Dr. Paula Williams is Transgender and Shares Key Differences On How She Was Treated as a Man Versus a Woman
Manage episode 260081350 series 2661367
Dr. Paula Williams spent 13 years as the host of a national television show (viewed by millions) and served as the Chairman and CEO of The Orchard Group — a non-profit organization that starts new churches in the US– for 34 years. Then her name was Paul. From a very young age, Paula knew she was transgender, but given her upbringing in a conservative religious household, she learned to keep this secret to herself. She eventually married, had children of her own, and was successful by many measures. But something was missing.
One night, Paula (then Paul) had a life-altering realization. She knew that if she transitioned to being a woman it would inflict pain onto the people she loved most and she would put everything she worked for at risk, but it was bigger than her. It was a calling towards authenticity. When Paula finally mustered up enough courage to face her biggest fear and come out, she lost everything: all her jobs, her pension, her friends, and the news sent her family into disarray. Few people in her religious community understood or supported her. She says that was a brutal time for everyone in her family, especially for her ex-wife and kids.
With some years behind the pivotal transition, Paula’s experience of being initially a man, then a woman gave her a front-row seat to how women and men are treated differently at work and in life. Her unique journey has compelled her to advocate for gender equity, LGBTQ inclusion, executive leadership and American religion.
In this episode, she shares about how different it feels leading in the business world as a woman, versus when she was a man and opens up about her inspiring journey towards authenticity.
Tune in to get the full conversation and learn about:
- Leadership challenges
- Societal expectations and limitations
- The courage to be authentic
- The powerful journey of a transgender woman
- How men and women are treated differently in life and at work
- Cultural biases men and women live
- Challenges of women and LGBTQ in executive positions
Rev. Dr. Paula Williams’ biography:
Dr. Paula Stone Williams is a national public speaker specializing in Gender Equity, LGBTQ Inclusion, Executive Leadership and American Religion. As a transgender woman, Paula has been featured in the New York Times, the Denver Post, Colorado Public Radio, The Huffington Post, TEDxMileHigh, NPR’s Radiolab, Radio New Zealand, New Scientist Magazine, and a host of other media outlets. Her TEDxMileHigh talk on Gender Discrimination, which was Tweeted by Amy Schumer, has been viewed over 2.4 million times on YouTube.
Over the past two years Paula has spoken in over 100 venues, including Fortune 500 Corporations, Public and Private Universities, State and Federal Government Agencies, Religious Institutions, and Non-Profit Organizations. Paula holds two Masters Degrees and a Doctor of Ministry Degree in Pastor Care.
To see a full list of Paula’s clients, visit her website at paulastonewilliams.com.
Connect with Dr. Paula Williams:
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Dr. Paula Williams: We were brief and they were not pleasant. I expected to lose them not in the way in which I did. I lost all of my jobs, and at the time, I actually was doing about four. I’ve always been a renaissance person.
Tanya: That’s Dr. Paula Stone Williams. TED speaker, activist, and thought leader for gender equity and LGBTQ inclusion. She’s the chair and CEO of Road Less Traveled Pathways, a non-profit organization that provides psychotherapy, pastoral counseling, and coaching to couples, families and groups. As an outspoken transgender woman, Paula has been featured on TED, The New York Times, Jada Pinkett Smith’s talk show Red Table Talk, and the The Huffington Post just to name a few. As a transgender woman, she gave a brilliant TED Talk on how men and women are treated differently which has been viewed by millions and is now a global sensation. Paula, what were you like as a kid?
Dr. Paula Williams: I was definitely an outgoing child. I liked to be the life of the party. I remember actually deciding at about five that maybe if I could do an Elvis Presley impression, I really could be the talk of the town. It actually [01:48] at least with my grandmother and all of her friends.
Tanya: Oh, that’s amazing, so quite the entertainer then.
Dr. Paula Williams: Oh, yeah. I was always pretty outgoing, have always been an extrovert, yeah.
Tanya: You have an amazing story. Some time ago, I think in 2012, you decided to do the transition from being a man to a woman, and we’ll get into that in a little bit. At what point when you were a boy did you realize that although you had a boy body, that really you felt much more like a girl inside?
