On Dreaming and Practice: Donna Lopiano, Defender of Women's Rights for Four Decades

On Dreaming and Practice: Donna Lopiano, Defender of Women's Rights for Four Decades

I call Donna “the Mother Teresa of gender equity in sport” because she selflessly and tirelessly serves the invisible, the under-resourced, and/or embattled. A true changemaker uses their talents for what is needed, and Donna has consistently shown us that this is who she is. Just how far we have to go to reach gender equity in sport is more alive a topic than ever since we heard the testimonies from the Olympic gymnastics team in January.

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Reflecting my Values: Who I Give To and Why When I Make a Charitable Gift

Reflecting my Values: Who I Give To and Why When I Make a Charitable Gift

In my career, I have met women leaders and organizations who emulate my mother’s strong values for hard work, generosity, respect, and a cultivated curiosity. As a donor, board member, or coach, I'm attracted to opportunities when I resonate with a leader who mirrors these values.

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Why Moving Millions to Women and Girls Must Include Work on Embodied Leadership

Why Moving Millions to Women and Girls Must Include Work on Embodied Leadership

Embodied leadership is a way of being in the world that allows one to seamlessly integrate the lessons of the body learned through healthy movement and competition: risk, courage, anxiety, fear, the art of fundamentals, achievement and failure in everyday living, and decision-making. Girls and women who actively practice these lessons are more likely to successfully and graciously make “healthier” decisions—emotionally, relationally, and intellectually.

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Why A Single Narrative About the 19th Amendment Does Us All an Injustice​​​​​​​

The danger of a single narrow narrative for civil rights policy or legislation such as Title IX and suffrage expansion is that it diminishes the power that it can hold for millions of individuals.

Last year on July 26th, a major political party officially nominated a woman as their presidential candidate for the first time. Hillary Clinton, dressed in all white (a nod to the suffrage movement), accepted the nomination and made history. Accepting the nomination was far from the first step in women’s liberation. Rather it was a celebration of a long and calculated movement of determined women. And then the 2016 election happened.

Clinton’s nod to the suffragistswas a reminder of the history, pain, and work they put into passing the 19th amendment that must not be forgotten or glazed over as simply ”the right to vote”.  Similar to Title IX being seen as the “sports law”, the 19th amendment and the Education Amendments Act had broader goals for women and for society. Both laws represent so much more than they appear and learning more about their purpose and true intent can help lead us to further progress towards women’s equality.

In 1848, the suffrage movement began with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organizing the Seneca Falls Convention, inspired by their trip to an Anti-Slavery Convention. This was a coming together and a call for all women’s civil rights, even beyond voting. The official document, the Declaration of Sentiments, called for expansion and recognition of equal rights to women, including suffrage. Modeled after the Declaration of Independences, it shares qualities of the Equal Rights Amendment. The document stated that a woman was man’s equal, called for expansion of educational opportunities, and inclusion of women to all career fields. Ironically, during the convention, women’s suffrage was the only resolve that was not unanimously passed.

In the context of the legislative process and societal norms, activists and suffragists used the energy from this convention as a catalyst to lobby states to ratify a woman’s right to vote, which was a significant step in women’s emancipation. Twenty-one states had ratified this policy before the federal government passed the 19th Amendment for women’s suffrage in 1920. The 19th Amendment simply says: “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

Though its meaning clear, this amendment did not allow for all women to vote. It wasn’t until 1947 that Native American women got the right to vote, in 1952 the policy began including Asian women, and finally, in 1965, the Voting Rights Act gave Black women the right vote.

Facebook's Women's Equality Day Image Last Year. A number of these women however did not have the right with the 19th Amendment.

Facebook's Women's Equality Day Image Last Year. A number of these women however did not have the right with the 19th Amendment.

