Being Formidable!

To be a woman leader is to be formidable.

“I’m a troublemaker,” a woman said to a small group of other women leaders from around the world who gathered for dinner at the Cosmopolitan Club in New York City recently. This woman is from Jordan, where she works to help native Jordanian women, who are a minority in the country, get access to education and opportunities. Another woman in the group, an attorney who has a company in Colombia that provides assistance to women during professional negotiations, echoed the sentiment. “Troublemakers. That’s what we have to be,” she said.

That we describe ourselves this way is evidence of just how much work remains to open up opportunities for women to rise up and lead. I would argue these women are not troublemakers. They are changemakers. And it’s time to change the conversation about women in leadership.

Strong women are often punished for this. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that 38% of women have reported experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace and half of women in a recent Deloitte study reported feeling unsafe at work or during their commute. About one-third of women harassed at work never report it. And when they do, some experience retribution from their companies or their attackers. To make women feel unsafe at work is to threaten our power. It’s to remind us we don’t belong there. The stronger you are, the bigger the target on your back.

Having qualities that discourage approach or attack. When we survive the barbs – literal and figurative — we emerge stronger. That strength radiates. It can protect us against future attack. It can also, if we’re not careful, make us hard. Fending off attack is exhausting. Walls and distance can be easier. Half of the women surveyed in the Deloitte study said their stress levels have gone up in the last year, yet they fear if they take advantage of benefits like flexible working hours, they’ll miss out on promotions and raises. It’s hard to be a woman at work. To be vulnerable throughout all this is to know our privilege. Not all of us can afford to be vulnerable, no matter how much strength that vulnerability can provide.

I called my company Formidable because the word resonated with me in a really powerful way, and gets to the heart of what I’m trying to do. Merriam-Webster offers three definitions of the word, all of which epitomize the experience of so many powerful women: Causing fear, dread or apprehension.

Yes, women in power often do that, especially when they challenge the status quo. I’m not sure I know any women who haven’t been attacked for the fear and dread they’ve caused by standing up for what they believe.

Formidable is a media company that covers the news through a women’s lens, reporting stories that are actionable and informative to a sophisticated audience while interviewing and quoting women who are experts in their field. I’ve worked in the news industry for 20 years, and one thing has become very clear: The news is written with a male lens simply because that’s the way it has always been. When I describe what I’m doing with Formidable, one of the most frequent questions I get is “what does it look like to cover the news through a women’s lens?”

Sometimes it’s easier to say what it is not: It is not writing only about fashion and relegating the “women’s” section of the publication to the “lifestyle” section like the Guardian does. It is not covering women a few times a year in a special publication, like so many newspapers and magazines do. And it’s not doing a profile every now and then of a woman in a position of power and saying you cover “women’s issues.” Let’s hear from women about the important stories affecting our world, whether they’re “women’s issues” or not. All issues are women’s issues.

Tending to inspire awe or wonder. To be truly formidable is to inspire others, and that is its own kind of gift. We don’t need to lean in. We need to lean on the systems that hold us back and break them down so the women who come behind us won’t need these fortresses we’ve so carefully built.


“Social change is brought about by those who dare and act, who can think unconventionally and who can court unpopularity.” – Indira Gandhi


By Emily Parkhurst

Emily Parkhurst is the Founder and CEO of Formidable Inc. 

Check out Formidable at 

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