Empathy Moves Mountains: The First Step in Creating the World We Want to Live In

white privilege

When people we love, our communities, and the entire world are at their most vulnerable, my first impulse is to jump to “fix-it” mode. Yet recently I have realized that this can be a diversion, a way to avoid the real work of fixing — feeling.

With the world crying out for change, it’s a time to act, to lead with our voices, but it’s also a time to follow…and to feel.

‘Feeling it’ is a critical step in the process of healing trauma, grief, anxiety, negative thinking patterns, collective anger, and other painful experiences that seem to be on rotation these days.

When the COVID-19 crisis hit, I was too busy to pay attention to my feelings. Busy pivoting my business. Busy juggling fractions and grammar and homeschooling. Busy making sure my kids weren’t spending all day living in 50 different Minecraft realms.

And when I had a second to breathe, I was inhaling the scent of what was on everyone else’s limited menu of COVID feelings: fear, anxiety, grief.

Still, I soldiered on, stuffing those feelings aside. I needed to get through. We all did. There was too much to worry about to pay attention to everything.

Then, Ahmaud Arbery, Christian Cooper, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brook, and so many others. And the 1,298 black U.S. citizens shot by the police in the past year — the ones whose deaths went unnoticed because body cams had been turned off and good samaritans weren’t nearby with their phones ready and waiting.

Not to mention the fact that people of color are dying of COVID at a rate of 3.57 times more than white people. According to the CDC:

“Non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native persons have a rate approximately five times that of non-Hispanic white persons, non-Hispanic black persons have a rate approximately five times that of non-Hispanic white persons, Hispanic or Latino persons have a rate approximately four times that of non-Hispanic white persons.”

With all of this coming at me at once, I broke. I crossed a threshold. In my confusion and the chaos around me, with the graphic media in front of me and when I could not look away, I fell apart. All of a sudden, I couldn’t think straight for the rage in my heart. I felt like I was going to be sick and that feeling of nausea is still with me.

Author Glennon Doyle said at an Emerging Women Live event:

Glennon Doyle
Glennon Doyle & Chantal Pierrat at Emerging Women Live

“Show me what breaks your heart and I will tell you your purpose.” (Do you not freaking love this?)

What I realized is that what breaks my heart is abuse of power and the suppression of personal freedom. What breaks my heart is when people are subjugated, unable to speak freely, and prevented from fully actualizing the truth of who they are.

Think of all the unexpressed potential that gets buried with these restricted souls!

This breaks my heart, and this is why I have dedicated my life to increasing women’s leadership, helping women be seen and heard, and creating a new paradigm for power that is sourced from our shared humanity.

When the Black Lives Matter movement was gaining momentum, we hosted co-founder Alicia Garza as a speaker at our national conference Emerging Women Live in 2017.

I remember digging into my own privilege and biases at that time, feeling overwhelmed by the issue and desperate to train myself ‘out of my white eyes’ — desperate to fix myself and find solutions to the racial tensions I was feeling in the women’s movement.

Then one of our African-American speakers, Promise Phelon, said to me, “Things will change when white people get as angry as black people are.”

Promise Phelon
Promise Phelon, Emerging Women Live

I did not understand this at the time. I thought, but I don’t feel angry.

As a Women’s Studies major, I consciously decided that I was not going to be an ‘angry’ feminist. Those women were too much, too confronting, they made me feel… uncomfortable.

Yes, I wanted change, but only acceptable change, change that was approved by those in power. I chose to fight for change while playing by the rules.

But being able to choose when to “fit in” and when to go against the grain is in itself a privilege. One that is not afforded to black women of color.

In our patriarchal system, we can see white privilege showing up in so many places, and we also see the privilege of the masculine. In our dominant culture, we over-privilege the mind, the rational, the measurable, the controllable, and we demonize the unknown, the mysterious. Anything that falls under the category of unpredictable or anecdotal, such as the more nuanced world of the emotions, the heart.

We demonize emotions, especially the messy ones. We reward actions, especially ones that can be categorized under ‘advance and conquer’. We climb upward and onward without knowing why we want the promotion or what we would even buy with a six-figure salary. And the real rewards — emotional intelligence and personal development — become consolation prizes.

As a white woman I learned early on that emotions were dangerous, something to hide, something to apologize for, and to keep tidy. And as a spiritual devotee, I learned to detach from my emotions, to distrust them, to rise above them as the truly enlightened did, not muck around in such gross and relative states of consciousness.