Dr. Paula Williams: I knew from the time I was three or four years of age I was transgender. Then in my naivete, and I believe also my male privilege, my white male privilege, I thought I had to choose. Basically, white little boys from our particular part of town got pretty much anything they wanted. I assumed that if in fact I wanted to be a girl instead of a boy, that it was just a matter of [02:49] and somehow that would take place. My idea in my mind it was a gender fairy and that she arrives sometime before kindergarten, and it would be a rather simple process that she would meet with me privately, and she would ask what I wanted to be and I would say, well, of course it’s what I am which is a girl.
The fact that she didn’t come before kindergarten was mildly disconcerting. The fact that she hadn’t come by the start of first grade was quite troubling. I think by then it’s like hey, you know what, I don’t think I get to choose. I mean, somewhere along after that I’d expect from the time somewhere between probably four and six years of age, it occurred to me that this was the way it was going to be, and there was nothing I could do about it. Unlike some transgender people, I did not hate being a boy. I did not hate my body. I did not think my body was awful. I didn’t hate being a boy, I just know I wasn’t one. It just didn’t seem to be consistent with who I knew myself to be.
Tanya: That’s interesting that you thought that there would be a transition at some point. That’s amazing. How was it to live with this? I mean, did you ever communicate it to your family? Were you ever vocal about your expectation that there would eventually be a change or was this more of a dialogue that you had with yourself?
Dr. Paula Williams: No. I was pretty observant of the world around me, and my father was a fundamentalist pastor. My mother was even more conservative than my father, so I knew that was a conversation that would not go well. I knew by the time I had realized that it was not something you got to choose, I knew that there wasn’t much I could do about it. That I needed to make peace with it, and again because I did not hate being a boy, I thought, well, it will get easier with the passing of time. There were periods in which that was in fact true, and of course, there were periods when it was not at all true.
Tanya: What would precipitate a period where it would be more comfortable to be a boy versus not for example?
Dr. Paula Williams: Probably the worst was seventh grade. You start seeing all your friends were girls, and I always had about half of my friends were boys, half girls. I enjoyed boy’s games as much as girl’s games, but was comfortable with either gender. If I was playing house, I always wanted to be the sister or the mother. I never wanted to be the boy. Outside of that, I don’t think anyone really ever would have known. Role play, I would definitely choose the female role whenever I could, but of course rarely was that possible. It was only at the seventh grade then, sixth, seventh grade, I began to see all my friends who were girls having their bodies change in ways I wanted mine to change, and I mine was not changing that way. That was a very difficult time period.
Then my body did not change much until the beginning of tenth grade. During junior high – that’s just an awful time no matter who you are. In my case, it’s not changing in the ways I wanted it to be changing. It really wasn’t changing at all, and so there was actually some comfort in that, but then on the tenth grade when it started changing rapidly, I’m growing very tall and everything is wrong. It just was all so wrong. That probably was the first period when I would have experienced anything I would define as depression though I didn’t recognize it at the time.
Tanya: Oh, wow. That was one of my – I was wondering how was it like to live with that secret? Was it just the manifestation of depression or like a deep despair of living life or what do think?
Dr. Paula Williams: You’re living firmly within any kind of fundamentalism, you’re accustomed to keeping secrets. The three desert religions, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, in their fundamentalist expressions, they all began as religions of scarcity. There’s not enough for anybody except me and mine, and so we’re in, you’re out. They always were the win-lose propositions. Their fundamentalist expressions continue to be so. When you live in a fundamentalist environment, you are living in a world where only certain people are going to be acceptable, and there are all kinds of rules and regulations which you actually see broken all the time right before your very own eyes, and no one dares talk about them. You’ll get pretty good at just keeping things private.
Tanya: You are now very involved in the religious space, and your family comes from a very religious background. Did you ever feel at odds with what you were feeling, and the feelings of not being in the right gender, and also at odd beliefs with your religious beliefs?
