BlogHer is the largest community of women who blog, with thousands of everyday leaders. Unique voices and informed opinions abound on BlogHer’s website, on the 3,000 blogs that make up the BlogHer Publishing Network, and on the Twitter, Facebook and other social media realms where members interact.
BlogHer ’12 felt like an entire case study on women’s leadership and the power it possesses. Here are five leadership-focused lessons that stuck with me.
- Strength comes in numbers, but it only takes one voice to lead. One of the most powerful panels at BlogHer ’12 featured BlogHer’s International Activist Scholarship recipients, an award designed to “both recognize and magnify the impact of women bloggers living outside the United States.” This year’s recipients detailed the connections they have forged to illuminate marginalized voices. The panelists included Maha El-Sanosi, who writes about Sudanese politics and culture and was recently arrested for protesting, as well as Fungai Machirori (blogs at Fungai Neni and Her Zimbabwe), who lives in Zimbabwe and has created a forum that promotes critical thought.
Machirori spoke about the power of encouraging women to utilize their voices. She has recently expanded from her personal blog to a community blog featuring women in Zimbabwe. “It’s a game-change from a personal blog into a community blog. When you have other people involved there is a greater accountability.” The success of these leaders comes from the fact that each recognizes the strength her voice has when it is amplified and amplifying the voices of others.
- Value your voice — and in your own way. So much of leadership is driven directly by voice. But how do we quantify it? The Blogging for the Love of It panel explored different possibilities of personal voice and how to value that voice. Moderator Bonnie Stewart emphasized the oftentimes “external” metrics-driven assessment of blogs and social media — page views and number of comments.
Stewart’s larger point was that there are other, more meaningful metrics that are then not taken into account — metrics that can be determined by the individual herself, such as business relationships and connections. These are metrics that a woman leader can use to quantify her own self-development.
- You don’t need an answer if it’s not the right question. Rephrasing an unhelpful question can be a fantastic way to lead a dialogue. In her keynote conversation with BlogHer co-founder Lisa Stone, Katie Couric had a few telling points on certain questions that she gets asked simply because she’s a woman in a leadership position. “I always felt uncomfortable with the ‘How do you do it?’ questions because Brian Williams never gets asked that question,” Couric said. Don’t be afraid to rephrase the wrong question to create one that makes sense. For example, Couric noted that “How does she do it?” should be rephrased and asked in regard to women in lower socio-economic situations.
- Don’t let distractions rule a conversation. Mischaracterizations occur at a more frequent rate than anybody would like. Ignoring them allows them to persist, and sometimes, digging into a mischaracterization at length can have a similar effect. It’s important to address it quickly, correct it and move on. Couric and Soledad O’Brien used this tactic separately when addressing the “Mommy wars.”
Couric was direct: “I think that at some point we need to get beyond the culture wars, the mommy wars, and all that B.S.” This was in reference to Ann-Marie Slaughter’s recent cover story in The Atlantic and the reactions to it. Couric noted that Slaughter’s article, while controversial, could have company policies moving in a more favorable direction, with CEOs reaching out to make workplaces better for moms and the ACLU working on a program to help employees with aging parents.
As the moderator of an afternoon keynote panel on Women Influencers as Change Agents with Christy Turlington Burns (representing Every Mother Counts) and Malaak Compton-Rock (of the Angel Rock project), O’Brien voiced similar sentiments. “My experience is that women are very supportive of each other,” she said. O’Brien also described her experiences with her organization, the Soledad O’Brien and Brad Raymond Foundation. “It is women bloggers who are very supportive. The mommy wars are a media creation.”
- First and final ingredient: enthusiasm. The final lesson is, like the entire BlogHer ’12 conference, centered around realistic optimism. Claudia Calvin, founder of Mujeres Construyendo, the first platform for Spanish-speaking women bloggers, emphasized that nothing great is ever achieved without enthusiasm. She has grown her platform to include 800 bloggers and more than 11,000 women participating and sharing experiences. She is realistic about challenges (for example, in Latin American countries, women comprise only 25% of those blogging), and that many women thought their voices were not important.
Enthusiasm led Calvin to start her platform, and enthusiasm is what she believes ultimately makes it subsist. “Externally we need media to hear us, internationally we need to be heard,” she said. “It is about doing the right thing. Success is about moving from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”