But again, I was always afforded the choice to control my emotional footprint as a white woman.

Conversely, the angry black woman stereotype haunts black women of color every day, regardless of their level of expression. Just ask Michelle Obama, Serena Williams, and Shonda Rhimes.

Enter: fix-it mode. My sleeves rolled up, I told myself: I am doing something. Isn’t that more important than getting angry?

For six years, I was dedicated to using the Emerging Women Live platform to amplify this conversation, to filling our presenters’ list with diverse speakers, to making certain that I did not accidentally misstep as I hosted the stage for 550 women navigating this complex issue of race and what it means to be inclusive — me, a white woman with untrained privileged eyes and a whole lot more questions than answers.

Looking back I see my efforts as the white savior mode at its best. If we fix the pain we caused, the pain we’ve profited off and ignored for centuries, we don’t need to sit with the uncomfortable-ness of our own negligence, indifference, and white guilt.

The truth is, I have been living from the neck up, so focused on solving problems that I missed the opportunity to try to understand the pain of my black brothers and sisters. More to the point, I chose not to feel.

Daniel Goldman, the emotional intelligence pioneer, has said, “In a very real sense we have two minds, one that thinks and one that feels. These two fundamentally different ways of knowing interact to construct our mental life.”

So now I am in the messiness of my feeling mind. The pain is real but I also feel a strong love from seeing and connecting with so many people — people like you — who are also FEELING IT. I don’t want to rush out of this.

It’s our feelings — our heartbreak, our anger, our desires, our shared hope — that will catalyze our mind to create the solutions we need. Our swollen heads and egos have held the reigns of power for far too long; it’s our hearts that will drive us to a better world.

In her iconic civil rights song, I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to Be Free, Nina Simone sings:

Nina Simone
Photo Credit: Roland Godefroy/Wikimedia

I wish you could know what it means to be me
Then you’d see and agree that every man should be free
I wish I could give like I’m longing to give
I wish I could live like I’m longing to live
I wish I could do all the things I can do

If we skip this feeling stage, both the recognition and the expression of our own feelings — as well as being curious about our fellow human beings — we might as well put lipstick on a pig.

Actions without true, authentic empathy behind them will not eradicate the long-ingrained, systemic abuse of power built on the back of out-of-balance masculine energy and white privilege. So keep the connection, lean into the heartbreak, and find your purpose in this conversation. It’s not going away anytime soon. And we have mountains to move.

PS: If you are a woman of color and have something relevant to share with our Emerging Women audience, I invite you to reach out to us so we can get you scheduled for a spot on our platform. We could share the mic — or just give you the damn mic. Use us…please.

PSS: If you are a woman of color coach with corporate or executive experience, and you are looking for more work, please reach out so we can interview you for a Power Circle facilitator role in our ongoing corporate women’s leadership programs.

7 Women I Am Grateful for in 2019

I have to be honest: there are so many women I’m grateful for this year.

The Year of the Woman might have ‘officially’ been 1992, but each year, women continue to top themselves in the areas of grace, positivity, power, determination and leadership. This truly is an amazing time to be alive and be a woman. And I’m so thankful I get to exist at the same time as these seven powerhouses of feminine energy. They remind me that we can all get out there to make our own unique contribution toward changing what power looks like in the world – and we don’t have to do it alone!

#1 Lizzo

I am grateful for this first woman for so, so, so many reasons. From the giant inflatable booty that (almost) upstaged her at the MTV Video Music Awards to her fierce lyrics of self-celebration, this woman tops herself time after time in the body positivity category. Just when we think we can’t learn anything more from Lizzo about loving ourselves just the way we are, she wows us with the even louder, more powerful, message of “you got this.” And then she shows us how to OWN what we got. Bam.

She’s a vocal activist for women’s rights and radical self-acceptance. And she works hard – she famously began touring before she ever recorded an album. Talk about crashing through a glass ceiling. She destroyed it.

Oh, and she also plays the flute. Like a boss.

Flute drop.

Photo Credit: Andy Witchger/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)

#2 RBG

You’ll find this OG femme fatale on the top slots of pretty much every ‘feminist and lovin’ it’ list.

(Yes, I just referred to Ruth Bader Ginsberg as a ‘femme fatale.’)