Dr. Paula Williams: I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that question or have I ever talked about this before. There was a definite parallel between my experience with my gender and my experience of religion. [08:04] my gender, I knew I was not in the body that was mine. When it came to my religion, I always knew I was not in the body that was mine. There was a sense to me that a lot of fundamentalism did not pass the common sense test. Would a parent send his child to hell just for behaving badly? More than likely not. It just never passed the common sense test to me. I was in that body. I really couldn’t get out of it. It was the world in which I inhabited. The world that I lived in, and I really wasn’t able to leave it. It was kind of the same as my body at that point. It’s like, well, someday, I’ll be able to step away from this. Of course, as I grew older, it was [08:50] my expectations that I would ever be able to transition and then I just assumed it was impossible.
Tanya: Because of your common sense test, you knew that even though perhaps the rhetoric in the religious circles did not necessarily ring true for you.
Dr. Paula Williams: All right. If I were to employ Fowler Stage of Faith, most everyone in my world was at stage three which is a rule regulation kind of. I found myself from probably my middle teen years on probably in stage four which is the questioning period of faith where you’re not sure if there is a God. You’re not sure if any religion actually is able to explain the way things are. Don’t even at that point want to acknowledge the reality that we are all spiritual beings. Then you fight through that fourth stage and get to the fifth stage where you come back often to the religion you were raised in with a more broader, much deeper understanding of it. Then occasionally, somebody actually reaches stage six like the Dalai Lama or Gandhi or Dag Hammarskjöld, the UN Secretary General from the 1950s. There are not many of us ever get to stage six, but stage five you can get to if you are persistent in acknowledging the reality of the spiritual journey. The church that I lead now is a church full of stage four, stage five people
Tanya: Did you just come up with these different stages?
Dr. Paula Williams: That’s all from Fowler’s book, Stages of Faith which is…
Tanya: Got it.
Dr. Paula Williams: My doctorate is in counseling. It’s a common text used to try to understand that as well as William James in trying to understand the religious experience of humans.
Tanya: Got it, okay. Thank you. What was your journey like to really begin to give yourself permission to be fully authentic, self-expressed with who you were inside?
Dr. Paula Williams: For me, that was not something I thought was ever going to be achievable, and then once I got married and had children, not something I thought desirable. I felt like I owed it to my spouse and my children. Families are gendered and I knew it would be devastating, difficult, awful for them if I in fact transition. I was naïve enough at the time that I married to think that marriage and sex would in fact cure me and because I came from that fundamentalist world, sex before marriage was not something that was going to be possible because you might go to hell if that were the case. Even though at that point I probably didn’t really believe in hell, still you just hedge in your bets.
Tanya: Yes, just in case.
Dr. Paula Williams: In thought, it would cure me to get married and it did not. Shortly after getting married, I told my wife what was going on, but at that point, nobody knew anything. There were no books. There were no TV shows. I remember running home from school when I was in high school to watch a Merv Griffin Show where he was interviewing Christine Jorgensen, the first rather famous transsexual, they called it back then. Nobody knew anything so we didn’t really know what it meant. It wasn’t until probably 15 years ago that I began to realize there was a distinct possibility that I might have to consider transitioning. In my case, actually deciding to transition came as a decided distinct call. I don’t know if you would say it’s a call of God, but I would say it was a very clear call, and the first one I had ever experienced.
I was watching my favorite television show of all time, Lost which I think was just brilliant in its trajectory. There comes a point in the final season where the protagonist of the show, Jack, realizes he’s been called by God to die, by the God figure, who if you’re a Lost fan was Jacob. The Lost fan, it was the scene in which Jack sees through the mirror in a lighthouse his childhood home and realizes that he has in fact been called to be that savior figure, and that he’s been called to die. That for me was a realization. Oh, my God. I had been called to this. I screamed and yelled at the God who may or may not be there all night long. Who the blank do you think you are to call me to this? I’m going to lose everything, but it was a very strong sense of call.
Tanya: Wow. You mentioned at some point you spoke with your wife shortly after getting married. What were those conversations like?
Dr. Paula Williams: She carried it with me. We carried it together for a very long time. Then when she began to realize that it’s something that might have to happen, it became really difficult. We ended up with the world’s best marriage therapist here in the [13:40] area where we lived. We were his last clients on his last day when he retired which was ironic. We were both therapists ourselves. At the end of our last session, as his last client on his last day, I said, “So Mike, how many couples are willing to work this hard?” Without hesitation, he said, “1%.” I said, “How many couples get this far?” He, without hesitation again said, “1%.” Then he said, “Which is what makes this so tragic because you’re a lesbian and your wife is not.” It’s the reality of it.
