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Women’s Secrets on the Economic Battlefield

A Systemic View

By Lavinia Weissman


New York, New York

“We seek only to give words

to those who cannot speak

(too may women in too many countries)

I seek only to forget

The sorrows of my grandmothers



– Anasuya Sengupta,  India

Last week, I offered a post (part 1) in a private subscribed conference,  Monday Circle of Prayer, Walking About Rather than Walking From.  It focused on a more personal experience with respect to how women cope with the realization they have no choice but to walk away from dysfunctional employment and other related activities and what that implies.

This article is a  second installment to that reflective inquiry from a more systemic view of women’s participation in the workforce.

Part 2- A Systemic View – When Walking Away is Your Only Alternative

It has been 30 years since, Gro Harlem Brundtland, M.D., launched the sustainability movement by convening the Brundtland Commission Inquiry in cooperation with the United Nations.  One of the worlds most remarkable female leaders, Dr. Brundtland is the former prime minister of Norway and former Executive Director of the World Health Organization and continues her work out of the United Nations community to this day.

What is happening for women in the economic system in which the work of the Brundtland Commission dialogue was to influence change?

A company culture that embeds corporate social responsibility implies that this culture has worked or is working on issues of transparency and materiality that invite an end to secrets. To assure acceleration of the women’s agenda in the workplace, this is a solid beginning but one has to ask why with such remarkable leadership among women, is this movement so slow to accelerate?


Conditions for Women Today

A few years back, I came to recognize living a life of spirit and faith was also key and not engaging dysfunction. As the economy became more challenged, I found myself on a battlefield of toxicity for work that has brought me to a downward spiral that many health people share with me.

On an ongoing basis, I am reminded of how exceptional women have been good at retaining secrets from public view, e.g. health, marital abuse and discrimination in the workplace to a degree of complicity that underlies why there is so little progress for women in a country that has complicated the lives of so many now by the cost of education, the diminished number of jobs available and the increasing number of jobs available for a wage that no one can live on, let alone support children.

Somehow in the United States, women forgot to speak for and in support of their peers. The spiritual movement in the US grew into a focus of self-care and personal intention and the issues that trapped or harmed so many were forgotten that can compromise any woman’s health or access to education.   We make people personally responsible to heal the obstruction and wounds that have been imposed on them that they did not cause.

Living and working in this kind of environment can result in the adoption of behavior that is dysfunctional when we feel all we can do I fight back on the battlefield by declaring war or simply protest. Some woman cannot free themselves for socio-economic reasons and need access to constructive options of employment, education and housing, especially if they have children.  They need a form of protection that can overcome the harm they had to endure personally or to their children if they speak up or make the “secret known.”

For me this week, I can own the cost of freeing myself from walking away from systems of obstruction and not looking back to my Sodom and Gomorrah.

For many years, more than I care to think, I have found the courage to walk forward with my wisdom and my eyes to in minutes note an elephant in the room that is not right.  I like many offer compassion and no remedy and keep walking or support as I can. This week, I became very clear, I will not perpetuate or enable anymore secrets and I will not engage in any conversations that bring me into a form of triangulation that perpetuates the secrete. Yet as women in this country we continue to perpetuate secrets and to me this has become as harmful as keeping the secret.

Over the past 3 decades there emerged a new set of systemic challenges at a rate of acceleration that the Earth Charter and UN Global Compact Principles have been designed to counter act all this.

These systemic challenges have form into many secrets that can become the ground of a battlefield of tension and obstruction we cannot speak about in public. For a few who experience this they have the protection of wealth, position or marriage to reduce the harm, but the wounds from these battles can be life long.  I know this personally and discovered I was not alone in this experience in a very pronounced way in 2004.

The Hidden Story

In 2004, I attend a private by invitation meeting in Boston, attended by over 200 women who had MBA’s and worked successfully in the Financial Service industry. Success in this instance is equated with title and financial success. Most of these women were graduates of a top 10 MBA programs. This particular program by 2004, had over 900 female graduates working in industry.