As Evette Dionne noted in her piece “Women’s Suffrage Leaders Left Out Black Women” for Teen Vogue, “Black women publicly fought for their right to vote, and often. In her 1867 speech at the American Equal Rights Association, Sojourner Truth argued that giving black men the right to vote without affording black women the same right only promoted black men's dominance.” Acknowledging the full story and history of the 19th Amendment helps us see how much we have to do to achieve racial and gender justice collectively.

Much like the 19th Amendment and voting, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act, goes beyond the sports label that it has been given. Passed in 1972, Title IX prohibits sex based discrimination in educational settings. While this expanded opportunities for athletics, it also prohibits discrimination against pregnant/parenting students, transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, sexual harassment, and inequitable access to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs and resources.

In June, Title IX celebrated its 45th anniversary, but only a few years ago did the U.S. Office for Civil Rights (OCR) focus on the STEM pillar or respond to the pleas of rape victims speaking up on college campuses. Finally, OCR is providing definitive instructions on how to apply Title IX to prosecute and end sexual assault in educational institutions. We must mobilize resources in support of all of the areas in which Title IX was intended.   

Equitable funding for women in schools through congressional legislation is much easier to implement than a constitutional amendment on equal rights for women. But the connections between the Declaration of Sentiments, Equal Rights Amendment, the 19th Amendment, Title IX, and Education Amendments Act can all be tangibly strung together by a movement with a clearly focused purpose; full equality and recognition of women in society.

In recognizing this history, we must expand the use of our language around Title IX and the 19th Amendment to open the door for institutional and policy change that women in the suffrage movement identified 160 years ago as their end goal. Beyond wearing white, let’s think of what might we all do to bring a movement for equal rights to fruition including protecting voting rights, particularly for communities of color. In 2020, perhaps a woman President will be able to channel Alice Paul’s spirit to get the final ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment pushed through after 93 years of waiting for our due.  


Tuti Scott, philanthropy consultant and coach, was co-CEO of the Women's Sports Foundation. She is a second wave intersectional feminist and lifelong point guard and will play in any game that has gender equality as a goal.

Jessica Avery works as the social media coordinator for Imagine Philanthropy. Having studied politics and gender studies at Mount Holyoke College, Jessica works on policy issues surrounding education, the environment, and women's rights and is a proud intersectional millennial feminist.

45 Years Later, Three Social Justice Movement Building Lessons from Title IX

People forget how transformative Title IX was—not just for women and girls, but for all of society. We tend to think of Title IX only in its relationship to sports. I get it. But there is a rich history there and we need to remember how Title IX’s implications extend into every other arena of life.

As part of the United States Education Amendments of 1972, Title IX states: 

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Think about that. With all of the work our country needed to do, Title IX set women and girls, and our nation, on an entirely new path. Title IX was a win for our society and the 21st century. 

I remind people that Title IX was established so that women could go to college and pursue advanced degrees. This was one of the first ways women gained access to power by drastically expanding their career options. The absolute intent of Title IX is protecting women and girls from sexual harassment, protecting pregnant women from discrimination, and ensuring that women and girls have access to education and training in male-dominated STEM fields. Women can now study medicine, law, or finance, rather than being limited to being teachers and social workers. 

Title IX was then and is today about expanded opportunity, and yes, justice.

Today, on the 45th anniversary of Title IX, with too many Black and Brown lives lost to state violence, justice must be at the forefront of our conversations. In May, Kimberlé Crenshaw, the scholar and critical race theorist who coined the term intersectionality, spoke about the interconnectedness of our movements. She said, “We need to have better ways of talking across movements.” 

Here are three lessons that I’ve learned from a life and career steeped in Title IX and women’s philanthropy that we can put to use in our connected movements for gender, racial and even, dare I say, economic justice.

1) Leadership and justice is never a zero sum game.

We have a president who is obsessed with winning and losing. But athletes know this—you never play just to win. You train hard for years, develop your skills out of respect for everyone involved, and foster a rapport with other players. And winning isn’t always correlated with performance. Mr. Trump may think leadership is about winning, but it’s about something much bigger-excellence, integrity, and sportsmanship to start. Outcomes that matter to people, outcomes that change the course of history, and outcomes that change what is possible. And I for one believe in the potential of the human spirit.