I think that was the point at which we both realized that our marriage would not stand the strain because in fact, I was a lesbian and in fact, she was not. We decided not too terribly long after that to separate and to split. We remain close. We’re actually still in practice together as psychotherapists, but it was in fact a really difficult time for us. It was devastating for her because while I was roundly rejected by the religious world, no one showed up to come alongside her. In the non-religious world, I received a lot of support and again, no one really came along to support her nor my children. It’s one of the reasons my son wrote the book, She’s My Dad, that was very well received. It’s a raw, real story of how difficult it was to come to grips with my transition. Resulted in the TED Talk that we did together last November, and we now speak a lot around the nation on that subject because there’s no [15:18] for families out there.
Tanya: Yeah. No, absolutely. Yeah, for anybody listening, your TED Talk with your son was brilliant. Actually, you gave another really, really genius TED Talk on the differences that you personally experience being a man and also being a woman, which I want to get into in just a sec. Coming back to the loss that you had to experience, I never even thought about what your wife might be going through and the lack of support for her which is so amazing that you even bring this up. When you came out as a transgender and began that process, you lost everything as you had assumed you would. You had two jobs at the time, I believe. What were the conversations like with your bosses? How did you deal with what was happening?
Dr. Paula Williams: We were brief and they were not pleasant. I expected to lose them not in the way in which I did. I lost all of my jobs and at the time I actually was doing about four. I’ve always been a renaissance person doing all kinds of different things. The experience with one of those bosses was actually very good. It was the only one that was not a religious corporation. They had to take some time to figure out whether or not they could let me go. It was with a magazine and they pulled that column from the weekly magazine immediately, but they kept me on for another – oh, actually I think it was a total of eight months in a very limited way. I saw that boss once a month, the publisher of the magazine [17:02] large. That was pleasant, and I actually have not talked about that much ever. He was really just marvelous, wonderful really.
The others not so much. The others took me off pretty quickly. I had handpicked one as my successor of a non-profit that I had led for decades. Had [17:24] from a budget of 160,000 to a budget of 4 million. I was gone from there within seven days, and I lost my pension from there as well which more than likely was worth somewhere between three quarters of a million and a million dollars.
Tanya: Yes, because you were there for 30…
Dr. Paula Williams: [17:41] 30 years. Yeah, I started when I was five. It was amazing. I was just this child starting and – Yeah. I don’t want you to start doing the math to figure out how old I am. I started there when I was five.
Tanya: The one thing that I don’t understand is why did that have to happen. 2012, it’s not like it’s in the ‘80s or the ‘90s. It’s so much more accepted.
Dr. Paula Williams: Really unfundamentalist. I mean, if you take 83% of the Jewish population are supportive of marriage equality, and we don’t have numbers on supportive of the trans population, but you can extrapolate them out from marriage equality. [18:24] of Catholics are supportive of marriage equality though of course not the hierarchy. 62% of the liberal Protestant denominations are supportive of marriage equality, but it’s only 31% of the – oh, I’m sorry, 36% of the evangelical population. That’s up 26%, from 26% just eight years ago, but it’s still just barely over a third of that population that are supportive. It’s a very right-wing population. 81% of them voted Republican in 2015. In that world, I think even though probably a fair number of my friends in that world, although they were shocked about it, did not feel that it was a moral issue. They knew that if they were kind to me, if they paid my pension, anything else, they were afraid they were going to lose their income, and so I was the sacrificial lamb.
Tanya: My God. Geez, we have so much growing to do as a society. It’s so enraging to see that.
Dr. Paula Williams: If we understand that from a macro perspective, I love the work of Edward O. Wilson, a sociobiologist who worked at Harvard and MIT. He identified nine species that are different from the rest in that they all have not just the selfish gene every species has, but they also have a tribal gene. He says we’re primarily a tribal species. He calls those nine species eusocial species which is spelled E-U-S-O-C-I-A-L. He said eight of those species evolved in a way you would expect. The enemy comes into the camp, the tribe unites, defeats the enemy, and life goes on. The ninth eusocial species unfortunately has evolved in a way that the tribe believes it needs an enemy for the tribe to survive. Where no natural enemy exists, we create one. He says, “If we don’t get a hold of that, we lose the species and probably lose the planet.” The creation of enemies that don’t exist.