As a journalist and business writer my invitation was extended with a strong request for non-disclosure. This group wanted my participation and I had to promise not to report any panelist personal story or report on the overall event to a public audience.

What I can say now is that the meeting focused on report from Catalyst, a non-profit established in 1962 that conducts research on the progress for women in business. The 2004 Catalyst presentation focused on the question,  “Why fewer than 7% of women had advanced to C-level positions in the Fortune 2000?”

This report has popularized and been presented to a public view over and over again. What I did not expect was to listen to testimony of female leaders in the financial industry that offered “secrets.” These secrets included that 85% of the panelists suffered from chronic illness and had compromised life circumstances that led to the deterioration of their own health when they are parents, elderly caregivers, or witnessed first hand corruption.

A panelist at the time of the conference was working in venture capital investments. She reported that she had witnessed when employed by a securities firm of fame,  an “indiscretion.” Her husband’s response to her was, “Resign immediately.  I am glad I can support us and assure your resignation with dignity because you don’t have to work.”  She also indicated her resignation was just on time to see her husband through his own health challenges while caring for her young children at home, which she was not anticipating and needed the freedom of her own company. She ended her presentation stating, “I do not know what single women did to protect themselves from this kind of association by employment?”

The most dramatic presentation was last from a woman of status and achievement in the financial service industry, who announced that she let her career destroy her life – marriage, relationship with her children and friends. This is not news.  How many articles and reports have there been through the years on women who sacrificed a “life” for “career.I found comfort in recognizing and end to my ongoing feeling of an isolated experience.  I had just met women like me who had lived through similar experiences.

I noticed by the end of the event that women,  I respected the most was no longer employed in industry, but served industry.  These women structured their businesses so they no longer had to personally absorb or perpetuate harmful corporate behavior they could not control.

Forbes journalist, Meghan Casserly wrote, Millennial Women Are Burning Out by 30, Great for Business.  This is truly not news. Casserly points out more women are becoming entrepreneurs and starting their own companies as an alternative.  In my experience the women succeeding are doing that with the education and knowledge of sustainability and corporate social responsibility. What does that imply to women today?

As someone, who has worked at the frontier of sustainability and csr, for nearly two decades, I have seen the freedom that these woman claimed that was across the board empowered by family and friends. It was clear to me if you did not have that kind of support, it was a long hard road with no guarantee for successful outcome.

Is Change Possible?


Elaine Cohen, a recognized authority on HR and corporate reporting in the movement of change for Corporate Social Responsibility, recently reviewed Women and the New Business Leadership by Peninah Thomson with Tom Lloyd.

Thomas and Lloyd reported that one mentee interviewed pointed out

” Women tend to want to get everything on the table, because they
believe it is only when all the sometimes painful facts are on the table
that the truth of the matter can emerge “

This fits with my view that  “women rarely want to disregard the “elephant in the room.” Yet we have appeared to often organize our view of the most “difficult,” as a secret.

I believe until women find a spiritual foundation and new form of strength that has them begin to see strife as strife of many rather than getting lost in their own strife to intend a miracle of repair. This is critical as a principle of uniting and forming a credible movement of change from which to claim their power and influence the acceleration of change.

I do not see this happening as rapidly  without women learning to weave networks in which they can safely claim their power and also generate solutions to generations of abuse and harm to their health and economic status and social position that no one asks to be imposed on them.

Margaret Wheatley, a leadership thought leader and change agent, points out how critical it is for any change agent (man or woman) to exercise perseverance.  In her book titled Perseverance she writes:

“Perseverance is a discipline—it’s a day-by-day decision not to give up.  Therefore, we have to notice the moments when we feel lost or overwhelmed or betrayed or exhausted and note how we respond to them.  And we have to notice the rewarding times, when we experience the joy of working together on something hard but worthwhile, when we realize we’ve made a small difference.

A Personal Action Plan

I know many competent, leadership quality women, who did not chose the adversity that was imposed on them.  Often the only solution for them was to accept roles of care giving, patient or simply walk away from a job to protect their health.  They wisely recognized that to envision repair and change for a scale of outreach that goes beyond what they can know personally and it implied now walking away, but walking in a high degree of uncertainty with perseverance to form something new for which there was no guarantee of outcome or assurance of a happy ending.

