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gloria feldt, 75, advocate, nyc

ageist EDITORS | november 8, 2017

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Gloria Feldt was looking forward to some downtime. She had worked at Planned Parenthood, rising from entry-level job to CEO of the organization’s Central and Northern Arizona chapter over the span of 22 years. She had already achieved far more than many had expected, from teen mother in West Texas to one of the leading voices on women’s issues in the United States. Her plan was to a write another book or two, maybe teach.

Then the call came to become president of the national organization. She had her doubts.

“I was 54 years old and I thought I was too old. I thought that was a real detractor for me. I thought I shouldn’t even consider it,” she told me. “Well, it turned out to be the best thing ever to take a new job at 54, because nothing clears your brain more than having a whole set of different issues to deal with, a whole new learning curve. And at that point in your life, you actually know what you’re doing.”

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She helmed the organization nine years, until 2005. During that time she saw that the work she had done as an activist for all of her career was only half-completed. Second-wave feminists like herself had opened the doors for women in business and politics, but it was another thing to get them to walk through it. So in 2012, after years as a keynote speaker and author advocating for change, she decided to do something about it.

Take the Lead is a nonprofit with the sole aim of getting leadership parity between men and women in all sectors by 2025. At the moment, women make up 50 percent of the workforce but hold less than 18 percent of the leadership positions.

“Part of the problem is that women ingest culturally the same implicit biases the rest of the culture has,” she says. “We stop ourselves. I wanted to inspire women and give them what they need to make those breakthroughs.”

The work she’s doing is less blue-sky thinking than offering practical advice and tools for women to take hold of their own careers. On Nov. 14, Take The Lead Day will gather thousands of women from around the world in New York and via livestream into workshops such as re-wiring your mindset for leadership and success, and looking at women’s relationship with power. (To participate, click on the above link and register.)

“The truth is that on some level everyone has choices,” she says. “And how do we enable more people to realize they have choices, and they can make choices that enable them to be fulfilled at whatever point they are in their lives and to be relevant? It comes back to meaning and purpose.”

That Feldt felt comfortable enough to take on this enormous task at any age is remarkable. That she did so at 70, after a lifetime of high-achieving, is truly astounding.

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“If you don’t keep learning, you won’t stay relevant. And I think all of us want to stay relevant,” she told me. “We don’t want to be passé. We want to be part of what’s going on in our world. And the way to do that is to keep learning.”

For Feldt the work is part of a legacy she hopes to leave behind. That, in and of itself, is inspiring to her.

“I think you come to terms with the fact that we’re all mortal. We’ve had to deal with losses in our life — people who’ve had health problems — we’re dealing with all of these things,” she says. “You want to enjoy what you enjoy and to be able to leave something behind that has a meaning, that might help someone else.”

If you can make it to the event on the 14th, as an AGEIST subscriber you will get $25 off the Symposium price, by using the discount code TTLDNYWF25, or $50 off the Evening Performance price by using code TTLDNYWF50.