If you look at it from that level, religion has been doing that for eons. You recognize that it’s just tribal behavior at its worst. It is just the creation of enemies that don’t exist. You see the shifts already. While only 36% of evangelicals are supportive of marriage equality, 51% of millennial evangelicals are supportive of it, so we’re already seeing a shift in that.
Tanya: Yes, and luckily. How did you deal with that level of pressure and rejection from everything that you knew for your entire life?
Dr. Paula Williams: That was the worst year of my life. I thought people had really two options. On one hand, they could say, oh my God, wow, I guess I was wrong about what it means to be a transgender, or they could say, oh my God, wow, I guess I was wrong about the kind of character that Paul has. I expected them knowing my character to say, wow, I really need to [21:25] this thing called transgender. It’s not what they did. They decided it was my character and that was devastating. I knew thousands of people. To date, I think I’ve heard from maybe 60, 70 in a nice way. [21:39] I actually thought about it, I think I’ve met 19 or 20 from that world, and six more than once. I’m pretty much totally rejected by that world.
Tanya: How do you rebuild from that point?
Dr. Paula Williams: You start over. You have no choice. In my case, I did not think I would ever be involved in the religious world again. I tiptoed into the world of mainline Protestantism, but mainline Protestantism has not ever been my style of worship. They would not agree with this, but my perspective is that they have a death wish, but they’re all rapidly declining as denominations. Most of their [22:24] are over 70 years of age, and there was just no future in there.
I was shocked when I discovered a church in Denver that was the kind of church I liked, very contemporary, wonderful music, amazing speaking people who were younger not older. Church of about 600 at the time, and I started attending there. Then within three months, I was on their preaching team. [22:50] church and two others. Another church like it in Denver, and a similar church in New York City. The three churches were Highlands Church of Denver, Denver Community Church and Forefront Church in Brooklyn, New York combined to start Left Hand Church in Longmont, Colorado which is the church I serve.
Tanya: What is your role because you now are a Pastor of Preaching and Worship at the Left Hand Church? What do you do?
Dr. Paula Williams: One of the things that I’ve discovered [23:19] I’ve discovered about gender equity and yes, you’re right, my TED Talk on that subject just had over two and a quarter million views at this point. Getting really close to 2.3 million views. I’ve heard from women at all seven continents including Antarctica that – just thank you for validating my experience that we live in a patriarchal, top-down, vertically-based hierarchical system, and it worked for most women. I think one of things that has to be done is we have to dismantle that system. We’ve got to create different kinds of models of leadership.
We’ve been quite committed both at Highlands Church and at our church, Left Hand Church, to commit to a triune model of leadership where we have three co-equal pastors. I’m Pastor of Preaching and Worship which means I take care of everything that happens for adults on a Sunday. Jen Jepsen, my co-pastor is Pastor of Reconciling Ministries which is exactly what it sounds like, as well of our social justice work, works with children and youth. Then Aaron Bailey is our Pastor of Executive Ministries. He runs the corporation of the church. He was an entrepreneur who sold his company and now is able to serve in a pastoral role. The three of us together work in a very flat leadership model.
Tanya: That makes me so happy to hear you say that because one of the things that is a turnoff for me about religion is just how it excludes so much of what I love and respect and validate. I just love what you’re saying about really being inclusive and running a flat organization and just really a new wave of – a new message. What are the core messages that you preach along with your co-pastors?
Dr. Paula Williams: I think it’s actually not just in the religious world, and in fact, I actually think the religious world is the first world with enough courage to say, let’s try tearing down patriarchal, vertically-based, hierarchal systems. I’d love to see the same thing happen in the corporate world. In fact, my speaker’s agency, outspoken agency in New York City is owned by three females who work together in a flat leadership model and that was important to me in my representation. I spoke to about 130 female founding CEOs at Forbes Magazine Headquarters in New York City last month. When I got talking about this model of leadership, I was really surprised because there were a lot of questions about it in the Q&A period after my keynote with a lot of interest in it because it’s got to be profitable, of course.
