Women in social change are tired, and rightfully so.
Between Covid-19 upending the way they deliver critical services and a racial reckoning spurring thoughtful action in their personal and professional lives; it has been quite a year.
After eight long months of constant motion, we thought the women we know might benefit from the chance to refill their tanks. So, we put together a panel of diverse women leaders across the nonprofit, corporate, public, faith, and academic sectors and invited women in our network to join for a conversation.
Our theme: building bridges and breaking down barriers.
Our Speakers: Dr. Diana Jackson-Lovett, Leadership Coach, Consultant and Pastor;
Candace Dodson-Reed, Chief of Staff and Executive Director, Office of Equity and Inclusion at University of Maryland Baltimore County; Jessica Feldmark, Member, Maryland House of Delegates; Tara Handy, Director of Corporate Communications and Programs, The Wills Group and Melyssa Watson, Executive Director, The Wilderness Society.
More than 60 women gathered to share insights, ask honest questions, and build community. We covered a lot of ground—issues of class and race, ageism, the struggles of working moms. Most importantly, participants planted the seeds of a caring network by listening well and sharing their best ideas for supporting and uplifting other women while taking care of themselves.
Due East’s Lauren Maddox kicked off the event with a reminder of the connection between our natural gifts and the power to make change.
“When your natural gifts and interests are fully expressed, that’s where your power comes from.”
Diana spoke about using your interests and talents to make connections with unlikely allies.
“Building bridges requires a fair amount of energy,” she said, encouraging women to save it when possible. “Someone must have crossed this river before. There must be a bridge. We just need to find it.”
Diana shared her own story of being triggered by a white woman’s Southern accent, reminding her of the racism she experienced in her youth as a Black woman in Virginia. Instead of standing in fear, she made herself turn around and look at the woman. That acknowledgement and smile led to an easy connection with her over a love for watching the donuts come down the belt at Krispy Kreme. It was an “a-ha” moment that she had nothing to lose and everything to gain by moving beyond her fear.
“How do we look beyond the things that differentiate us and find the points that connect us?” she said. “Those are the points that will hold us together, allow us to navigate differences and allow us to heal.”
She added that if we choose to stand still and wait instead of engaging, we might be left behind.
“What used to be is no longer there, in case you hadn’t noticed,” she said. “Don’t wait until the pandemic is over to make these overtures and connect with people who are different from us. Show up with compassion and grace.”
Women of color may need extra compassion and grace right now. Candace reminded us that this is a time of contrasts for women, citing recent reports of a “she-cession” and data that women of color have reported unemployment at 3x the rate of men.
“Some women are doing well. Kamala Harris is shattering barriers,” Candace said. “At the same time, other women will be behind for years. It will take a decade to make up the gains of the labor force lost during the pandemic.”
Candace encouraged the group to lean on and support other women when faced with depression and anxiety during the pandemic because many women don’t feel they have resources to cope. “This group needs to come together to think about supporting ALL women,” she said.
Jessica said past failures to support all women don’t have to be our fault to be our responsibility, connecting the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment to the work still to be done.
“As a woman elected official, that was a big deal, but it was a reminder that in women’s suffrage, white supremacy was stronger than sisterhood,” she said. “Once white women could vote, we called it success.”
She challenged the group to think about how white supremacy still shows up in Covid-19 and inequitable policies more broadly, and act accordingly.
“Sisterhood should be stronger than racial divides and racism. Amplify the voices of women of color,” she encouraged.
One opportunity to support other women is by continuing to put women forward for formal and informal leadership opportunities.
“Encourage other women to apply. Lift each other up,” Melyssa said.
She encouraged the group to recognize what’s going on with women personally and how it affects their ability to show up. In particular, she emphasized empathy and flexibility for working moms during the pandemic, including expanding paid leave and providing extra flex days.
“We need to ensure that once they are in leadership roles, they have the support and resources they need to succeed,” Melyssa said.
Tara gave us some space and grace to find our lane in the “work” of lifting up other women, again circling back to the idea of finding power in your natural talents and interests.
“Every little step matters. Every little bit makes a difference,” she said. “We don’t want the lifting up of women to seem like another item on your really long to-do list.”
We are so grateful to the insightful women who joined us for this special conversation and are excited to announce we’re continuing this conversation on December 17. Look out for more Women in Social Change events in the future, we hope you’ll join us for meaningful connections, candid dialogue and restorative practices.