Why does this matter? When you think there is a finite amount of money, power, or justice – aptly reframed as love according to the wise Dr. Monique Morris - to go around, everyone suffers for it. There are still people who don’t support Title IX today, for example, because of the myth that when we invest in women’s and girls’ programs, for example, boys lose out. History proves that this isn’t true. Title IX continues to teach us that there’s enough room for girls and boys to succeed.

What can this teach us about other movements for social justice? That no one movement fights in isolation. We must fight alongside of and for the most marginalized communities among us, just as others have fought alongside the Women’s Movement, Civil Right, Gay Rights, etc. Clearly, we must know by now that publicly supporting Black Lives Matterdoesn’t mean that another community is going to lose.

2) Exercising and using our bodies is a primary tool in the empowerment of voice.

And the more we use our voice, the more we feel at home in our bodies. I call this embodied leadership. I have found this relationship between voice and body to be true through the spectrum of my life – as an athlete, a lover, and a cancer and heart disease patient. This is why with every activist I engage with, I encourage being fully present with your body. Whatever your body looks like, whatever your body can do. You are more powerful than you know.

Women Win’s research tells us that sports assists in the prevention of gender-based violence. Through sports, and I would infer through embodied leadership of all expressions, women and girls:

  1. Learn how to ask for help
  2. Encourage boundary setting
  3. Build courage

Many of the things I see women struggle with as a result of living in this culture—not going to bat for ourselves or others, apologizing too much, competing against women we could and should be supporting—these things live in the body, too. We can transform them using the leadership and teamwork skills we learn through the model from sports. We can transform them by stepping into and standing in our power. Whether or not you play sports now or if you were lucky to grow up playing sports, remember that you have access to using your voice. Leadership at every level is embodied, and we need to start teaching it in an embodied way. Marching regularly works as does using your power stance…daily.

3) We have to find more ways to tap into our empathy.

There are a million reasons to encourage women’s full participation in every sector of society. Again, looking just at sports, we know that when girls play sports, they go on to have more positive experiences in every sphere of life: their home, workplace, and community. Health benefits of movement and sports are crystal clear. Women who benefited from playing sports have an 8% higher wage premium and are 20% more likely to be in the workforce. We know companies are more profitable when women are in leadership positions, and more than half of all top female executives played sports in college. In other words, women’s participation in sports helps women get to the highest levels of leadership and prepares them for success in spaces previously dominated only by men. 

But beyond all of these reasons, making sure women and girls have access to sports is simply the right thing to do. Each time a father goes to bat for his daughter using Title IX protections under the law, he is going to bat for young women everywhere. Each time we throw our support behind a woman colleague who asks for equal funding for her programs or challenges sexual harassment in the workplace, we go to bat for all women. The history of Title IX teaches us what justice and empathy looks like in practice. We demonstrate empathy by fighting for another person’s humanity. By showing up and being willing to do it… because it’s the right thing to do.

We need the lessons of Title IX now more than ever. While there is so much more work for equity, Title IX has helped create the conditions of fairness for women and girls. We have to ask ourselves, what conditions do we need to create now—what laws, systems, and practices do we need to change, to make gender and racial justice, and yes, economic justice a reality?

Movement Building- What Can We Learn from Sports?

Few can deny the success of the women’s sports movement. Since the passage of Title IX in1972, the growth of girls’ and women’s participation in sports has been simply phenomenal. Within this movement are valuable lessons for those of us still working on issues such as reproductive justice, pay equity, legislative leadership, etc. For my wise colleagues working in these areas and others, I encourage you to consider the following metaphors and practices for success.