When you’re in the religious environment, profit is not the first thing. The first thing is quality of relationships. Need a little bit more freedom to experiment in this area in that world for as in the world of profitability and particularly quarter-to-quarter management, there’s a lot less likelihood of tiptoeing into those flat leadership models. In our church, we’re focused very much on trying to do social justice. We recognize our definition of God is that 14 billion years ago, God exploded on to the universe in the Big Bang, in all of God’s complexity and mystery and ever-greater expansion. We’ve discovered through quantum physics, the ultimate core of reality is not matter. The core of reality is a pattern of relationships between non-material entities. That in other words, the key quality in the universe is relationship.
That we would call God, at core of a relationship which would then mean that the most powerful source in the universe would be love. Teaching of Jesus in loving God which means loving that reality. The reality that we’re all here in relationship. Loving neighbor which is every human being with whom you come in contact, and loving self. Actually, we believe those are probably – that’s the only moral barometer we got. That’s the only guidance we get. It’s the only compass we get. Can we live in a way that causes us to love God, to love the reality that we live in a relational world, to love our neighbors, all of them, and to love ourselves? That’s the kind of focus we have as a church.
Tanya: That’s a beautiful message, a beautiful message of love, and actually, love is the highest frequency of energy that exists. It is a very powerful and authentic place to stand from so that’s incredible.
Dr. Paulo Williams: I’d love to take credit for a lot of that concept about relationship myself but a lot of it comes from John Polkinghorne who was actually on the team that named quantum physics and chaos theory. He also was a British Anglican cleric which is interesting. He was interviewed a number of years ago by [28:21] on being and talked a lot about that concept although in a slightly different language.
Tanya: Just going back to your TED Talk which got a tremendous amount of views and continues to really resonate throughout the world about the differences that you personally experience being a man and also being a woman, what are the biggest differences that you experienced in the workplace and socially?
Dr. Paulo Williams: I think, first of all, it’s important to note that when I’m just out in the world, I am not out in the world as a transgender woman. One of the most difficult things for people with gender dysphoria is when they are not accepted in their new gender. That’s why particularly for transgender women, passing in their new gender is extremely important. I’m extremely fortunate in the fact that though I am tall, I am virtually never seen as a transgender person. I’m just seen as a female and that’s good news. That’s also the bad news because you realize then what women are up against. Some of the things I’ve discovered are that you are not as a female judged on the aggregate body of your work. You’re judged on your most recent offering.
The fact that I have a doctorate very rarely am I called Dr. Williams. I’m just called Paula. That is not the case with males. Most of the time they’ll be called by their formal title. I find that all the body of knowledge I brought with me is irrelevant in most settings. Initially, I thought, well that’s just because all of that body of knowledge was from a male named Paul. Once I had an aggregate body of knowledge as a female, I’ll be respected for the cumulative knowledge. No, no. I find that I am only judged on my most recent offering in that particular setting as though I bring no expertise with me. That’s frustrating. I was in one setting where I was on the board of an organization. We had hired a new CEO and we’re maybe thinking about having them speak for a huge conference we run.
The person is not a public speaker and I said, “I’m not sure a keynote’s a great idea. I think it might be better if we just interview her and I’d be happy to do that.” At which point I said, “If you do want to have them do a keynote, I’m happy to coach them.” At which point a powerful white male on the board said, “If we’re going to do that, why don’t we get a real coach?” That’s what I’m talking about. Two full TED Talks, four other TED Talks within their organization. I used to teach speech in three different universities and one seminary. I have spoken to crowds of 20,000 throughout my adult life. What part of that is not a coached TED speakers? What part of that is not a coach? The second [31:11] I’ve discovered is, had I spoken up for myself there, I realized as a female you’re always on this knife edge. If you speak up, well now you’re much too strong. You’re really intimidating the men in the room. If you don’t speak up, you’re seen as too acquiescent. You’re always on this knife edge where you can’t be too strong and you can’t be too weak. You have to be absolutely perfect.
