(05) REFLECTIONS on time and progress

I recently found my birth certificate and noticed an odd discrepancy about the parental section of the form.  It read: Father: Name, Residence, Place of Birth, Occupation.  Mother: Maiden name, Residence, Place of Birth.  That’s it. Not even a fourth line. 

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I was born in 1981 in Massachusetts and my Mom did have an occupation.  In fact, she had both undergraduate and teaching degrees.  She worked full time until I was nearly five years old.  Perhaps, the birth certificate was just simply a government form that was overdue an update. Or perhaps it was a reflection of the broader societal view on gender roles and norms at the time.  There is no federal birth registry in the US, birth certificates are managed by each state, and presumably both parent/guardians’ occupations are included on most birth certificates today.  However, I’m sharing this story for a couple of reasons:

1.    I was really surprised.  This was not even forty years ago — it was the eighties!  The decade of Working Girl, Nine to Five and Baby Boom…how was there not even a space for women to have an occupation? 

2.    It hammers home that the pervasive institutional barriers regarding gender roles are complex.  I believe the stickiest aspects are related to identity and expectations.  After all, gender is a social construct that gets reinforced through institutions, policies, laws and, yes, apparently birth certificates. 

Obviously women have made great strides in the workplace and business, media and so many other areas.  So perhaps the lack of progress on equality in recent decades has been influenced with latent cultural assumptions about things like norms, competence, value and ambition.

In thinking about the passage of time and and what has changed in our society (or not) it struck me that this is an example of how our culture is missing a critical thread of intergenerational wisdom in many settings.  Throughout history this knowledge-sharing has been a pivotal link for societies across the world, particularly among women.  I've been thinking about this for some time. While so many aspects of how we live, work and communicate in 2018 have changed, the fundamental need for human connection has not. We need to see, hear, acknowledge and learn from the experience of those both ahead and behind us on the journey of life. There is a balance to this perspective on progress, success and meaning.  This Marianne Williamson quote sums it up beautifully: 

“In a way, the younger you are the more you know and, in a way, the older you are the more you know.  Younger people know about those things that change, and older people know about those things that do not change. 

— Marianne Williamson

I feel strongly about the obligation to reach a hand back, to mentor and champion the next generation of women and girls.  At the same time, we need to pay attention and listen to those with more life experience.   Part of Spark's mission going forward will be to deliberately facilitate opportunities for intergenerational learning.   I look forward to building out a set of platforms and programs that connect women at various life stages to facilitate deeper learning and encourage greater understanding, empathy and respect.  As always, I would welcome your thoughts.  - Meghan Fennell


(04) Think Globally. Act Locally.

May has been a month of celebrating women.  Mother's Day took place on May 13.  There were many local events supporting organizations whose work serves women here on the North Shore. I also followed the activity of several other summits from afar.  In reflecting on the various approaches to building community, I was reminded of the power of both virtual connectivity and maintaining a broad, global perspective on new ideas and emerging trends and of the importance of local connection and action.  Here is a round up of the events and impact that inspired motivated me this month.

North Shore-based events:

  • Wellspring: Wellspring's 20th annual luncheon, which gathers nearly 600 people each year, took place on May 7 and raised more than $135,000.  Community leaders, artists and musicians delivered spoken word, song and dance performances, which told the stories of 14 local women (and men) who have overcome extraordinary and, in most cases incredibly difficult, circumstances in their lives. It was deeply moving and it is a testament to Wellspring’s work in serving the North Shore community and in providing hope for so many women and their families in search of a better future. 

  • The Women’s Fund of Essex County:  The annual Power of the Purse event took place at Penguin Hall on May 10.  The Women’s Fund of Essex County changes the lives of women and girls by funding programs that offer demonstrated results.  The 2018 event gathered more than 275 women and raised $30,000 which will be invested back into our community through The Women’s Fund grant making process to selected nonprofit programs that strengthen women and girls.

