, and it’s awesome. And she leaves inspired. And if you go to a Hillary event, you know, you know it’s really important, but it’s like going on a first date with an actuary. Got to save for college, got to pay off your mortgage, do all of these things that are really important, but really boring. And that’s really hard. It’s really hard to be inspirational and to sore and to yell and do all of these things that women can’t do.
Again, I’m not saying this is why Hillary lost the election. But I’m saying these are factors. But all is not lost. Don’t worry.
There is the propensity that this is terrible, women are not making any progress. We’re screwed essentially. And I want to end on a positive note and then I want to take your question. And that is when I was writing a book, I really worried about, I really didn’t believe that I would ever see a critical mass or parity, especially parity in my lifetime. I always thought of parity as in the woods, never going to happen.
But women were actually brought into the workforce because of economic necessity. Rosie the Riveters during World War II. We had universal child care back then because who was going to take care of the kids? But it wasn’t until the 1970s that all the laws of women working without their husband’s permission were fully repealed. I’m really glad we’re living in this time because we’ll get to see it.
So by the year 2030, the – generation will age out of the workforce. And the American workforce will be short 2 million workers. There’s two ways to solve it. Immigration, which is hard to imagine. Or you open it up to women in the workforce. Women already have the talents to do this. They make up half of college degrees. They make up more than 60% of graphic degrees. They’re just not using them. But this is not going to happen naturally. It’s something that’s going to have to be invented. Child care. How you get women sort of free enough to take on the bigger jobs. And part of that comes from men helping. The next generation is millennials. I consider myself more Gen X. And the Millennial generation, they are the first generation born assuming equality in the sexes. They’re the first generation born to working women. It’s a hallmark of their generation. They actually have a lot more equality than other generations.
So for example, right now 30% of the – are men. That number rises to 50% in Silicon Valley where a lot of men are changing the workforce by demanding more time to go to kids’ soccer games and more time at home. And that is going to change our workforce. So we’re going to have to continue that trend and build on it in order to get more women into the workforce down the road.
And I’m just going to leave you with that and take your questions.
There was an accident in 2015 with a much heavier object. So, yeah. It was my fault. That’s why we have a very soft padded thing so I can’t harm people.
Thank you so much for talking. It was great to hear. So my question is how do you – feel that you can help inspire?
That’s an interesting question. I’ve never been asked that before. I guess talking to you guys partly. I really thought, the book actually did very well. During the campaign. I was the only interview that Hillary did, a print interview, for the first nine months of her campaign. And ironically I talked to her about republicans. And the main person in that chapter was Kelly Anne Conway. And then she became Donald Trump’s campaign manager. And I thought the book would die. But there’s more than 20,000 women running for office and I spent a fair amount of time talking to women who are interested running for office and I work on a board of Running Start, which encourages them to run for office. There’s a lot of trainings and things going on right now. And that’s how I’ve been trying to give back and inspire more women and tell them it’s great to run and you should run. It’s really hard to get them to run for office. There’s an old adage. You have to ask women seven times. Men, they’re like hey, do you want to? And they’re like yeah! I’ll totally do it.
Women feel very nervous about putting themselves forward that way. When you look at a group on the democratic side, they have these massive briefing books because every woman has to read every position on every issue they might ever consider voting for before they think about running for office so they’re prepared. Men never read that. They’re like I’ll figure it out when we get to the vote. Right?
So they think so heavily about that decision, it’s like a really long process. And so that’s something that just takes a lot of time, a lot of encouragement in order to get them to do it. So I think that’s partly what I’ve been doing to help give back and I encourage other women to consider running please. Considering being one of the first.
Thank you again. It was great. My question is about the Google anti‑diversity article that came out. My question is what would you say to that author who has research saying that women and minorities are not –
When you say that women aren’t as good engineers or good at mathematics, that’s ridiculous. I would also say it’s not a level playing field.
Everybody talks about minorities don’t get all of these advantage and it’s unfair. But it’s not a level playing field. Women have a lot of, you know, struggle a lot to break in. And the irony, you look at that movie Hidden Figures that came out, women actually had stronger presences in STEM. And women had a natural relation. They were human computers. Those were mostly women‑held jobs. Because they were better at math right? Than even men were. If you looked at like the rates of graduation from mathematics and from engineering, women had a lot higher rates back then than they do now. We’ve lost that in ways because the society said to women it’s not cool, it’s not sexy. You’re never going to find a husband if you’re like a math geek essentially. And that’s something that people are trying to fix. There’s groups called Goldylox that build toys and dolls for young girls that are science based. There’s all kinds of movements to change the way girls are mentored and the way their aspirations are. So it becomes cooler to be a math geek. And to be, you know, and to be into science. And it becomes okay. But our societal sort of pressures as it stands right now are really against that. And that is something that we really have to change.
Very inspirational. Thank you so much. What do you think we need to do as women and probably also for men? Because a lot of times when women are talking and we get snubbed. What do you think needs to change on both sides?