Another thing I recognize is men are encouraged to think out loud, women are not. Women are encouraged not to speak until they have all their ducks in a row. If a woman starts to think out loud, she’ll be interrupted. Even if she has her ducks in a row, and has her thoughts perfectly put together, the statistics show that men will interrupt women twice as often as they will interrupt other men. Women are also not inclined to speak up because women are not taught to be confident. They’re taught to be competent. That’s why they do well throughout their education period because their competence is important.
Once you get into the corporate world however, now confidence is more important. The person who’s elevated in position is the person who speaks up. The person who is quick to think out loud and present an idea, and women are not quick to speak up, not quick to present their ideas. Though 47% of first year law associates are female, only 15% make partner. That’s because we’ve taught women to not be confident. We’ve taught them that they cannot speak, cannot have an idea, and cannot present it until they are absolutely perfect in their presentation. All of those things are things I experience on a regular basis.
Tanya: Now just because you brought up that unbelievable example of somebody on your board, a white male saying that you were not qualified, how did you handle that? How do you handle that knowing that that’s happening and knowing what you’re up against?
Dr. Paula Williams: Yeah. I said nothing in that setting. I just waited to see if any of the women in the room would rescue me which by the way women don’t.
Tanya: Yes. Yes, that’s one of the things that actually stuck with me the most from your TED Talk is that not only do men do this to women but women do this to women. It got me thinking about how I do that to other women, and I’ve had bosses, women bosses that were just horrendous. Maybe it was something because they thought that they had to be so tough and had gone through so much to get where they were that they didn’t want to help anybody else. Whatever was going on, I thought that was so interesting. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Dr. Paula Williams: I think if you look at males, for the most part will function pretty effectively within alpha-based systems. The first thing they do when they walk in a room is determine who the alpha is, then they will rank themselves according to that alpha. Then they’ll work together to accomplish the purposes of the alpha, or to put it on a simple language, they’ll be out in a circle, slap each other on the butt, and advance the quarterback in the wall down the field. Men will empower one another once they know who the alpha is. Most women don’t want to work in alpha-based systems. They’ll work in them, but they don’t want to. Some thrive in them. All they need is access to the system and they just can’t get it.
Once women do reach top levels of leadership and alpha-based systems, they had to work extra hard to get there. They are not as inclined to empower those behind them. If they’re saying no actually, power is pretty scarce for females, and so you’re going to have to work as hard as I did. If on the other hand, you put them in more flat leadership structures, a woman’s ability to work collaboratively together of course has – what’s kept species alive for eons. It’s not that the men who were the hunters were successful. There was one study recently that showed that it’s quite possible the hunters were successful 3% of the time. It was those who stayed and gathered and grew. The women working collaboratively that kept the tribes alive.
Tanya: That makes sense. Collaboration always wins. How do we address the systematic inequality that is so ingrained in not just men but women, and ingrained in the way that – in our culture, in our toys, in our institutions? How do we start to create that shift, that opening?
Dr. Paula Williams: Just a couple of weeks ago, my son and I presented what they called a discovery session at the TEDSummit in Edinburgh, Scotland. These were all people who are either TED speakers or TED employees, who are TED fellows. Insiders in the TED system. We talked on this issue and we asked just four questions over about an hour and a half. The first question, we said – asked women to express their experience of working with men. We ask the men to be quiet, and the men were quiet. It was marvelous. The second question then was to say to men, now you can speak but all you can do is ask the women to elucidate what they just said. Expand on it. Tell us more about what you said about this. It was fascinating because my son and I had to go around and monitor the tables. To say to the men, yeah, no, you’re not supposed to be giving us opinions, no. You were just asking the women.
The third question that we asked was to say to the men, okay now that you’ve heard from these women, what’s the power you’re willing to give up to bring about gender equity? The men were very eager to do this although there were some who are quite resistant, and at least one who just got up and left. The majority of them – guys don’t want to be jerks. The majority of them were eager to talk about this, but as I was going from table to table – I’ve not talked to my son about this afterwards to see if his experience was the same. On the tables I was at, I noticed that the men were actually not talking about giving up power. They were talking about sharing power. About bringing women to a level of equality with them.