  • Grit & Grace Exhibit:  Local photographer Tracey Westgate is presenting Grit and Grace, an ongoing art collaborative that tells stories of female empowerment. The exhibit opened on May 9 at the Hamilton-Wenham Library. The final exhibit celebrates over 20 different women, including educators, a police sergeant, entrepreneurs, artists, a firefighter, and many more.  Grit and Grace will remain on exhibit until June. 

Further afield:

  • The United State of Women Summit: took place on May 5-6 in Los Angeles.  One of the most meaningful moments from USOW, was Michelle Obama’s emphatic observation that "change starts close to home.”  This is a key pillar of Spark’s mission - to connect women locally, to be seen, heard and to support one another in realizing their aspirations.  In a time where there is so much division and vitriol in our country I believe that sharing stories and listening one another will build stronger local communities. 

  • The Embrace Ambition Summit: The Tory Burch Foundation, together with Bank of America, hosted the the Embrace Ambition Summit in NYC on April 24.  It included conversations with leaders, artists, politicians along with storytelling and live performances.  Speakers included Margaret Atwood, Katie Couric, Yara Shahidi and Tina Tchen among many others. The Tory Burch Foundation exists to support the empowerment of women entrepreneurs and this summit is another powerful way to convene and support women.

    - Meghan Fennell

The Grit & Grace Exhibit at the Hamilton-Wenham Library

The Grit & Grace Exhibit at the Hamilton-Wenham Library

Spark Ambassador Tamara DeOrio with Tory Burch at the 2018 Embrace Ambition Summit in NYC

Spark Ambassador Tamara DeOrio with Tory Burch at the 2018 Embrace Ambition Summit in NYC

The 2018 Wellspring Luncheon invitation

The 2018 Wellspring Luncheon invitation


(03) WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH: PROGRESS

Women have much to celebrate in 2018.  While the concrete numbers around gender parity haven’t necessarily changed, the conversation certainly has.  More women are running for public office in the United States than ever before.  The power dynamics of the media landscape are shifting before our eyes.  Women’s voices are amplified across social media.  Movements are spreading in real time.  Of course there is much work to be done, but it feels like progress.  I am optimistic and here are the opportunities I see for continued change:

  • Change the rules (TIME’S UP): In the wake of the revelations of widespread abuse and harassment in the media industry, women in Hollywood and beyond have come together to create the TIME’S UP movement.  The organization's Legal Defense Fund provides subsidized legal support to those who have experienced sexual harassment, assault, or abuse in the workplace.  Further, it’s a broader reminder that women in positions of leadership and influence have an opportunity, and perhaps an obligation, to help rewrite the rules. 

  • Change the boardroom (30% Club): Dame Helena Morrissey is founder of the 30% Club which began in 2010 as a campaign for more gender equality on UK boards.  The 30% Club, now a global organization, has helped move the needle on the numbers of female directors of the top 100 UK-listed companies from less than 12 percent 2008 to 28 percent today.  Morrissey is currently Head of Personal Investing at Legal & General Investment Management, which has nearly £900 billion of assets under management.  She was formerly head of Newton Investment Management. Her recent book is It’s a Good Time to Be a Girl (February 2018), a manifesto for tackling gender inequality.  This message is compelling coming from someone who has been a successful City CEO and champion for women with nine (yes nine!) children at home.  

  • Change the system (Women & Power)  #TBT to when I got back from vacation and the book Women and Power was on the doorstep from a mystery sender.  (What a delight and reminder to practice random acts of kindness!)  My thoughtful and brilliant brother-in-law shared this interesting perspective by Mary Beard, a British classicist on how power systems through the ages have affected women.  The Guardian calls the book a 'modern feminist classic' and examining gender through the lens of the ancient past is illuminating and humbling. 

  • Keep Showing Up (Lean In): Lean In may not be a silver bullet but Sheryl Sandberg has started a global movement.  Founded in 2013, Lean In.org has continued the dialogue about the role of women in leadership and it remains a relevant source of information and inspiration. Through education, research, public awareness and more than 35,000 Lean In Circles, Lean In continues to connect and empower women.  