That’s a great question. My first chapter is in the West Wing. And in the White House you had 39% in the West Wing. But by November 2009 they were all so miserable. They had this dinner in the residence with the president where they were basically like this is not working. Just yells at everybody. They were not breaking through. They weren’t really working. And they’re like we need to do something. Help us. And Obama, interestingly enough was pretty unsympathetic. And he was like the guys are doing what they need to do. You have the numbers, start being each other’s allies. That’s what the men do. They are each other’s allies. You got to work together. And so they did actually start doing that. And a lot of women come from different areas. New York, Chicago, D.C. They didn’t really know each other that well and they began to get to know each other. And they became friends. And the best place to get your hair done. Really simple stuff. But they became each other’s allies. And so for example the president had a personal secretary, Julia Brown. Whenever she saw guys going into a meeting with the president, she would text other women. Hey, you should come down. When women were in a meeting about foreign policy, but then they would start talking about economics, they would say hey, this happened in this meeting. You should see what happens. They developed strategies to help women really listen to each other. If you’re in a meeting and everyone is like uh‑huh. And then 10 minutes later a guy says the exact same thing and they’re like “Oh, that’s genius.” They would back each other up. If a woman made a point and no one paid attention to it. And then a guy would make a point. And then another woman would say “Hey, that was a great point when Julia made it 10 minutes ago, too.” They would back each other up.
They told this great story about how she was watching the women and there was one who was brilliantly leading a meeting and they were impressed and they wanted to make copies of something. Came back and by the time she came back they thought she was a secretary. She lost control of the meeting. Women don’t do menial things. It’s not your job to do it. There are 10,000 interns to hand it off to. Don’t feel like you have to do it. They give each other advice like that. And it really helped.
At the end of the chapter, one of my favorite stories, during the 2010 Grand Bargain negotiations, there were three women involved. Really just frustrated because they kept feeling left out of talks. And so Alyssa controlled the budget. You couldn’t actually do –
And then Stephanie Cutter controlled all communications. And they kept being left out of meetings. And one day they heard from Julia that someone had gone to the president’s office to talk about the grand bargain negotiations and they got really pissed off they had been left out again. And they gathered in front of the oval and they just walked in and just sat down. And the president was like “Hey guys.” And they’re like “Hey.”
And he got the message. They never it again. We’re going to have the same status, we’re just going to barge in.
Any other questions?
It’s really interesting, some of the things that you talked about have really hit me in a way that oh, there’s that hope that I’ve been looking for. Point out things about hey, do it this way. But the slow pace of change really gets to you. But you brought up the idea of critical mass. And the progress that is being made. And also women in the workforce are creating this economic need. I’m like holy crap. Every effort is going to multiply into something. But I never heard that before. So learning what we can do to amplify that message. Getting that into the regular conversation.
Yeah, it is frustrating. I really want to make it optimistic. And some women are critical of me. – I want something that gathers together what progress we’ve made and talk about and celebrate the progress that we’ve made and the difference that women are making. I think you can feel the conversation shifting. Right? So as women reach our critical mass in different areas of the workforce, their voices are becoming much more heard. 26% of – are women, which is critical mass. And you see all of a sudden all they can talk about is women. It’s becoming like, you know, Jennifer Lawrence, making them pay. They were unjustly kept out of the records deal. So there’s all this discussion in the movement towards bringing more women into that workforce.
And like Jana Davis has a great institute for women in the arts that does nothing but lobby. Producers in Hollywood, production companies. If you’re going to have an androgynous free form that’s shaped like a sponge, why does it have to be a man? Really basic stuff. If you’re going to have a voiceover. Right? And she had some great numbers and they’ve really been doing a lot to lobby.
Jennifer, what’s her name? She’s the wife of the lieutenant governor who is running for governor, she had this whole series of movies called Miss Representation where she talked about on the red carpet, can we ask women what they’re there for? So there’s a lot.
60 years ago, women weren’t allowed to be in popular music because it was seemed as unseemly. Now it’s dominated by women. Two guys named Justin and everybody else is women.
Ariana Grande never wants to disclose who she is dating. She wants to be defined by her music.
As these areas of the workforce reach critical mass, you can see conversations change. And women become – but even those places like Silicon Valley, these are still topics where people are very engaged and very aware that this is happening. So I can only be hopeful that they’ll do this.
On a really local level, one of the groups that I work with is called Generation W. And they built a scorecard. If you go on their website, you can find it. One of the big challenges for women is just data. I went to the Department of Labor and said what do you have. They said in 1989 we can tell you that IBM had 39% women. They said all the reporting the done voluntarily. So the data we have is not that much. To figure out there were 30% women in the administration, I had to go all the departments of the government. The government cannot tell you how many women they have in executive level offices across the board. It’s just stunning. So nobody collects this data. It’s sort of amazing. In the workforce women have data. Let’s say Mackenzie can tell you there are 16% of traders in the industry are women. How do they know that? Because they pulled the data. They only disclose that information that the raw numbers bank by bank will never be published. So we don’t know how many women work in any of these companies actually. There’s no way to find that out. If we don’t know where we are, it’s very hard to know how to know where we’re going.
