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March 3, 2016

Guest Post from Karen Cahn, Panelist, Speak Up In Your Community Panel at the Speak Up Women Conference

 

       When I was going through a divorce, I turned to the Internet to find solace, shared experience and compassion from other women who were going through the same difficult experience.  I didn’t find much by way of “support”, but I did find lots of haters and trolls who made disparaging, disrespectful and hurtful comments about divorce and family issues.  The reality was, there was no safe space for people to have an open dialogue about tough personal issues without being cut down. I realized if I wanted such a space, I needed to stand up and to create it myself.  As a woman, I knew instinctively that women need talk therapy to survive, and for the most part, your friends and family are not the right people to talk with because it’s just not all that comfortable, there’s judgement, sadness on the part of whoever is listening to you, blah blah. It’s for this reason, that my team created technology to allow users to participate publicly or privately, so they could either be public about an issue or they could remain anonymous and speak more freely.  

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       We tested our technology on VProud.tv, a video-driven conversation platform, built for women by women.  VProud’s mission is to cultivate honest conversations among women in a safe and nonjudgmental environment.  We built the technology for VProud around the idea that everyone should have a voice and be able to share their opinion in a venue that is kind, respectful and free from trolls.  The Internet gives everyone a voice but it is challenging to find a place to share that voice without being cut down by others.  Unfortunately, this is particularly a problem for women. Women’s voices, opinions and bodies are constantly being berated on the Internet.  We wanted to stand up and put an end to the online bullying and shaming, so I created a place for women to talk about the issues that were important to them in a safe community platform.

        When we launched VProud.tv, we were inspired by the high levels of engagement, and the incredible amounts of time women who found the site were spending on it, watching video and reading the conversation.  We knew we were ready to start licensing our patent-pending software platform to brands and websites with the hopes of allowing any brand with a website to create safe online communities for their users, whether they were talking about sports, food, technology, or any topic.   VCommunity was built to give people a fun and immersive online video experience while also allowing users the ability to stand up and have a voice about the issues that matter to them.  Through VCommunity, we are using technology to allowing anyone to stand up and have a voice.

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       In the midst of all of this, I was talking to a colleague, Naama Bloom, founder of HelloFlo about the misinformation plaguing the Internet regarding women’s health and family wellness.  Naama and I decided to join together as partners and build a learning platform that allows women to get help about the physical or emotional issues they are experiencing from female doctors and experts. I believe that you can speak up for yourself by trying to solve your health problems.  Unfortunately, many women are unable to do this because they don’t have access to medical experts, who can be expensive, geographically prohibiting or impossible to get an appointment with.  We wanted to make these experts accessible to everyone so we created Learn From Her, a private e-learning platform for women. Our mission is to normalize the conversation about women’s and family health by bringing trustworthy, no-nonsense female experts to people globally, for the cost of a co-pay. Our classes offer a shame and judgment-free, private environment for women to learn about their own bodies and the health and well-being of their families.

        Lastly, through VProud and Learn From Her, I realized how hard it is for women to speak up about mental health issues.  Society has come a long way in the past few decades regarding mental health understanding, but there is still a long way to go.  The truth of the matter is that WE ALL suffer from mental health issues, whether it is directly or through association.  I wanted to normalize mental health issues because I’ve found that stigma comes from misunderstanding or lack of information. VProud was selected to be a part of the first-ever YouTube Global Initiative for Women.  The campaign launches in March for Women’s History Month and is intended to highlight the best up-and-coming female YouTube creators. We knew that we wanted to work on a project that focused on female mental health.  VProud’s project, You’re Not Crazy, is a mental health themed variety show, consisting of raw, dynamic conversations between diverse women, interspersed with stand-up comedy & storytelling from our favorite comedians. If we can talk openly and honestly (and laugh a little) about mental health issues, we can help to allow women to speak up and get the help that they need and deserve.

        In my life and career, I have found that by speaking up for yourself and your own needs can help other people to do the same thing.  If my voice can help people feel less alone, and direct them towards the tools they need to speak up for themselves, I believe I have had a successful career.

 

I look forward to meeting you at the Speak Up Women Conference on March 5th at the United Nations and hearing about your experience!



March 1, 2016

Guest Post from Kathy Zucker, Panelist, Speak Up In Your Community Panel at the Speak Up Women Conference

Taking risks. Speaking up. Sharing information. What do all of these things have in common? Conversation.