  • Ask For It! (Women Don’t Ask) I include Linda Babcock’s seminal work on negotiation as a reminder and call to action.  Simply put: you will not get what you do not ask for.  Linda’s work is full of useful research and practical advice about how to know your value and ask for it. 

  • Be ambitious. The image of the Fearless Girl defiantly facing down the bull of Wall Street was an iconic image of 2017.  I hope that the next generation of girls and women truly believe that ambition is not a dirty word and Strong is the New Pretty.  If we want to be role models, perhaps we have to overcome our fears and embrace our desire to achieve something, which typically requires determination and hard work. (This is literally the definition of ambition).  Raise your hand, do the work, share your stories and lead by example.

  • Be kind.  This is so fundamental but always worth stating. It emerged as one of the key themes of the Inspiring Women panel last week.  Two of my favorite sound bites include: ‘Make sure we are not mimicking the judgment structures that were created to undermine one another” and "Niceness is overrated. Kindness is the most important thing.”  

 Happy International Women’s Day.  I would love to hear what is inspiring you.  - Meghan Fennell

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(02) The rise of co-working spaces for women

The way we work is changing.  It has been for some time. Emerging technologies have enabled new working arrangements and disrupted the traditional models of how, when and where work gets done.  There are implications not only for employees and organizations but for communities and society more broadly.  A 2017 Gallup report on the State of the American workplace found that 43% employees report working remotely some of the time and that the trend continues to grow across all industries.  The report’s title is telling: America’s Coming Workplace: Home Alone.

Creating new spaces to connect  

Most cities and urban environments offer a variety of interesting and beautiful coworking options that are likely familiar to you: WorkbarWeWorkGrind just to name a few.  The Boston Start Ups Guide maintains a list of Cambridge and Boston-based co-working spaces here Get croissant is an app that provides access to coworking spaces all over the world.  (I include this list of the top 40 coworking spaces in Los Angeles and high-end spaces like NeueHouse because they are just dreamy to meander through!)

This 2015 Harvard Business Review article explores why people thrive in coworking environments.  It boils down to people having a sense of community, purpose and meaning.  Further, and of particular interest to me, there is an incredible opportunity for women to build community and connection through these venues.  In fact, there are many women who are launching and raising funds for these businesses (find a list of women-owned coworking spaces here).

The Wing is a women-only club and coworking space launched in New York City.  With spaces in Soho, Flatiron, Brooklyn and Washington DC coming soon, The Wing offers busy professional women access to open-plan and private workspaces plus amenities designed with their needs in mind: think lactation rooms, showers, speakers and events, freebies, and blowouts on demand. Check out this New York Times piece to learn more. Herahub is a spa-inspired workspace and accelerator for women with locations in Phoenix, Washington DC, Carlsbad and San Diego.

Quilt is another take on community for women inspired by the power of the home.  Also featured recently in the NYT  Quilt offers members access to coffee + chat events (a pre-work chat for up to 8 women facilitated by a woman out of the comfort of her home), coworking days (a 4-hour work session hosted out of a woman’s home) and Learnshops (a session hosted by an expert on a particular topic hosted in her home).

Beyond major urban centers...

As I began to explore the rise of coworking spaces in their various forms and applications, I became curious - what is the model for this concept outside of major urban centers?  For Spark, finding venue partners for meetings and events on the North Shore of MA, for example, has been a challenge.  There are some existing coworking options in the greater North Shore area.  Work Loft in Marblehead offers bright and beautiful space, with day passes starting at $30.  Gathr Work in Ipswich is a brand new location on Market Street.  Founder Steve Glosserman is transforming the 4,000 square ft former paint store into a vibrant business and cultural center, with coworking options and events space.

I also had the opportunity to catch up for coffee with the inspiring Bo Abrams, founder of CoWork Gloucester.  Bo is a community builder, collaborator and a connector.  Her vision with CoWork Gloucester is to support and expand the innovation ecosystem on Cape Ann.  "Gloucester is a remarkable and interesting destination.  It is rich in history and art and technological innovation,” said Bo.  "People love its beauty and authenticity, but it’s easy to become isolated professionally if you work from home.”