Media for women of all generations have paid homage to this supreme court justice who played a major role in creating equal opportunities for both sexes. Kate Mckinnon further cements her role as an icon for power, grace, and sheer “chutzpah” on SNL most weeks with her catchphrase, “You just got Gins-burned.”

This year, she’s been battling cancer for the fourth (fourth!) time, yet still works out every day. She has not missed a day! Her dedication and perseverance is legendary. Oh, and did I mention she’s barely taken off a day of work to recuperate? Instead, she’s been working from home and communicates via conference call when needed – still in the game, but on her own terms.

And I thank her almost every day for it.

Photo Credit: European University Institute/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

#3 Melinda Gates

Any fan of the Emerging Women blog knows we are a big fan of this powerhouse philanthropist and women’s equality activist striving to change the future of work in America. 


What I love the most about MG? Is that she seems to be evolving along with the movement. She is emerging right along-side all of the women she is inspiring to rise, showing us that we are all in this together. For reals.

What else do we love about Melinda Gates? Let me count the ways…

  1. She taught us how to raise feminist sons *chills*
  2. She led a feminist fight from the homefront by demanding equality with her husband in their relationship
  3. She reminds us that until all women around the world are free, none of us are free
  4. She’s brave enough to be vulnerable about her own toxic masculinity battles in the early days of Microsoft
  5. This year she committed $1 billion to help create equality in the workplace
  6. She committed $1 billion to help create equality in the workplace, which was so nice (and fierce and necessary), we had to say it twice!

Photo Credit: Chatham House, London/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

#4 Nancy Pelosi

Regardless of where you land politically, you can’t deny that Nancy Pelosi is one of the fiercest women in (and out of) politics right now — and has been for decades!

This woman is the epitome of class — and badass.

She knows when to speak up. And boy, when she speaks up, she demands attention. But what’s so special about her is that she knows when to stay silent, too. She gets that sometimes the biggest things happen when we create space – for others and for ourselves.

And while we all know age doesn’t matter, let’s take a moment to talk about her passion. She’s in her 80s (long after many of us will have retired), and she’s still vibrant, still so committed.

I am so grateful we have women with this kind of fire in our political system! More of this, please!

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

#5 Greta Thunberg

YOWZA! When I said “Age doesn’t matter,” this was the woman (not girl, because let’s be honest, she’s one of the most mature people in politics right now) I was talking about!

She’s done so much in her short life and even shorter career.

Greta has shown us what it means to be a leader: overcoming obstacles, standing up for others, speaking truth to power and demanding action.

The next time you’re feeling hesitant about leaning in, just consider Greta Thunberg your spirit animal, and ask yourself, “WWGTB do?” You’ll be moving mountains and people with your every word — and reshaping the world in the process.

Photo Credit: Anders Hellberg/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

#6 Michelle Obama

Former first lady, Michelle Obama, is another woman on this list who I admire for her elegance and dignity — especially for her lyrical use of the English language.

She emanates strength through each word. Her vulnerability jumps off the pages in her memoir, “Becoming.” She proved she really was the typical American working mom when she relayed stories of taking Malia on a job interview and ‘breaking out’ of the Whitehouse to celebrate the legalization of gay marriage (also with Malia).

And who can forget the strength that resonated in her speeches? Her catchphrase, “When they go low, we go high,” became an anthem for the power of positivity. It still serves to keep me out of complaining mode when I am faced with challenges!

Not to mention that line in her final commencement speech (that still floors me):

“It’s the story that I witness every single day when I wake up in a house that was built by slaves, and I watch my daughters — two beautiful, black young women — head off to school, waving goodbye to their father, the President of the United States, the son of a man from Kenya who came here to American — to America for the same reasons as many of you: To get an education and improve his prospects in life.”

Chills.

Photo Credit: Courtesy Barack Obama Presidential Library

#7 Megan Rapinoe

Were you also glued to the TV coverage of the World Cup for women’s soccer this year? If so, you were likely like me: screaming your head off at the marvelousness of it all. High stakes, close games, excelling athleticism — all combined with the articulation of a vision much bigger than any one-made goal. And Megan Rapinoe at the head of it all.

Talk about equal pay triumph!

Her elegance in her speeches is only matched by her fierceness on the field. The woman is an inspiration and a symbol of heart-centered leadership and dependability.

I feel so fortunate that young girls and women can look to Megan to understand that you don’t need to sacrifice elegance for power, teamwork for individuality.