1. Utilize the entire playbook. Every movement needs a balance of planning and action, passion and reflection, creativity and hard work. Early in the game, women’s sports leaders created the Coalition for Girls and Women in Education with representatives from five or six national organizations to be the think tank and pulse reading organ responsible for developing and implementing strategies and responses. These organizations represented different skill sets. The National Women’s Law Center delivered “legal eagles”; the American Association for University Women delivered academic research; the Women’s Sports Foundation delivered celebrity athletes and Hollywood spokespersons, etc. There is no rule that states you utilize these skills in a linear fashion. Rather, to be game ready and successful, we have to practice and access all of these skills simultaneously with intense persistence and the division of labor makes this easier to do. If we are ready at every position, we are poised to seize every opportunity and able to adjust in the heat of the game to whatever ‘play’ or strategy is needed for victory.

2. Treat funders like teammates. A team is more than players in the field. A successful team is the sum total of the starting line “up, substitutes on the bench, coaches, owners and investors, all working together. The women’s sports movement kept investors informed every step of the way – celebrating victories and asking for more help to confront defeats and win the next round. When you are truly partnered for victory and you collectively have a goal of winning, people are working side by side and sharing their information, power and strengths selflessly. A great team communicates effortlessly and the leadership (coaches, managers, investors, owners) pat each other on the back to acknowledge great plays, creating places for each other to ‘shine’; honoring the individuality that each member brings to the team’s success and engaging with them to bring out their best selves. Being able to do this with all of the partners in the movement will build success faster. Rather than a ‘race’ to be the fastest and most successful organization, it is better to get optimal performance from multiple groups that result in the delivery of a team victory that is more fulfilling and happens sooner because of coordinated group effort.

3. Set goals and celebrate victories. Motivating people by instilling pride in the work and celebrating the small wins along the path is critical for momentum building and staying power. It is statistically impossible to win every game or make every basket. The women’s sports movement can best be described as persistent and consistent effort over time. The season is long (41 years long in the case of Title IX and women’s sports) and keeping everyone focused on the team goals as well as the individual goals will insure a place in the post season. Success is most often the product of individual best efforts coupled with critical team wins over the long term. Keeping every player motivated to consistently put forth their best efforts over the long term is the heart of successful teams.                                                                                                           

4. Headlines are important. Media coverage and spokespeople are key parts of building the brand and energy behind and inside a team. But equally important is the use of compelling, research supported facts. Women’s sports leaders were magnificent in their collection and dissemination of the facts that girls who played sports had better grades, were more likely to graduate from high school and matriculate in college, were at lower risk for breast cancer and other diseases affecting women, were more confident and resilient, etc. The message is that the headlines must be more than ‘the good work’ of organizations; they must be about the impact of such work and what happens to those who benefit from the team’s efforts rather than just the social justice problem being addressed. It’s fine to take advantage of a crisis or story of someone adversely affected, but it must be accompanied by the hope and help offered by the nonprofit organization – how victims or lives of the previously disadvantaged have been changed for the better. The team should not be sidetracked or lose focus on its goals amidst the media hype and attention. Good work must continue in the shadows as well as the spotlight.

5. Trust your teammates. No one player can ever carry a team. Everyone has something to contribute. The more talented players you can involve, the greater the possibility that these players will make a positive impact. Take the time to find out what likely and unlikely teammates can bring to the movement. Play to their strengths and share with transparency the goals of the movement and the playbook of strategies.

How to Get Athlete-Level Confidence at Work

Every time I lead a retreat, questions come up about embodying leadership. “How do I keep feeling confident when no one uses my ideas?” or “What do I need to do to have my presence as a leader felt?” Kathy Kay and Claire Shipman’s book The Confidence Code brought science and depth to the conversation on confidence. And some of the lines they share, many athletes know first-hand: “We have control over our confidence,” they write. “We change our brains and rewire them to be more confident. Confidence is essentially a kind of energy that allows us to move forward wholeheartedly. By taking action, we create confidence.”  ...