The final question then was to ask women, what would you like to see men give up? The women talked about what they’d actually like to see men give up. Give up your position as the CEO to go with the flat leadership model. You could just see the guy’s jaws drop. It was like, oh wow, okay. Trying to bring you to equality with us. That’s maybe not awful, but wait, you want me to what. To actually [37:33] power that I think actually that’s what’s going to be necessary.
Tanya: You think an honest discussion and really have what?
Dr. Paula Williams: I’m in a situation right now that I have zero interest in going into it publicly, but in a position where I am being asked to give up some of my power. It’s like oh, all right, now Paula you get to maybe put your money where your mouth is. Are you actually willing to do this when you’ve already had so much power taken from you just because you transitioned? That’s a mighty fine question. I don’t think if I’ll have the integrity that I actually have much choice in the process. I think I actually do need to give up power.
Tanya: Really, it’s an internal dialogue that everybody needs to begin to have with themselves. That’s usually where it starts.
Dr. Paula Williams: It’s not just gender-based of course.
Dr. Paula Williams: At least [38:33] even. The difference between extroverts and introverts. We have a world that’s just focused on extroverts. Corporate systems that don’t reward introverts. Yeah, up and down through the system, we have our preferences
Tanya: Yes. We have a lot of work to do, and mostly it involves giving up what we really hold on to.
Dr. Paula Williams: Yeah.
Tanya: As one of your endeavors you lead the NGO called Road Less Traveled Pathways where you and your co-founder provide counseling and psychotherapy and pastoral counseling, coaching. It could be the individuals, families, groups, couples. What segment you mainly help? What are some of the reoccurring issues that you see most often the people are dealing with?
Dr. Paula Williams: My co-workers, my former spouse, she has a specialty in complex trauma, so she’s dealing most often with people who are adult survivors of sexual abuse. Then she also works a lot with the LGBTQ community particularly with families of those who are transitioning, which is quite understandable. In my case, my doctorate is in pastoral counseling. Many pastoral counselors have a very heavy spiritual focus. I don’t. I tend to be more a typical psychotherapist in that regard, person-centered psychotherapist. What we used to call Rogerian back in the day. I work a lot with people who are coming out of and who have been abused by fundamentalist systems and so that I don’t – now, with the church and with my national and international speaking, growing, I’m keeping my practice pretty small and just focusing on those who are in that transition moving out of the fundamentalist evangelical world.
Tanya: Got it. That’s amazing that you’re focusing on that segment especially having such the background that you have, and can relate on so many levels.
Dr. Paula Williams: I won’t treat people with gender dysphoria because there’s just too much counter transference there?
Tanya: Oh, that makes sense.
Dr. Paula Williams: No, that’s not the case nearly so much. Occasionally it comes up and not really all that often. I’m talking about moving away from those fundamentalist structured systems because I’ve been moving away from those for a very long time.
Tanya: Yes, and what do you do most of the time now? Where is most of your energy focused on?
Dr. Paula Williams: I’ve always been a renaissance person and so I continue to be. Probably more than anything else, I am speaking. Speaking all over the United States and Europe, North America on issues of gender equity. That is what I’m doing the vast majority of the time. I’m getting ready to do another TED Talk more than likelihood in the next year on that subject, expanding what I’ve done so far. Then I spend probably after that is my time with the church where I’m one of two preachers for the church. I’m speaking every other week there. Then my third at this point would be my counseling practice. Then I’m also in the process of writing a book about my life story. How that also talks a lot about a lot of these spiritual-based issues as well as the gender equity issues. Right now, my agent has that proposal out to the major publishing houses. Yeah, all of those things keep me plenty busy.
Tanya: A lot of stuff that you’re working on, that’s great. Paula, thank you so much for coming on Unmessable and really sharing so openly your story. It resonated with me as a woman. Just the message that you share is so powerful and anybody listening, I highly recommend going and checking out any work that you’ve done. It’s really incredible, so thank you.
Dr. Paula Williams: Yeah. Anybody can find me at paulastonewilliams.com and you can find links to everything else I do from there. That’s paulastonewilliams.com.
Tanya: Great. Thank you so much.
Dr. Paula Williams: Thank you.