Help A Sister: Women Connect4Good Founder on Women in Leadership
It was the silence that spoke the loudest to her.
O’Reilly, a psychologist, philanthropist, author, founder and president of Women Connect4Good, Inc., says that after the question, her guest was silent for a long while.
Then her guest responded, “You mean you want to help me?”
Familiar herself with little support early in her career, O’Reilly, author of Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life and generous sponsor of Take The Lead, says, “I have never forgotten that moment and it has become the cornerstone of what I do.”
Gloria Feldt, president and co-founder of Take The Lead, contributed a chapter in O’Reilly’s book, and O’Reilly helped with the launch of Take The Lead in 2014.
The parallel missions of Women Connect4 Good that O’Reilly founded in 2011 and Feldt’s Take The Lead intersect with women’s empowerment, gender parity by 2025 and the support of women to work together to create a better world.
Women Connect4 Good’s mission is to “educate people to develop women-helping-women networks to raise the status of women and change the world.”
Take The Lead’s mission is to “prepare, develop, inspire and propel women to take their fair and equal share of leadership positions across all sectors by 2025.”
The missions of Take The Lead and Women Connect4Good also align on the concept of women in leadership employing the “power to” do something, instead of the traditional “power over” someone, a foundation for Take The Lead’s 9 Leadership Power Tools created by Feldt.
“Power is a scary word,” O’Reilly says. And one that is misunderstood. “I asked the question at a talk recently how many women felt they were powerful and no one raised her hand,” O’Reilly says.
“Women don’t understand our power. If we want to change and improve the world, and move to gender equality, it’s about making these changes” in the relationship to power and an understanding of our power, she says.
Empowering girls and young women through her work is a motivator and a goal for O’Reilly, who serves on several philanthropic boards. She is chairman of the Responsibility Foundation board and also was a nationally certified crisis team leader in New York City following 9/11.
“The most important thing for women is building community,” O’Reilly says. That is what Take The Lead does with its Leadership Ambassadors as well as those connected with Take The Lead through its programs and events.
On her website, O’Reilly writes: “We should celebrate women’s accomplishments in this male-dominated culture, even though we still earn less than men, the ERA is still not law, and millions of our sisters around the world suffer violence at staggering rates. We must follow in the steps of our fore-sisters, who founded The Red Cross, The United Way, and won the right to vote. We must connect with our sisters and create a new women’s movement of women helping women.”
Mentoring girls and young women as well as colleagues to become effective women in leadership is key, O’Reilly says. “I was blessed to have strong women in my own family who worked and were visible leaders in organizations as well as role models.”
And it is critical to pass on that legacy of women in leadership as role models and to mentor others through “collaboration and working together. You put five women in a room and you can get anything done,” she says. “Women are problem solvers and can see the big picture as well as the small details.”
While 53 percent of the population in this country are women, slightly more than 4 percent of women serve on corporate boards and no woman is leading the country. That’s something that 28 countries have from the United Kingdom to Estonia. The lack of women in leadership in the U.S. is disheartening.
“We can’t change the world for good unless we have women leaders,” says O’Reilly, an international speaker who recently presented at the Women’s Economic Forum.
And men are not the problem, O’Reilly says. “At a lot of conferences I attend, there are male advocates,” she says. “That’s what we have to understand.”
To that end, O’Reilly is involved in the upcoming “Guys Who Get It” event in San Francisco giving awards to CEOS and companies who have 35 percent or more of their organization’s leadership as women.
In addition to helping and supporting the initiatives of Take The Lead, O’Reilly says on her wish list for 2017 is awakening the feminist power in different generations. To honor that goal, she is embarking on speaking engagements with her youngest daughter, Ragan O’Reilly Thomson.
With creating a better world on her to do list, Reilly says what that looks like is a world without poverty or hunger and one where every child is educated and there is no war.
“I’ve been very blessed,” O’Reilly says. “If you give something, it comes back threefold. So many people have a will and never see how it turns out. I want to leave a legacy now of being responsible for giving and making the world a better place.”
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon www.micheleweldon.com