So just sheer reporting of numbers is so helpful. So they developed like another example. Sorry. Women in law enforcement. And women almost never use violence as the first solution. There was an amazing study in Houston. And not a single woman had used her taser in the first two years. They almost never use excessive force. In 98% of excessive force of lawsuits in America are against men.
Again, there’s no group that tracks women in the police force. There is no one tracking how many women are in the workforce. It’s very ad hoc. We think there’s about 14% to 17%. We’re not sure. And so there’s just no one, there’s no national effort to bring more women into policing. There’s nothing. It’s kind of terrible.
So what Gen W did is they created a scorecard and go around and ask people in your local area how many women are on your police force? Local boards? And local companies that are driving the economy.
And start to collect this information because nobody is. We don’t have it. So they started building initiatives to collect more data because there is so little and we don’t know. Until we know that, we’re not going to be able to –
Anybody else have questions? No?
Hi. I love what you’re talking about. Resonates. And the conversations we’ve been having the last few years – is as a Gen X female in government – it’s Boomers that think good ideas – so we’re sitting at this layer where there’s a ton of us going around. And it doesn’t matter that we have 20‑25 years’ experience and we’ve been doing things forever. And women are challenged. I don’t want to be an exec until my kids graduate from high school, and I plan to be really awesome when I do. But that’s a really weird place to be. – But I really feel like – So can I do really well on the stuff that I’m working on. And to have an impact to help push things forward. – Did you encounter anything like that?
So Harper and Business School and Catalyst did a study where they tracked one group of Harvard School Graduates. And they found women were putting themselves out as aggressively as men were. But the difference was men had validaters behind them. Men would be like hey, I’d be great at this job, you should hire me. And behind him were three men who said he would great. And women lack validaters. They would be like I’m really awesome and you should promote me for this job. And they were seen as really aggressive. When they try to advance they were perceived as being like, you know, wrong for the job or aggressive. Just not the way people perceive. So what the study basically found is you need mentors. They can be male. That’s great. In fact, awesome. We need to involve men in this process. There’s this very effective program in Australia called Male Champions for Change, which is kind of a funny name, but it’s true. The 5% of CEOs who are women are not going to bring it about themselves. – Face this massive gap in our workforce. And what they did is they created the Male Champions for Change. They challenged every CEO in the company to not only transparently state how many women they had in the workforce and how many they were retaining when they came back from childbirth. If you don’t reach these goals, you need to change. And it’s been incredible. They’ve almost doubled all of their numbers in the last 7 years it’s been going. So women from 17% to almost 40%. And women in mining. Women in mining more than doubled. They recorded all the miners in Australia. Kind of amazing.
They found this study with Harvard Catalyst that they needed the male CEO, male board members to say I’m going to champion this woman because otherwise it wasn’t going to work. I would say find yourself a bunch of male mentors who will be your cheerleaders and who will help you.
Just so you know at the CIA I was a – leader there. I think it’s very important for women in the workforce to not let the system get by, by using adjectives to describe them. I have a story. When I was a senior leader, I chaired a promotion board. And there was this woman, an excellent person – What I said at the end of the day, I don’t really like this very sharp – so at the end of the day I want you to go back and I want you to come back tomorrow with a specific instance of story about her performance that captures what you think her issue is. So what do you think happened the next day? No one had a story. And she was promoted. So I think it’s very important. And I think all of us that are on promotion boards have to stop letting people get away with adjectives. They’re just horrible. That’s my comment.
So there is a guy in the U.K. who is a language expert. And he found that there’s 150 negative words for women for every 1 negative word for men. It’s really stunning. Even my word. Broad influence. Broad is a pejorative influence. Men described women’s broad hips, so she’s a broad. They lobbyed the committees to change the broad jump to the long jump because it was an offensive term.
But the idea of reclaiming these terms not just Broad Books but Broad City. The idea of trying to reclaim some of these words is really important because we have no terms to describe ourselves that aren’t negative. Use the word female. It’s actually grammatically incorrect to use the word women. But they say female is a pejorative word. And I wrote a column. Seriously? If we have no words left to describe ourself, then what are we supposed to use? Right? There’s just nothing left. So it’s really, really frustrated. You’re right. We need to find terms and find better ways.
I think we’re almost out of time. But I’ll leave you with there is a great book and this speaks to the Google thing, as well called “What Works.” She’s the head of – programs at Harvard. And her first chapter looks at basically what works to get women into the workforce. It’s a whole book about ways in which you can help bring women in. And the first chapter looks at the Boston symphony and about a decade ago they realized they needed more women. They had blind auditions. Musician would audition behind a curtain. They would take off shoes. And very quickly in five years they were 50/50. That was because people were biased against the women musicians versus the male musicians.
Looking at CEO Jane and CEO Jack. And CEO Jane is saying the exact same that I mean thing, but they’re like CEO Jack is awesome. So just be aware of these inherent biases that exist and the way that we’re raised and how we talk to each other. That’s the first step in changing things. I’ll leave you with that.
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