In late 2016 CoWork Gloucester received a seed grant from MassDevelopment to explore interest in coworking on Cape Ann. Check out this beautiful video to learn more.  Like so many communities outside of urban areas, the study identified that people on Cape Ann wished for a place with state-of-the-art office technology and concierge level service that they did not have to commute to. “Today’s remote workers need a variety of settings and spaces for meetings and events, but more importantly, and much harder to find in non-urban environments, they need to connect with professional community,” said Bo.  “No matter how beautiful a home office is, people become isolated.”  

In the last year CoWork Gloucester has been bringing together individuals and micro-communities, laying the groundwork for what will be a leading-edge coworking space with community managers to foster networking opportunities.  What’s the most valuable thing Bo has learned?  “The iterative process gets moved forward so much more quickly when sharing space and conversations with other people!”  As for CoWork Gloucester’s timeline, they are building memberships in the first half of this year and in the process of finalizing a location, so stay tuned!

Regardless of where you live and whether you are an entrepreneur, work remotely or are just looking for an inspiring space to collaborate and create, watch this space.  You will have unprecedented opportunities to connect with like-minded workers and people in your community and that is always a good thing. - Meghan Fennell


(01) Resources for re-launchers

For women who have taken a voluntary career break, the idea of returning to the workforce can be a daunting prospect.  The challenges are complex - there are issues around identity, confidence and relevance in a rapidly evolving marketplace.  And then there are the practicalities - childcare coverage, commuting, travel and what on earth you will wear to the office.

The good news is that there are organizations sprouting up (with great fervor!) to support women on every step of the journey back to work.  For nearly a decade, iRelaunch has been a comprehensive resource for women (and men) who have taken career breaks and hope to return to work.  Founder Carol Fishman Cohen is the author of the seminal Harvard Business Review article 'The 40 Year Old Intern' and gave a TED talk 'How to get back to work after a career break.'  Check out her recent conversation with Mika Brzezinski on 'Know Your Value.'  iRelaunch hosts an annual Return-to-Work conference and also originated and co-leads the STEM Reentry Task Force with the Society of Women Engineers, in which IBM, Intel, General Motors, Booz Allen Hamilton, Caterpillar, Cummins and Johnson Controls have run reentry internship programs for returning engineers. 

Further, The Mom Project, a digital talent marketplace and community that connects accomplished women with world-class companies for rewarding employment opportunities launched in 2016.  reachHIRE is another example, whose services include professional skills refresh training, coaching and peer support, with placement in a paid project assignments at leading companies.  

Après is an online job marketplace, content, tools and coaching services where you can 'reconnect with your professional self'. FastCompany called it the 'LinkedIn for women who have taken a career break.'  Path Forward is a nonprofit which helps create internships for people who have taken time off for caregiving to get back to work.  Path Forward started as a program at Return Path, a data-solutions company, and eventually expanded into its own nonprofit which partners with companies to create paid internships for mid-career professionals.

Goldman Sachs was an early pioneer in this space, launching its Returnship program (a term they have trademarked) in 2008.  Many other banks, including Credit Suisse and JP Morgan have followed suit.  Tech companies, law firms and professional services are also building similar programs.  You can find a detailed list of organizations offering paid internships curated and maintained by the folks at iRelaunch. 

The bottom line is that there are there are more opportunities for women to return to work on a flexible basis than ever before.  There are increasing opportunities for seasonal or term-time working, project-based assignments, open talent networks and other emerging forms of contract work.  And without a doubt, there is an unmet demand across nearly every sector for experienced women. If you're ready to get back in the game, watch this space. I'm confident the list of organizations offering support and resources for women looking to reengage their professional life will continue only to grow.  - Meghan Fennell


Guest contributors are welcome!  If you have an idea, passion, story or topic on which you’d like to share, let me know!