Randy Ford: Welcome to the SuccessInsight podcast. My name's Randy Ford. I'm going to be your host today. Our guest is Dorothy Kuhn, who's going to be the director of the HerStory Global Women's Empowerment Conference in Dallas. I know we want to talk about that. We want to talk about all of your other work in women's leadership issues. Why don't you tell us first about this conference, which is pretty exciting?
Dorothy Kuhn: So the Her Story Global Women's Empowerment Conference -- this is the first time that we are putting this on in the U.S. It's founded in New Zealand by my colleague Gertrude Matshe, a renowned TEDx speaker, leader and just a tremendous force of nature, that woman. And she put this together, because you know, as I say
oftentimes when I'm speaking, you know the canon of social stories about accomplishment that men have is centuries old. They're amazing accomplishments that have really benefited humanity in so many ways. And that is wonderful. And the canon of stories for women's accomplishment, while stronger and more rich today than it was, say 30 years ago, it doesn't compare to the kinds of accomplishments that men have been telling their stories about for centuries. So one of the things that is so important to me about this work is that women get to come and tell their stories, whether their personal stories or stories of the accomplishments or the struggles that they have overcome or what they've created in the world to benefit the greater humanity. And when we, as women have a body, a canon of work and stories that is more broadly known, then that status imbalance thing, which is my secret sauce for helping women step up into higher status, becomes normative. And until then, we are in the business of bending those social stories so that you know when a well-qualified woman is seen on par with a similarly qualified man. Right now, that's not the case, because everybody knows we go to school and study all those amazing things men did, and we have a very tiny sliver of stories about women's accomplishments. Randy Ford: Right. Dorothy Kuhn: And that's just the soup that we live in. Randy Ford: Not for a lack of there being those women's accomplishments. What has been the challenge in getting those stories out traditionally? Dorothy Kuhn: So those stories are, run in all of us. And so for women, you know, a personal challenge for any one single woman would be to know how to step up and bend the story in the moment of challenge. So for example, do you want a funny story? Randy Ford: Of course. Always. Dorothy Kuhn: So I grew up in the garage with dad. My dad was the PTSD guy. You know, you never knew what he was going to go off, but the garage was a safe place. So I learned how to fix cars, which is what he was always doing in there, from the time I was little. These hands have rebuilt two car engines. Two. You would not guess that by looking at me. So I'm at the auto parts store a couple months ago, and I wanted to get something, and I just had a momentary like, "What is that part called?" And you know those guys at the auto parts store -- they've got to have the patience of Job, because more than half the people who come in have like no clue about cars, and so I could just see like the blood draining out of this face like, "Oh God, this woman is going to waste my time, and I have to figure out what part she wants from the tea leaves”. And you know, and so I said, "I'm trying to remember the name of this part, and I know you can't tell by looking, but these hands have rebuilt two automotive engines. But it was a long time ago, so I just can't remember the name of this part." And by that time, it came to me, and you know, as soon as I told him that little snippet of the story, you could just see like the lightness and the confidence come back, and it wasn't going to be another one of those conversations. Randy Ford: And the truth is: Probably it would be the opposite experience if I went to that same store. There would probably be some expectation on his end that it was going to be an easier conversation, and the truth is I don't know anything about cars. So many people are wired to think that way. Is that the issue? Dorothy Kuhn: Right. Well, yeah. Because we all project, you know? I mean think about how hard it would be if, instead of having this rich database in your brain of social stories that that pertained to people who look like this and show up like this, you know, whatever -- instead of having that to bring to any conversation, which is kind of our shortcut path, then you had to, every time you met a person for the first time, you had to build from ground zero everything you know about this person. That would be exhausting. So one of the things that the women in my circle get to do is to get in touch with what their superpowers are and how to tell those stories -- briefly. Randy Ford: You've been working in women's leadership for a few years now. You were doing a lot of corporate work before that. Talk about that transition and what drove you to want to work with women like this. Dorothy Kuhn: Oh gosh. This is great. So yeah, I'm a real geek at heart. I graduated in physics and math, got my first professional position because I knew more quantum mechanics than anybody else. I've always worked in very male-oriented industries, you know, military systems, telecom, you know all the back-end with all the equipment, and all that kind of stuff and finance and banking and stock clearing, and boy it’s just been a great run. I've worked primarily with men -- most of, the vast majority of whom, were really good men, though there were a few that did not qualify in the "good man" category. But you know, they're just the dusting. And knowing how to play like men play. I mean, when I was at MCI, back when that was a thing, you know, I was managing a team of these engineers. They would, like if we were performing tests for big, big organizations like big banks who were switching from point to point T-1’s, as they were called in in that day, to share, the kind of shared networks that the whole internet runs on now. So when that was kind of new, the banks wanted to know that their data was going to be safe