The women’s soccer teams work just as hard as the men’s team, it’s about time they got paid equally!

All of these women are clearing the path with a new power for a paradigm that emphasizes connection, grace, empathy and fire. They all draw this power from authenticity, consciousness and real connection — which also happens to be the Emerging Women ethos.

It’s difficult to forge a path ahead when you’re the only one holding that machete. Luckily, we all have these leaders to look to when we need a leg up to continue on our own brave path forward. We GOT this!

Photo Credit: Lorie Shaull/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Glass Ceilings, Glass Cliffs & Broken Rungs

broken rung

The words we use to describe the upward struggle of women in the workplace feel a little shaky. It’s no wonder that integrating gender diversity best practices has been an uphill battle — and women are still underrepresented at junior, mid and senior levels. Even when they’re diligently encouraged to, ‘lean in.’

The problem begins the first time a woman is passed over for a managerial promotion, otherwise known as the ‘broken rung.’ When few women become managers, even fewer can be promoted at a higher level.

According to LeanIn.org:

“Women are less likely to be hired and promoted to manager: For every 100 men promoted and hired to manager, only 72 women are promoted and hired. Men hold 62 percent of manager-level positions, while women hold just 38 percent. The number of women decreases at every subsequent level. One-third of companies set gender representation targets for first-level manager roles, compared to 41 percent for senior levels of management.”

Women not getting promoted at the junior level is only one part of the problem. As you can see from the above statistics, stepping over that broken rung is just the first hurdle.

Mid-Level Attrition and the Glass Cliff

Once a woman makes it past the broken rung, she’s not out of the woods yet. While a managerial promotion gives someone a ‘head start’ to future promotions, it’s mid-level attrition that is the most difficult threshold guardian to pass — especially for women in tech.

Even when someone has been promoted at the junior level, the road through mid-level positions can still be disheartening. And no amount of ‘leaning in’ can help her.

Many women see their male counterparts promoted ahead of them. They’ve heard the ‘diversity hire’ whispers and caught accusing stares one too many times. They work harder to prove themselves. They hide personal information about their families for fear others might have false assumptions about their ‘availability.’

They’re accused of failing to ‘lean in’ to opportunities as they come.

And when the struggle feels like it has become too much to handle, they are offered a position that they haven’t been groomed for — one that is destined to fail; otherwise known as a glass cliff. Or, they are passed over altogether.

Luckily, the solution for mid-level attrition is the same as it is at the junior level: women-only mentorship Power Circles and sponsorship and promotion from superiors (both male and female).

How to Repair the Broken Rung

The two-pronged solution for repairing the broken rung, preventing mid-level attrition and avoiding glass cliffs is the same: sponsorship and promotion from superiors and peer mentorship circles.

Helping Women ‘Lean In’ on the Ladder

Women can only lean in so far. At some point, male allies and organizations need to meet them halfway. They can do this by offering women the same training, mentorship and sponsorship offered to their male counterparts — at all levels.

First and foremost, women need equal sponsorship and promotion from their superiors. But this is easier said than done.

Men subconsciously (and often consciously) receive sponsorship and promotion through superiors, colleagues and out-of-office organizations. These sponsors generally act as ‘talent managers,’ speaking on behalf of employees and making the social and network connections needed to claim future opportunities.

Women-only peer mentorship programs give participants the confidence and the advice they need to seek out, apply for and land promotions. When men apply for a promotion, they (on average) possess only 60 percent of the skills required; women won’t apply unless they have 100 percent.

Peer mentorship circles help women stay on track and encourage them to keep advancing upward.

Male Allies: An Important Piece of the Diversity Puzzle

When everyone has the tools they need to succeed in their jobs, it’s a win-win. Everyone benefits. Yet, we can’t move forward and fix something when many can’t even acknowledge there is a bias.

Male-only support circles can help male allies understand how to help their female counterparts. These types of circles can offer empathy and insight into the world of discrimination women face in the workplace.

The good news? Employing mentorship circles and superior sponsorships is just as effective as one-on-one mentorship, making this solution cost-effective.

In a study conducted with one Fortune 100 company, participants reported that after 25-to-30 hours of virtual meetings with their Power Circles and ‘check-in’ time with other circle members, in addition to being paired with a sponsor within the organization, we were able to reduce attrition rates by 49 percent, saving the company $1.25 million in recruiting costs per cohort of 30.