My chemical and environmental sensitivity and chronic illness has pushed me to care about the impact on this to people because so many men, women and children suffer more than me. Drawing from this perspective I learned how to formulate ideas that assure lasting social impact. I did not ask to live life with this challenge and at the same time, this challenge has pushed me to integrate a spiritual practice and take on life in forms that are ordinary but not anything that anyone could teach me.

And I have created my own form of empowerment and remedy:

1.   Formulating a course the redefines network so anyone person can benchmark and define their personal social network and its assets;

2.   Gathering group of women and men  in my life that I can interact with virtually on a daily basis to empower me to overcome the obstacles that I and many of my peers and colleagues face in challenging economy.

3.    Shaping my presentations and coaching  to inspire this change, for which I can speak with passion, credibility and spark engagement between women in local community.

Every person in my sustainable reflective  prayer community knows a variation of challenge. The question remains in taking care for yourself and those you love, how you move from hero, heroine or victim to claim a life of repair and solution with other women to accelerate that change and claim our power?

I regret in 2004 with this alumnae group of  women with Wall Street related careers, we did not follow-up with another meeting to look at these questions.

While articles like what Meghan Casserly wrote for Forbes portray a bright picture for the millennial women, we have millions of other women, who are able to step up to learn a new way that I teach that can empower and accelerate a global economic change that has not been fostered by the traditional institutions and industries where women continue to burn out or wait for a pink slip and then what?

Come to one of my programs or host one for your community through a local “green” incubator.


Author’s Bio:

Lavinia Weissman is sustainable leadership coach, health advocate, capacity builder, and publisher/editor-in-chief of

For More information on Lavinia’s Coaching, Workshops and Presentations or to obtain an invitation to Monday Circle or Prayer Community Conference,

Contact Adriana Hill  in the US by phone 516.204.6791 or  at mydestinyjourney ampersand


What About the Patient?

Can sustainability practices bring about better patient care? – Post 3

By Lavinia Weissman


Boston MA

original date of publication in CSRWireTalkback 08 December 2010

The final thought on the potential Sanofi Aventis and Genzyme M&A – and what this could mean for sustainability practices in #biopharm. Click here for Post I and Post II.

The Sanofi Aventis bid of $69 per share for Genzyme expires on December 10, 2010. Genzyme responded to this bid, claiming a share value of perceived $89.

Part of the Genzyme valuation was based on projected sales for Campath, a drug that has just cleared five years of clinical trials with multiple sclerosis (MS) patients.

By November 22, 2010, Genzyme had begun internal discussion about structuring a ”contingent value right” (CVR), based on future benchmarks, as a possible gesture indicating they may accept less than $89 per share. Filing of a CVR insures shareholders can receive benefit from future achieved sales and regulatory targets that exceed expectations at the time of a merger.

Fan of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swan could easily mark out an explanation of why nine Wall Street financial analysis of sales projections for Campath were inaccurate. These nine analysis also included predictions by Sanofi’s of $700M and Genzyme’s of $3.5B in annual sales in the range of $350M and $1M offered by other analysts. I perceived one critical loophole in this analysis, which is pivotal to authoring a sustainable merger acquisition strategy:

Has Sanofi or Genzyme consulted with MS patients regarding their needs?

According to the World Health Organization, there are over 2.5M people globally diagnosed with MS. The United States population is the largest country population, now estimated at 1.5M patients. Every hour someone is diagnosed with MS.

MS symptoms occur as result of symptoms to a patient’s myelin sheath. When the myelin sheath is attacked by autoimmune disorders, the patients central nervous system is compromised and the patients nervous system stops communicating clear signals. Autoimmune disorders can be activated by al toxins or genetic defects due to the same. MS patients then find themselves living with pain, muscle spasms, speech impairment, bladder control problems and increased susceptibility to allergens.