Every single person wants to be seen. To be heard. To have their words validated. Every one. And often? Nobody is listening.

When you are a person who listens to others, you are instantly a person of interest. That is it. You do not have to be superbly talented. The best writer. Photographer. Actor. All you have to do? Is talk to people. Well, and be genuinely interested in them.

Kathy Zucker - Panelist, Speak Up in Your Community Panel
Kathy Zucker – Panelist, Speak Up in Your Community Panel

Every time I talk to someone – and I talk to everyone – I learn something new. It is never something I expect. But just like bargain hunting in a department store, sooner or later you find a dark corner of a display that everyone has overlooked and uncover a hidden treasure.

Listening takes practice. I have made mistakes over and over again as I have learned how to take part in discussions. Own your mistakes. Apologize for errors. Learn how to avoid repeating them. And then move on. Every time I get involved in conversations on national and local levels, I learn more about myself. Another bonus? I get to see how amazing people handle themselves under pressure. These are people I admire. Respect. And that is how I identify people I want to be friends with.

Is it scary to start a conversation? Absolutely yes. I never know how someone will receive my thoughts, particularly the risky ones. Sometimes I go too far, and people let me know right away. But I would a million times rather risk going too far than playing things safe, especially if my heart is screaming at me to take a chance. Because the safe route? Is actually unsafe.

How can something safe be unsafe? Schools and authority figures teach us from a young age to follow a well-trodden path toward success. Study hard. Get good grades and test scores. Go to college. Get a job. But here is the hidden danger of the safe route. Everybody is pursuing the same thing. The safe route is obvious. It practically has neon lights flashing above it. And when something is obvious, that means a crowd is headed toward an entry door that can admit only a few.

So how can you be successful? By doing something different, or being the first. I am not the best mom. The best writer. The best anything, really. What am I? Someone who sees strategy five, ten and twenty years into the future. Everything I do showcases the choices I make that reflect my ability in strategic planning. From the place where I choose to raise my family to the companies I partner with, every choice reflects what I want to stand for long-term. Even – and especially – this book is part of my plan. What is my goal? I am not looking to get rich. The book is being published under an imprint belonging to one of my companies. My goal? Is to have something I can point to when people ask what I have been doing during the time since I left my full-time corporate job. Now every time someone asks that question? My response will be, read the book.

There are five members of my family. Each one has different skills. Goals. My children are still very young. They are unformed. Zucker_SpeakUp_Conversation-2I am beginning to see the outlines of what my older children will be as adults. I am learning who they are as people at the same time as the entire world is learning. How is this happening? Through the real time social media posts that I create every day showcasing my five family members.

Every time I post a picture and story about a member of my family, I am opening the door to opportunities. How am I doing that? By telling people what my kid is interested in, I am giving them a blueprint for what will work for that individual. When I posted a picture drawn by my oldest child, book editors reached out asking if she is interested in collaborating to illustrate future projects.

Each time I share a story that tears my heart apart, people feel connected to my family. To an individual child. To the family as a whole. And when people feel a deep connection? They search for ways to help us in small and large ways.

These connections are a two way street. When people are kind to my family, they own a tiny piece of my heart. So when they send congratulations on a milestone? I thank them for their friendship. I am extremely busy. Everyone knows this. But in the midst of scrolling down the ever-increasing volume of my timelines, posts jump out at me. Birthdays. Car accidents. Travel pictures. Whenever I see something that tugs at my heart, I like or comment on it. And each like? Is an invitation to start a conversation. Often, I see the same names pop up on instant messenger. And then? We open our hearts to each other.

I am grateful every day that I took an unconventional path. Has it been difficult? Poorly paid? Yes and yes. But while I may not have the bank balance I might have had if I had stayed in a corporate job, I have something far more valuable – a wide network of friends who have answers for all of my questions. And if you share information and start conversations? You can have the same.

 

I look forward to meeting you at the Speak Up Women Conference on March 5th at the United Nations and hearing about your experience!

 

The above excerpt is a chapter of the forthcoming book, Five: How a Family Can Create a Career, scheduled to be published in April 2016 by the Metro Media Network, a division of the Metro Moms Network, LLC ®. You can learn more at kathyzucker.com/five.