NOT “Politics as Usual” at CWEL’s Annual Disruption Dinner
Disruption is more than simply displacing established competitors. It’s more than moving rapidly upmarket. It’s more than offering something new. Disruption is action. Disruption is intentional expansion. Disruption is jumping and knowing that the net will appear.
The Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership’s (CWEL) 3rd Annual Disruption Dinner showcased women making extraordinary, positive contributions in the service of others; demonstrating authentic, personal forms of disruption that broaden the very definition of the term.
Babson President, Dr. Kerry Healey, moderated a panel discussion featuring State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry, Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong, and Executive Director of Boston’s Office of Women’s Advancement, Megan Costello. These women shared their experiences of successfully disrupting the male-dominated status quo of politics by speaking up, acting boldly, and taking their seats at the table.
We all know the statistics. Despite making great strides toward gender parity, the United States still ranks 98th in the world for percentage of women in its national legislature. While the numbers remain a challenge, the evidence is on our side. Columbia professor Katherine Phillips and her co-researchers have found that “in more ethnically diverse nations, the presence of a female national leader is correlated with a 6.9 percent increase in GDP growth in comparison to having a male leader.” This increase can be attributed to the fact that women generally hold superior leadership skills and practice a more democratic, inclusive, participative, and transformative leadership style than their male counterparts.
The political sphere offers complex conditions, which call for “deep cooperation and collaboration” – conditions in which women outperform men. Insisting on gender parity means more than increasing the number of women involved. It means recognizing and benefiting from what women have to offer.
Dr. Kerry Healey, the first woman to serve as president of Babson College, and co-founder of the Parity Project – a nonpartisan platform for increasing women’s political representation at the national level – began the discussion with a rallying call: “Don’t underestimate your ability to get in there, run, and win!”
Research shows that women have to be asked eight times to run for office before accepting, often because they don’t feel ready or qualified– a fear not as widely held by their male counterparts. There are countless organizations now dedicated to asking women to run for office, championing the notion that “when women run, women win.”
As one of the state’s fastest-rising political stars, State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry, “came out of the gates and took the inside track.” She credits her success to developing relationships: “Talk to people the way you would want them to talk to you.” It’s a concept easy enough to understand, but difficult to put into practice, especially for women who view the world through cognitive filters designed to discount valuable information. When Senator Forry found herself in the crucial political moment (an open seat in her district), she was able to overcome all of the circumstances standing in her way such as a young child at home and a mother-in-law facing health challenges. Senator Forry chose to act and to jump in knowing that the net would appear.
Mayor Wong entered the political arena because she wanted to be the boss, to be the decision maker who could get things accomplished – and she did. During her first two and a half years in office, she consolidated 22 city departments into 10, built up a stabilization fund from $20,000 to over $4,600,000, and balanced the budget. As a result, the city’s bond rating, a measure of financial health, has increased twice. Her role model, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, was a full-time mom with three daughters who entered politics at age 39. Mayor Wong is now the one setting the example for the next generation of women in politics.
One CWEL Scholar said of the dinner: “I was so impressed with all three of the speakers’ accomplishment—especially with Mayor Wong’s ability to create rapid change within Fitchburg. The entire program was very inspirational and a great way to expose me to the political world.”
Megan Costello discussed her experience running successful campaigns – from Newton Mayor Setti Warren to President Barack Obama – Costello has made a pledge to walk through each open door she comes across. These experiences have led her to the City of Boston, driving the Mayor Walsh’s entrepreneurial vision for women in Boston. During the dinner, Costello shared a story of being the only woman in a room full of men. She offered up an idea and not more than two minutes later a man in the room restated the same idea. Instead of backing down, Costello replied, “Thank you. I’m so glad you heard what I just said.” The solution is more than just getting women in the room, she continued, it’s getting women to own the room.
Insisting on gender parity means more than increasing the number of women involved. It means disrupting the discussion and “politics as usual,” and the panelists at this years’ disruption dinner have lived that disruption. They have taken root at the local level, and they are relentlessly moving up – shutting off the streetlights if it means getting people’s attention, eventually displacing the established male-dominated political regime.
At CWEL, we believe that women who “disrupt the status quo” in business, governance, and civil society are the key to local and global economic prosperity, saving the planet, and world peace. Everything we do is designed to educate, inspire and empower women to transform their entrepreneurial potential into entrepreneurial impact. We are so grateful to President Healey, Senator Dorcena Forry, Mayor Wong, and Megan Costello for sharing their stories and changing the world.