While we don’t expect things to change overnight, these initial results point to an approach that promises the advancement of women at exponential rates.

(1) The “broken rung” is the biggest obstacle women face, LeanIn.org – 2019 https://leanin.org/women-in-the-workplace-2019

(2) Leveraging the Power of We, Emerging Women – 2019 https://emergingwomen.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/r9-EW-003-White-Paper.pdf

(3) Sheryl Sandberg: The Gender Gap Isn’t Just Unfair, It’s Bad for Business
– 2019 https://www.wsj.com/articles/sheryl-sandberg-the-gender-gap-isnt-just-unfair-its-bad-for-business-11571112300

(4) Tara Sophia Mohr: Why Women Don’t Apply for Jobs Unless They’re 100% Qualified – 2014 https://hbr.org/2014/08/why-women-dont-apply-for-jobs-unless-theyre-100-qualified

The Radiant Leader: Authentic Leadership for Influence, Visibility and Fulfillment

As a former woman in technology, Emerging Women CEO Chantal Pierrat understands what it means to be “the only woman in the room.” When she was head of marketing and sales for an OEM product, she often found herself pitching mostly to men in white lab coats.

I know what it’s like to be underrepresented – both in terms of the business side but also on the tech and innovation side. And what that costs us in terms of the depth and the breadth of the solutions that are coming to the table.

Being that fly on the tech wall helped inform me of the challenges women face in the industry. Which is why when I was asked to speak at the Grace Hopper Celebration this year, I already had my topic: authentic leadership.

Why Is Authentic Leadership Important?

Both men and women must be themselves at work to be the best at what they do. But women are often viewed as a problem to be “fixed” for a “better fit” instead of a resource for a new paradigm for leadership.

When we are allowed to be our authentic selves, we radiate confidence and purpose. We come alive through our bodies. And this energetic power is the strongest differentiating quality in any leader.
But when we are pressured to fit in? We suffer from burnout, from fatigue. We don’t see the value in advancing our careers. And we rarely make it to the tech executive level.

The Problem in the Tech Industry: When Women Don’t Feel Valued

Mid-career is an especially challenging time for women. Most of us become discouraged from advancing onward when we:

  • Don’t see any evidence that our skills and contributions are recognized.
  • Cannot see a clear future path when so few women have forged those paths before us.
  • Are encouraged to spend our time fitting-in instead of innovating and streamlining products and services.
  • Suffer from low input, high burnout and lack of self-confidence.
  • Become isolated from those who would advocate for our success and advancement.
  • Have growing family commitments and are expected to “do it all” in order to “have it all.”

Mid-level burnout isn’t only a “tech problem” either. It spans across nearly all industries — from business to finance to farming.

The Solution: Connection-Based Radiant Leadership

Conscious, feminine leadership is changing the world for the better. But we still have a lot of work to do.
If we want to become our authentic selves in the office, we need to first believe we are worthy. Radiant leadership is all about the expression of love, confidence and happiness. But more importantly, the love, confidence and happiness we draw from within.

When we are whole, we are using our hearts, minds, bodies and souls in unison.
The result? Resilient women and men, working together to influence the world through a strong sense of purpose and making an impact on their industry.

When you are connected, you are:

  • Coming alive through your body.
  • Using intentional self-talk to override critical or negative thought patterns.
  • Visualizing your goals and creating your inner reality in the outer world.
  • Listening to your heart, checking in with your body and tuning into your intuition.
  • Following your highest truth (your purpose in life).
  • Connecting with yourself first and using storytelling to connect with others; it’s the specificity that makes all stories universal.
  • Changing hearts and minds with your charisma.

Case Study: HP

How do we know it works? This isn’t our first rodeo. When it comes to radiant leadership, we’re all for conversation — but we’re all in for more action.

In a collaborative partnership with HP delivering programming to 1,000 women (and men), we were able to measure the following in our participants :

  • Increased confidence
  • Higher instances of speaking up
  • More clarity of purpose
  • Reduced attrition
  • Recruitment savings
  • Increased engagement
  • Higher rates of advancement

When we support women, everyone enters a greater position of power. Everyone becomes free to innovate and create. We can all benefit from radiant leadership — on personal to societal levels.

How could radiant leadership change your industry? What could you build or streamline if you were fully supported? For more information, contact Emerging Women at [email protected].