Lessons from Mizzou: What If Women Played Like The Football Team?

All eyes have been on the Heartland as a group of college football players at the University of Missouri recently brought about significant change. If you haven’t followed these events, here’s a quick rundown.Acer-ruburm-LowryM-smDissatisfied with the university administrations longstanding lack of response to hateful racial slurs on campus, fewer than a dozen black students started a protest movement. The effort quickly grew to include hundreds of students, faculty and most members of the Mizzou football team. Their efforts had a rapid and dramatic impact – the immediate resignation of University president Tim Wolf and the promised resignation of MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin at the end of this year.The Kansas City Star reported that the piles of money generated by college sports have long given power to coaches, school administrators, chancellors and presidents, and in particular television network executives. The players receive little (aside from their scholarships, of course, which pale in comparison). But the students and coaches recognized – and used — the fact that the real power rests with the athletes. No play, no pay!The actions of the athletes and the protestors, and their refusal to continue to accept the status quo gave the power back to the people. These students made their voices heard. It occurs to me this is a textbook case of using the 9 Leadership Power Tools taught by my Leading Women co-author Gloria Feldt, founder of Take The Lead.

  1. Know Your History. Everyone knew administration’s long-established lack of response to racial slurs. The black students knew their national history of oppression and chose to stop accepting it.
  2. Define your own terms before anyone else does. The students quickly framed the issue in its largest context: systemic tolerance of racism.
  3. Use what you’ve got. What time is it? It’s football season! By refusing to participate in football related events, these players and coaches drove a knife in the heart of many alumni, whose school loyalty (and financial support) is tied to sports.
  4. Embrace controversy. Did you see that photo of players and coaches locking arms in solidarity? WOW!
  5. Carpe the chaos. It was not at all clear at the start how this would turn out, and many doubted the university trustees would bow to student pressure. But they did.
  6. Wear the shirt of your convictions. One graduate student even launched an 8-day hunger strike.
  7. Take action; create a movement. The actions events at Mizzou were reminiscent of 60s-style social activism. But this was also a business negotiation. By engaging the football players, students literally had the power of money on their side and as we all know, sometimes that weighs even more than right.
  8. Employ every medium. In addition to gaining the attention of the national media, protesters used Facebook, Twitter, and many other social media platforms in addition to good, old-fashioned signs and chants.
  9. Tell your story. The story at Mizzou didn’t start last week and is certainly not yet over. The students continue to speak candidly to reveal who they truly are and how they feel about their experiences of being black at Mizzou, which makes for compelling news coverage.

We Still Have A Long Way To Go On Gender InequalityfootballTrue change throughout history has been in the hands of activists and reformers. The beginning of the fight for women’s suffrage in the United States grew out of a larger women’s rights movement. However, despite all of our major advances in civil and political rights, our country still has a long way to go in addressing the issue of gender inequality.Change begets change. So what would happen if women were to just say “Enough!” like the Mizzou athletes did? Women contribute mightily to the financial well being of each and every community in the world. Would the threat of a strike move conversations to the forefront?Women Can Change The Way The World WorksWomen using their power is not a new idea. The Greek playwright Aristophanes wrote a comedy in 411 BCE, in which the women withhold sexual privileges from their husbands and lovers as a means of forcing the men to negotiate peace and end the Peloponnesian War. Hilarious, right?Something that drastic is probably not in the cards, but there are many things that we can do to together to bring about change. Gloria Feldt points out that women have been stuck at 18% of top leadership positions for decades. Through her foundation, Take The Lead Women, she teaches women how to change systems in order to create a culture and workplaces that are healthier for both men and women. Take The Lead  also teaches us how to use movement building principles to overcome implicit biases, create sustainable change, and collaborate with like-minded organizations to amplify the efforts of all women—because together, we are bigger and stronger than the sum of our parts.The Mizzou students and athletes have made an amazing change in a very short amount of time. They proved on a very public stage that our voices matter, and that when we collaborate, we can make our voices heard. It’s time. Let’s claim our power and change the world.Register for Take The Lead’s Virtual Happy Hour with Dr. Nancy O’Reilly on December 2, at 6:30pm ET, to learn concrete ways to make collaboration work.