The rapid increase in frequency of occurrence of this disease is related in part to increased number of cases and an improved capability in diagnosing the disease, which was first diagnosed 150 years ago. It is not clear how many cases in the past year were undiagnosed. There is no cure for MS; drug treatments focus on treatment of the symptoms and can result in the development of more symptoms or potential harm to circulation, kidney and liver functioning and more.

There is no drug to cure or prevent this illness. It is estimated it would take a $1B+ investment to find a cure. In the past the growth economy claimed it was hard enough for high-mid cap firms to raise those kind of funds without a 60X rate of return. In the emerging eco-growth economy, it is not possible for one biopharm company to raise this kind of investment.

What are patient views of experience with MS and what kind of unmet need now exists for these patients?

Emmy award winner, Montel Williams is one of the most well-known MS patients to date that has articulated the situation and need of his co-patients.

Williams was diagnosed with MS over 10 years ago, when someone threatened to make this information public. In response to this threat, Williams (a talk show host and actor) arranged to be interviewed by Dr. Mehmet Oz on the Oprah Show to make his diagnosis and experience public.

Montel has made known the challenges of depression and suicidal tendencies that patients may experience as a result of learning to come to grips with two major threats:

  • the potential of losing ones ability to be independent and a breadwinner;
  • the fear that you meet every morning that you may wake up and not be able to walk.

Since this first appearance on Oprah, Montel has dedicated a significant amount of time to advocate for MS patients. He also educates patients about new treatments involving alternative medicine and use of medical devices. As a former Naval Intelligence Officer, he advocates and visits with veterans who suffer from MS and other injuries and illnesses that result in the need for myelin repair.

Montel established a foundation to raise money for MS medical research. He recognized as a result of his experience how critical it has become to raise money for more holistic research, which is the only way research will be conducted for prevention and cure.

What is the agenda for myelin repair?

Scott Johnson, an Ernst and Young Awarded Entrepreneur was diagnosed at age 20 with MS. In 2002, using his skills as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and business person, Scott established the Myelin Repair Foundation (MRF).

By 2004, through Scott’s leadership, MRF established as a goal to license the first myelin repair therapeutic target for commercial development within five years. To achieve this, Scott authored the Accelerated Collaborative Research™ (ARC) methodology. By constructing a collaboration with four principle investigators, MRF and team have:

  1. identified over 150 novel potential targets;
  2. developed 24 new research tools for broad application to other neurological disease;
  3. filed two US patents and applied for 16 more;
  4. published 50 peer review articles;
  5. begun broad collaboration with pharma companies;
  6. extended this research base for benefit to 70 other disease categories.

Has Sanofi Aventis or Genzyme talked to MRF?

When I began investigating the practice of sustainability and its relevance to pharma, I was moved to do so after listening to a speech by Matthew Emmens, CEO of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, about his perceived future for pharma in today’s economy. Emmens has established a mission for Vertex to “seek treatment for a profound change in serious disease.”

The index to the Vertex website draws a pattern of strategy, action and methods on how every stakeholder tied to this company works toward that mission.

It would appear if the basis for acceptance of any Sanofi Aventis bid for Genzyme depends on an understanding of the what the implications of the drug Campath to the MS market, that it is incumbent on both companies to form a working group and open the conversation to a much wider group of stakeholders. This form of stakeholder engagement may represent a new format because of the complexity of issues entailed in creating profound change in serious disease.

The stakeholder map and landscape is far more complex than an industry-based view of supply chain, consumers and distributors in a product-based market. The stakeholders include patients, medical research think tanks, drug companies, clinicians who treat patient of all kinds, insurance companies, benefit administrators, human resource employees, disability experts and more.

This certainly could result in authoring a collaborative, intelligent and quality sustainability business practice for pharma.

Readers: What do you think – can this potential merger lead to greater sustainability in the biopharm industry, and help patients?


Authors bio:

Lavinia Weissman is an sustainable market leadership coach, journalist, and publisher of As a speaker she describes the new emerging patterns of markets shaped by sustainable market leaders and the social networks they work with and employ.  As a coach, Lavinia works with all her clients to inspire professional development that assures a person the opportunity to embed sustainability as a leader into the network and culture of people they work with.