The Saturday Read ‘My Life on the Road’ by Gloria Steinem

The Saturday Read this week comes from an author who describes herself as “an entrepreneur of social change”.  It’s a work identity that encompasses writer. lecturer, political activist and feminist organizer. For this book, ‘My Life on the Road’, Gloria Steinem shares “the most important, longest-running, yet least visible part of my life”.

In the introduction, Ms. Steinem expresses her hope that her example of life on the road will tempt readers to explore the country – to have “an on the road state of mind and be present with all five senses.” 

“After I joined the ranks of traveling organizers – which just means being an entrepreneur of social change – I discovered the magic of people telling their own stories to groups of strangers. It’s as if attentive people create a magnetic force field for stories the tellers themselves didn’t know they had within them. Also, one of the simplest paths to deep change is for the less powerful to speak as much as they listen, and for the more powerful to listen as much as they speak.

One of these stories opens the book and involves a group of women arriving in South Dakota for a Lakota Sioux powwow, and a subsequent encounter at breakfast, with a couple attending one of the largest annual biker rallies in the country.

“I tell you this story because it’s the kind of lesson that can be learned only on the road. And also because I’ve come to believe that, inside, each of us has a purple motorcycle.

We only have to discover it and ride.”

The book is best read as a series of short stories, with each chapter offering a clue to Ms. Steinem’s own ‘purple motorcycle’ adventure.

In the chapter, ‘One Big Campus’ she describes the places where she has spent “the single largest slice of my traveling pie..”, from the early days of draft protests through through efforts to diversify curricula.

“How do I love campuses? Let me count the ways. I love the coffee shops and reading rooms where one can sit and talk or browse forever. I love the buildings with no addresses that only the initiated can find, and the idiosyncratic clothes that would never make it in the outside world. I love the flash parties that start in some odd spot and can’t be moved , and the flash seminars that any discussion can turn into. I love the bulletin boards that are an education in themselves, the friendships between people who would never have otherwise met, and the time for inventiveness that produces say, an exercise bike that powers a computer. Most of all I love graduations. They are individual and communal, an end and a beginning, more permanent than weddings, more inclusive than religions and possibly the most moving ceremonies on earth.”

She closes the chapter with an affirmation that the Internet is not enough and offers an argument for the value of college.

“…we need to keep creating the temporary world of meetings, small and large, on campuses and everywhere else. In them, we discover we are not alone, we learn from one another, and so we keep going toward shared goals.”

This is the narrative of a traveler who has discovered that home and the road are equally important.

“I can go on the road – because I can come home. I come home – because I am free to leave. Each way of being is more valued in the presence of the other. This balance between making camp and following the seasons is both very ancient and very new. We all need both.”  

And I believe she would like us all to venture beyond our address, be it physical or virtual.

“What seems to be one thing from a distance is very different close up.”  In reading ‘My Life on the Road’ what we might have perceived of Ms. Steinem in our rear view mirror, may appear a bit different, close-up.

The week@work – Mark Zuckerberg’s parental leave, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Gloria Steinem have lunch, and 29 words to avoid in an interview

The stories selected from this week@work include Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to take two months of parental leave, a conversation between Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Gloria Steinem, and advice on words to avoid in an interview.

Mark Zuckerberg’s choice to ‘lead by example’ and step away from work to care for family may signal to Facebook employees and other CEOs that the world is finally changing for dual career parents.

Covering the story for Wired, journalist Julia Greenberg wrote:

“Zuckerberg is perhaps the most prominent chief executive of a major public tech company to take this much time off following the birth of his child. That’s important, because executives set the tone for a company (and, in some ways, the country) when it comes to balancing work and family.

Like some other major tech companies, Facebook already offers new parents a parental leave plan considered very generous by US standards. New parents at Facebook can take four paid months off. They receive benefits such as $4,000 for each child born or adopted. As we’ve written before, however, employees may feel reluctant to take advantage of such plans if their companies don’t have a culture that encourages taking time off. And company culture typically comes from the top.

 Let’s hope more companies will offer new parents more leave, and that dads will be able to follow his lead.”

One of the highlights of The New York Times Sunday Style section is the ‘Table for Three’ feature. This past week, Philip Galanes shared the conversation between Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Gloria Steinem.

I recommend reading the complete interview, if for no other reason than to provide a historical context for the current conversation on gender discrimination in the workplace. Here is a short excerpt.

PG: One of the cleverest things you did as a litigator was demonstrate how rigid gender roles harm men as much as women.

RBG: There was an interesting case this court decided in the first year Justice O’Connor was on the bench, about a man who wanted to go to the best nursing school in his area, but it was women-only. You could read between the lines what she understood: There was no better way to raise pay for women in nursing than to get men to do it.

GS: Equal pay for women would be the biggest economic stimulus this country could ever have. Big-time profits are being made from gender roles as they exist. It would also be win-win because female-headed households are where children are most likely to be poor.

PG: Last subject: You are both bridge builders. Justice Ginsburg on the court; and Gloria, with a sea of men and women over the years. Any advice for getting along with people who disagree with us to the core — like Justice Scalia?

RBG: Last night, my daughter and I got a prize from a women’s intellectual property group, and Nino [Scalia] was in the video, saying his nice things about me. He’s a very funny man. We both love opera. And we care about writing. His style is spicy, but we care about how we say it.

GS: I think Ruth is better at getting along with people with whom we profoundly disagree. I feel invisible in their presence because I’m being treated as invisible. But what we want in the future will only happen if we do it every day. So, kindness matters enormously. And empathy. Finding some point of connection.

Moving to the job search, Jacquelyn Smith writing for Business Insider provides us with a list of ’29 words you should never say in a job interview’. Drawing on tips from Michael Kerr, here’s a sample:

“‘Money,’ ‘salary,’ ‘pay,’ ‘compensation,’ etc.  Never discuss salary in the early stages of the interview process, Kerr says. “Focusing on the salary can raise a red flag with potential employers that you are only there for the money and not for any deeper reasons,” he says. “More and more, employers are looking for people who align with their mission and values.”Negotiations can and should be done after — or at the end of — the interview phase.

‘Weaknesses’ or ‘mistakes’   Never voluntarily talk about your weaknesses unless they ask you with the standard interview question, ‘What’s your biggest weakness?'” says Kerr. And don’t bring up mistakes you’ve made at work, unless you’re talking about them to show how you’ve made significant improvements.”

Two other articles of interest were published on the Fast Company site this week:

‘Where Google, Apple and Amazon employees want to work next’Lydia Dishman

‘The World’s Five Biggest Employers Aren’t Who You Think’Charlie Sorrel

One more thing…

This past summer I celebrated July 4th in Brussels. It’s one of my most favorite cities in the world. The people I met in shops and restaurants are in my thoughts this weekend. Be safe.