In 2010, Nancy Armstrong co-founded MAKERS, a women’s leadership platform that aims to inspire future leaders through broadcast documentaries, events, and web and mobile content.
But recent current events—particularly the multiple accusations of sexual harassment leveled against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein—have forever altered the landscape of the women’s movement. “It’s a watershed moment,” says Armstrong. “It is revealing all these things that have just been accepted for decades. Everybody knew what Harvey was doing, but who was going to step forward to stop him?”
Armstrong is taking advantage of this moment to switch her focus and amp up her efforts to empower women and girls. The transition was obvious in February at the MAKERS conference in California. This annual forum brings together 500 women, including feminist powerhouses like Gloria Steinem and Marcia Clark, to brainstorm solutions to a wide range of issues. “But this year, everyone was focused on the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements,” says Armstrong, referencing the social media movements that sprung up in late 2017 to shine a light on the widespread prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Working with corporations to increase the number of women in leadership is just one of several new MAKERS initiatives. “We did a pilot program with Google to identify their game-changing female engineers and raise their profile inside the company,” says Armstrong, noting that the organization is also involved in ongoing research with former McKinsey exec, Joanna Barsh to see what is working—and what’s not. “If we share best practices between top companies like Facebook and AT&T and Morgan Stanley, then we can really accelerate progress,” she says.
Armstrong is also proud of the new GRL PWR LIVE. “Around puberty girls start to get really negative messages,” says Armstrong. “Think about when you learn about money—all of the bills have men on them. It kind of subliminally tells girls that they are not responsible for change, that they don’t have any power. What we want to focus on is flooding them with inspiration that paves the way for their success.”
Changing the dialogue around women and money is a priority for Armstrong. In February MAKERS launched a weekly digital series on YAHOO Finance that aims to help bridge the gender gap in money and investing. “One of the reasons that women haven’t had the power is because they haven’t had the money,” says Armstrong. Hosted by Sally Krawcheck, the CEO of Ellevest, Makers Money also busts the myths that men are better than women at handling money. “It’s time to level the playing field. The show will help women learn how to ask for raises and how to invest. We are really trying to get women comfortable with money, talking about money, dealing with money. Response to the show has been tremendous.”
Armstrong, who lives with her husband and three children in Greenwich, reflects on the women’s movement. “In the late ’60s my mother told me to marry a doctor; it was the only way. Then there was the feminist revolution of the early ’70s and at that point the message from my mother changed completely. She said ‘Don’t get married at all; don’t depend on anybody.’ What we later learned was that the feminist movement of the ’70s was the foundation for change, but not the change itself. Now we’re going to change.”
Text by Olivia J. Abel