and, you know, it would be timely and all of that kind of stuff, and so we would run tests to show them on their equipment that everything would work out great. So you know these guys, the engineers, would set up these things. They would like ask for a router or something like that. They'd have to check it out at the check out room. The guy who ran the check out room would say, "You think I'm going to give a perfectly good router to a nimno like you? Ha ha ha!" And they'd pitch it across the room, you know, write it down on the log. You'd catch it, hook it all up, do what you needed to do. Those guys would head to the pool hall for lunch. They'd shoot pool, eat burgers, drink beer, come back and do that kind of stuff all afternoon. And I'm thinking to myself, "This is not a bad way to live." They just had they made a game out of everything. And as women who are relatively new to those, -- you know relatively in the historical sense -- new to that, we can come with a bit of over earnestness, that we want to do a good job and be taken seriously and all that kind of stuff. Well the way you get taken seriously is by learning how to play. Randy Ford: What do you mean? How do you incorporate that into daily life? Dorothy Kuhn: Knowing how to play really has kind of two components: how to play when everything is friendly like the MCI story, and how to play when there is a big challenge that's coming -- you know, somebody has challenged you in a way that is personal or professional or some combination thereof. And it's those things are the times when a lot of folks you know if you're not really you know a person with a lot of spine or experience standing up to a real force-of-nature kind of person, and he's coming at you, then you can be in a position where you want to shrink back, because it feels unsafe. You know that situation? Randy Ford: Yeah. Dorothy Kuhn: Yeah. We've all been there, This, particularly, HR people love the work that I do, because when women know how to do this one skill, this one starter skill, the amount of work, of cleanup work, that HR professionals have to do for a me-too- related incident goes way down, and teamwork goes up, because people will respect you when you know how to say "unh unh" in a powerful way. A couple years ago, I was at an event here in my town. And at this event I met somebody who I only knew he and his wife on social media. And so we were going to put together was for Independence Day, and we were going to put together the final bit on this float before it goes down in the parade. By the way, we won Best Themed float. Randy Ford: Congratulations! Dorothy Kuhn: You know, we do the like, "Oh it's great to meet you." We had really hit it off on social media. So it's the A-frame friend hug and such as that. And as he's finishing that hug, his hand, you know, comes down and does the double pat on the derriere. I'm like -- I grabbed that forearm like a vise. I slapped his hand around on the small of my back above the waistline, shoved my face into his and said, "This is the extent to which a gentleman limits the roam of his hands. And now show me what you got on this float." And he did. Randy Ford: How did he respond to that? Dorothy Kuhn: He showed me. We were just off to it, off to the doing this stuff on the float, which is why we were there in the first place. And I'll tell you the real gift to this story is that a few months later, when I was in a tight spot and I needed some help, he was there for me in a big way. Randy Ford: I was just getting ready to ask you what you thought his takeaway was or what you hope now he thinks back on that moment and what he learned from it, from your willingness to stand up. Dorothy Kuhn: "She's got spine." You know that expression, "You've got spine," "You've got mettle," "You've got moxie"? Randy Ford: Yeah. Dorothy Kuhn: Call it what you will. She's got it. Randy Ford: I would love to hear your thoughts on where women are now in the public arena. Of course, you're in the greater Dallas area. I'm thinking about the late Governor Ann Richards. I'm from Tennessee originally. We just elected our first female senator. I'm in Chicago now, where we have two African-American women who are in a runoff. Where do you think the state of women in the public arena is right now? Dorothy Kuhn: You know, it's on the ascendancy, and you see a lot of women who are really just knocking it out of the park, you know, on both sides of the aisle. You know, I think it was last year when in the current administration, Nikki Haley, who was U.N. ambassador at the time, had said something, and the administration had said something about how she was confused or something. And her response was powerful: In all due respect, I don't do confusion. Randy Ford: Right. Dorothy Kuhn: You know? And that's all it takes -- in a second. So you know, I comment on that as the 13-second rule, because it's done in 13 seconds or less every single time. And then, you know, this year, you know the the ascendant women are, you know, AOC and those newly elected members of Congress. They are just amazing and not taking any guff and dishing it back just as good as it gets dished their way. Fearless, fearless. Now that's wonderful if you can do it, but if you don't have those bones, you know, so to speak, within you, then it's just a step-by-step process to get. Randy Ford: I also think about my nieces, who are in middle school, and I think about how that is something that when many of us were younger, we did not see, and certainly it was something that women were not seeing. I want to know what you think about where women's careers are in STEM, since that's your background. That's something that has been a focus for a lot of people lately. How do you think that's evolving? Dorothy Kuhn: I think that is coming back. You know, it was it was a real deal for for a while, back about 30 or 40 years ago, before social media and this whole expansion of you know, "everything's about TV and movies and acting and following your bliss" and all those kinds of things. And it's wonderful to follow your bliss. But it's also, I know lots of young people who have graduated from university and have a bit of, you