What I Would Tell My 18-year-old Self

In the fall of 1980, as I left New Hampshire to go to Ithaca College in upstate New York, one of a handful of students in my class who would leave the state for college and the first of my siblings to pursue a four year degree, I wish I had the certainty to have known the following:

  1. That deeply loving women and being a lesbian is a magical, powerful, loving, brave, acceptable way of being in the world no matter what anyone says to you or how isolating it may feel at times.                                                                                                                                                                                             
  2. That the love you have for basketball, competing and being the coach on the floor will place you in settings you could never dream of to promote women athletes as leaders and to help shape the women’s sports movement.                                                                                                                        
  3. That owning your confidence as a ‘spiritual jock’ and a coach will drive your success in board rooms, as an entrepreneur, a leader, a partner and as a speaker for and about equity, gender and money.                                                                                                                                                                       
  4. That keeping a journal and writing your goals, prayers and ideas down is a healing activity for a busy, bold mind and will guide your success in unknown ways.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              
  5. That having a spiritual practice of moving your body, meditating and being in nature may not seem ‘normal’ but who cares; it will serve you through the deaths of your parents and loved ones, many health challenges and other unimaginable losses and heartaches that come your way.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  
  6. That learning happens with real time exposure to people, conversations, countries and challenges.  Books, degrees and good grades are important but real life lessons will be found when you get out and share your authentic curiosity and explore new arenas.                                          
  7. That unconditional giving and being generous and compassionate with others leads to sustainable happiness and immense self-satisfaction.

Why It's Okay to Be Called a Tomboy

A colleague of mine, Liz Wolfson, started a school for girls in Colorado that has movement as a core component of the mission. The Girls Athletic Leadership School (GALS) curriculum is based on research showing that the more your body’s engaged, the better your mind can function.

Imagine what our lives would be like if we integrated movement, wellness, healthy foods, and athletics into every aspect of our day? In a culture where gender norms have 10-year-old girls in dresses and 10-year-old boys in football pads, we need more places where girls are encouraged to be confident and physically expressive.

By the time a girl is 17, she’s seen more than 250,000 TV commercials promoting unrealistic body types. This translates to 53% of 13 year old girls who hate their bodies; jumping to 78% by age 17. Marketing, advertising, and gender norms continuously tell us we are flawed, and the cosmetic industry banks on the idea that girls and women have low self-esteem. As parents, friends, and family members, we have an obligation to make sure we’re having conversations and offering solutions to counter these media and advertising messages; especially for girls.

Soccer Mom, and Olympic gold medalist Julie Foudy spoke about her daughter Izzy’s first encounter with the tomboy archetype. “When Izzy asked what a tomboy was and if it was a good thing, I said it was a great thing! It meant she was strong, active, happy, confident, and liked sports. And that mommy was a tomboy too. ‘Oh good,’ she replied. ‘I just thought it meant I liked guns and swords like Declan (her brother), and I don’t like those.’ Now, I often hear her tell other friends with pride that she’s a tomboy.”

Athletes and tomboys like young Izzy stand a better chance against Madison Avenue–and in life in general. The benefits to girls and women who play sports are many; better health, higher confidence, stronger self-image, and better grades. On average, female athletes are more likely to have a positive body image and are less likely to consider themselves overweight than females who don’t take part in sports (Hausenblas and Downs, 2001; Miller et al., 2001). And, new research has scientifically proven that increased blood volume in the brain, a product of exercise, creates an optimal environment to grow neural connections and produce an assortment of beneficial molecules (Brown and Fenske, The Winning Brain, 2010).

Foudy and her husband Ian are parents who talk to their daughter about appearance and makeup (which came up when Foudy was transformed to look good for the ‘lights of television’ as a broadcaster for the World Cup). Julie tells Izzy that ”if someone is so worried about how they look on the outside, they’re not taking good enough care of the inside. We want the inside to be beautiful and the outside will then shine.”

By playing sports, we learn that we can do almost anything as long as we’re willing to practice and be committed to learning new things. An athlete who has a tough day at practice or a lousy game knows that she’s still a good person and there’s always another day.

