Everywoman’s Leadership recently gathered 27 women leaders—of diverse ages, races, orientations and disciplines within civil society—in the Santa Cruz mountains to co-create a network that will connect progressive women change-makers to advance learning, provide mutual support and strengthen our capacity to collaboratively effect change.
We called the gathering “Comadres”—a term borrowed from Latina culture—because it literally means “midwives.”
We sought to collectively birth a way to create connective tissue that could strengthen the various facets of women’s movement building, especially in this country, across cultures, class, orientation and generations.
We also chose it because it describes a relationship between women that indicates a promise to support each other’s purposes, to stand at each other’s backs for the long haul.
After years of lamenting the lack of connection among diverse factions of women leading change, and noting how consistently networks strengthen leadership capacity, I knew that it was time for us to begin this work.
Comadres also drew on the abundance of relationships with great women leaders I’ve had the honor to develop over these many years of Bioneers and Cultivating Women’s Leadership trainings and other network affiliations—including Rachel Bagby, the skillful and wise one who joined me in facilitation.
Diverse Women Taking a Stand for Life
As we are sensing, the need in the world feels more urgent with each passing day.
When I heard Eve Ensler speak and describe the global grassroots organizing of One Billion Rising, showing clips from around the world, the vision I saw ignited me to act. I saw the opportunity for women of all ages, classes, backgrounds, orientations and disciplines to rise up together and make a stand on behalf of life.
At our gathering, the ages ranged from late twenties into seventies, and the approaches to activism ran the gamut from community organizing to teaching, from performing arts to nursing to journalism, entrepreneurship and communications, and from philanthropy to cultural preservation and to the frontline survival of communities most gravely impacted by our ecological, economic and social injustices.
Several strong networks of women were also represented, including WorldPulse, Domestic Workers Alliance, VDay and One Billion Rising, Move the Crowd, Standing in Our Power, Code Pink and Women Donors Network, among others.
Tapping into Collective Wisdom
It wasn’t clear in advance precisely how the gathering would best accomplish our goals but I trusted the collective wisdom in the circle to bring us through. If we collaboratively birthed it, everyone would have a greater stake in its unfolding and flourishing.
Together, we explored the purposes and desired outcomes I’d identified at the outset, and all were invited to contribute their suggestions and insights to the mix.
We made and reached unanimous consent in a set of agreements needed to help ensure the learning, risk-taking ability and safety of everyone in the group.
Networks: Relationships with Structure and Activation
We discussed what we’ve learned about networks, why they’re useful, what makes them valuable, and what we’ve gained from participating in them. Then, each woman drew a map to describe her network connections.
When we reconvened for the afternoon, we brought our best collective wisdom to the process design. Noting that strategy isn’t my strongest gift, I invited the many brilliant strategic minds there to offer their guidance.
We recognized that networks are relationships with structure and activation, and the strategy group suggested a form for the following day which included using the network maps as narrative maps.
Telling Our Stories in New Ways
The maps were woven into personal stories as each woman spoke to the group of her journey of purpose, what brings her joy, and made reference to both her networks and offerings and/or needs she might have.
In this way, we introduced ourselves both personally and professionally to the group, with each woman’s story luminous in its own unique way.
The group has tremendous assets, including Jensine Larsen’s WorldPulse web platform and community, which is gearing up to be able to host networks similar to our own.
Jodie Evans (co-founder of CodePink) and Rha Goddess (founder of Move the Crowd) also brought extensive experience with listservs, and together, with input from the strategy group, the listserv—Women Lead—is forming.
Who Cares for the Caregivers?
The women had been invited to come and bring their whole selves, which many noted (as several were grappling with grief and bereavement, exhaustion and overwhelm and other upheavals in their lives) as being essential in informing their decision to come.
I realized that this time is both richly pregnant with possibilities for women in leadership, and it can also be intensely difficult and challenging.
Women spoke of the age-old challenge of balancing family, relationship and big work, and felt that something frequently comes up short. We noted the pull of caring for children and elders while tending relationships and doing our own work. We spoke of the pain of trying to also stay empathically connected in a world faced with so much suffering.
And we ultimately recognized how hard it is to take care of ourselves and have time to connect with other women as peers, friends and allies when we are so busy providing care, healing and nurturance for others.
I came away with a new question: “Who’s offering respite, connection and care for the caregivers?”
A Dream Fulfilled
Once again, I am reminded how much solace, healing and learning can happen when diverse women come together with shared purpose.
I see how much becomes possible when we shed our socially inherited biases and see each other in the full power and beauty that we each bring.
My dream given form, or “womanifested,” I feel I now understand something akin to the joy of birth. Women Lead is emergent.
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You can also experience a wide range of keynotes, panels, and workshops on women's leadership at the 2014 Bioneers Summit Conference on October 17-19. See all offerings in the Women's Leadership track »