know, they've got a degree. They've got a whole lot of student debt and they don't have a, you know, a skill set that can get them $100,000 a year. And it's kind of hard to live on less than that, you know -- particularly when you got a lot of student debt. So you know that was a thing. There weren't very many women in the physics department, but we had a handful. And you know we had a handful at the engineering school. It was right across campus, so we would like tease one another all the time. Two different views of the world. But and then it kind of fell to the wayside, in, you know, that age of, you know, glamour and all that kind of stuff, and now people are really coming back to what's important and, you know, how do we solve the big issues that are confronting culture in the world with the whole global warming thing, and you know all of that kind of stuff. Solving those problems are that amazing combination of social will and capacity and technology to get to a way that we want to live that's sustainable. Randy Ford: Do you think we're going to get there? Dorothy Kuhn: You know, I see a real push now. I think we've got a shot at it, and honestly as late as we have waited to get started on it, we need to take that shot. I remember when I was, in the 80s, I was living in north Alabama. The Tennessee Valley Authority, as you well know, has all of, has electric power plants and runs the power grid for that part of the country. And there was solar energy everywhere. When I moved back to Texas, which is sunnier... Randy Ford: Right. Dorothy Kuhn: ... less rain, less clouds, there was not a solar panel to be seen, and I'm like, "What is going on?" Well, Texas is an oil state. Randy Ford: Right. Dorothy Kuhn: And you know, you cannot solve a new problem with an old paradigm. So it takes, you know, people who are willing to think differently to be able to solve a new problem. Randy Ford: What are the things you do when you work with women to teach them these skills on how to stand up how to tell their stories? Dorothy Kuhn: Well, the first thing that we do is to is to get them in touch with where that fear comes up, so that we can name that fear and put it in a little box. Oftentimes that fear comes from, you know, something from when we were as kids little and relatively helpless, and we made a meaning out of that, and cleaning that up, you know, doing that internal work is important, but and to complement that with the skills. What are the 1-2-3s to do and have people go out and practice and then, you know, out in public -- you know, do step one, and then the next time do step one and step two, and the next time add step three, and you know just take it a step at a time, and celebrate your victories every single time. It's amazing how fast you can progress that way. Randy Ford: You don't have to give any personal details, but can you think of any moment recently that was like, "Wow, we really did it. We really have changed the way that she thinks by doing our work together."? Dorothy Kuhn: Oh gosh, yes. You know, there's an accomplished attorney that I've helped. As accomplished as she was, she'd grown up in a family with, you know, a dominant male figure who I'll just say it was not at all friendly. And so there were things that she wanted to be able to do to stop that kind of bad behavior that has been continuing in that person. And for, you know, other people who were in her life who were having similar kinds of behavior, you know, whether it was her professional life or personal life. Those old stories would just stop her. Randy Ford: Sure. Dorothy Kuhn: And so, you know, sometimes somebody is really close to being able to do everything. They just need that one more thing. And without that one thing, they can't get over the hump. So, you know, some of my clients are like, they get fast results right there. If they're just a step or two away, bam, it's, you know, it's quick for them to just be knocking it out the door. And she's like, "I never realized, you know, the power that I have. It's amazing." And she has done amazing things that she never thought she would do. She sets, you know, aggressive goals for herself now, and she doesn't hold back. And she just feels much more at home in her own skin. Randy Ford: Wow. That's got to feel great, right? Dorothy Kuhn: Yeah, yeah it does. Randy Ford: We always do something at the end of the podcast. I like to call it Insight2Go. Give us a recommendation of anything that is on your mind lately that our listeners and I should probably think about a little bit more or check out. Dorothy Kuhn: You know, I grew up watching the civil rights movement unfold on evening television. It was amazing. I remember in particular Rosa Parks. She is often remembered for, you know, not giving up her seat on the bus because she was tired, but that's not the whole story. The whole story is she was tired of giving in. Randy Ford: Yeah. Dorothy Kuhn: So if you, dear listeners, if one of you is tired of giving in, tired of not standing up, tired of shrinking back in the face of a challenge and you don't know what to do, you know, there is a better way. Randy Ford: I want to let the people know where they can find you. So there's dorothykuhn.com. That's K-U-H-N dot com. And there are a couple of things on your site that we definitely want people to be able to check out, too. What are those? Dorothy Kuhn: Ah yes. So there is a gift at dorothykuhn.com/gift, and that gets you the 9 early signs that you must spot to be able to turn them around. If you don't notice them, you can't turn them around. And the other, for Her Story Global Women's Empowerment Conference here in Dallas, is dorothykuhn.com/herstory. H-E-R story. Randy Ford: Thank you again for being here. Dorothy Kuhn: My pleasure.
The SuccessInSight Podcast is a production of Fox Coaching, Inc. and First Story Strategies.
NEXT STEPSDorothy Kuhn is the Creator of the 13 Second Rule. To learn more about Dorothy, visit her at dorothykuhn.com. And to learn more about the Her Story Global Women's Empowerment Conference in Dallas, visit dorothykuhn.com/herstory.
The SuccessInSight Podcast is a production of Fox Coaching, Inc. and First Story Strategies.