“Sport, especially team sports, teaches us how to work with one another and go through the triumphs and tribulations together. Being on a team, you learn to embrace differences. You’re exposed to others who have different backgrounds, and you have to figure out how to relate and work together for a common goal,” says Hilary Knight, Olympic silver medalist in ice hockey. Sport teaches us that it’s okay to make mistakes; the secret to getting better at whatever you want to do is never making the same mistake twice.

Getting more girls to embrace being a tomboy, play sports, and challenge gender assumptions and media hype to be a ‘girly girl’ (as Izzy calls it) takes guts. As Anita DeFrantz, the highest ranking woman on the International Olympic Committee, says “Give a young girl a ball and a doll,” as a way to encourage people to expose girls to sports early. I like to say, give a young boy a ball and a doll too! Then we can encourage the nurturing and caregiving qualities of boys and the strength and confidence of girls from an early age.

4 Successful Athletes Share Their Best Relaxation Techniques

People think genius is genetic, but it’s not. It takes time and repetition to master a skill. Practice a habit for 66 days and it can become hard wired. Athletes are often the best visual example of genius. Their ability to perform a physical skill has been honed from decades of practice. When it comes to competition, they know that their mental focus or attention is the reason for victory or loss.

What about everyday people who aren’t competing for the world championship, yet want to deepen their mental focus? The first step is to fuel your brain, specifically the frontal lobe where discipline and willpower reside. And the frontal lobe is stimulated with sleep, exercise, and meditation. And since we’ve been told time and time again that meditation and mindfulness can help you become more disciplined and reduce stress, here are some athletes who might finally make you believe it/want to do it yourself.

Anne Abernathy: 6-time Olympian in Luge and Currently Training for the 2016 Olympics in Archery

“In sport it’s important to not only stay relaxed, but also keep your energy at a high level. It can be done by repeating self-affirming messages such as: “I’ve trained hard, I deserve to be here.”  At the same time, shrug your shoulders, then take a deep belly breath and let it out slowly focusing on relaxing your neck and shoulder muscles as you slowly exhale. The rest of the body will automatically follow suit and relax. Complete this routine before an intense activity, or when you’re visualizing kicking butt in the task ahead.

This last step is the most important part, yet everyone always seems to forget it. You have to let go. I try and follow the same three steps: 1. Do self-affirming message, 2. Shrug, take a deep breath, relax shoulders, and 3. Let go.”

Elena Hight: Two-time Olympian and 4-time Winter X Games Medalist in Snowboarding

“Training and competition can be super high stress environments, which is exactly the time when it’s most important to be able to be calm and composed. I’ve found that starting my day off with a meditation and a morning yoga routine always puts me in the best mindset to tackle the day. During events or training sessions that elevate stress, I always take five minutes and sit in nature. If I’m at the top of a halfpipe and the tension is thick or I get nervous, this means stepping into the trees where no one can see me and away from the high energy of the event. There is nothing better than stillness to calm you down.”

Elana Meyers Taylor: Two-time Olympic Medalist in Bobsledding

“Before a competition I need to be calm and relaxed to drive my sled well. What works best for me is praying—nothing is more calming then realizing that the world is bigger than just this race and praying helps me put everything into perspective. Also, constantly reminding myself that I have done everything possible to prepare for that moment gives me the assurance that I can relax and let my hard work shine through to my performance.”

Dawn Riley: America’s Cup and Around the World Sailboat Racer

“Sailing is both physical as well as mental. Stress makes you stupid and you can’t afford that so I have a few things I do and coach. Be prepared—I always have my chap stick, electrical tape, and knife. And if I’m nervous I just touch them in sequence and that’s a signal to myself: ‘I’ve got this. Let’s go.’

I also use a breathing technique a coach taught me when I threw discus in high school. Deep breath, chest out, shoulders back, hold it; exhale keeping chest and shoulders puffed out; relax all. Do that a few times before a regatta or a speech and it helps a lot.”

Thanks to Yolanda Jackson and Marketing Female Athletes for her support in securing the athlete stories.