Friday Feature: Jackie Payne

Today's Friday Feature is Jackie Payne! You can find Jackie working out of her private office at our Fremont location, soaking in the water views. This week, we took some time to get to know Jackie, her career path and her views on Women's History Month. 

Jackie joined The Riveter after moving to Seattle from Washington D.C. five years ago. In D.C. she was actively part of the women's community and was looking for a community of purpose in Seattle as well. After trying out working from home and other coworking spaces that were male dominated, she joined us at The Riveter!

What are a few of your favorite things about The Riveter? 

What I love about The Riveter is that folks choose to be in a space that centers and encourages powerful women to take flight. It really makes a difference to know that everyone here (men and women alike) affirmatively chose this environment.

I love the light, the décor and the water views. The combination unlocks my creativity.

I also love that folks handle their own mess. (I suspect that has something to do with how many of us are mothers.) We are not leaving our dirty dishes for another woman to clean up.

Tell us about yourself! Include 3 fun facts. 

I learned to ski when I was 42 – and I LOVE it. Now my 4 ½ year old daughter is doing black diamonds too and as she would say – we are shredding.

I lived in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1996. While there I researched tensions related to gender equity in the new constitution and later watched as President Mandela sign it into law in Soweto. It was a life-defining moment.

My last job in D.C. was as Director of Government Relations for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. In that job, I was confronted daily by the deep misogyny in our culture. I learned that it was better not to answer the question, “what do you do” on planes. 

Tell us about your work and your current career path. What inspired you to start, and ultimately leave, MEV? What advice can you give to other women who are interested in starting their own nonprofit or equality initiative? 

9 years ago, I was feeling somewhat burnt out by constantly defending against the endless, vicious attacks on women’s health and wondering what was next for me. Around the same time, the NoVo Foundation was starting up and talking with experts in gender equity in the U.S. and around the world. I went to NY to chat with them and we discovered shared values, resonance around approach, and a common willingness to TRY.

This led to more conversations and ultimately, I left PPFA to partner with NoVo to research, design and run a 10-year, 80-million dollar movement building initiative designed to strengthen the movement to end violence against girls and women in the U.S. Move to End Violence focused on transformative leadership development, organizational development, movement building, social change and liberation and equity. It was an extraordinary opportunity to partner with amazing experts in these fields as well as the powerful activists across the country working to advance gender and racial justice.

2016 was a soul-crushing year for me. I really believed that our country would not elect a candidate who espoused anti-immigrant, racist, misogynistic beliefs and policies. The election made me take a hard look at what is going on in our country and with the women who voted for Trump or didn’t vote. I realized that after 20+ years working to advance gender equity, I truly did not understand these women (especially the majority of white women voters who voted for Trump)– how they arrive at political decision-making, how they define their interests, the risks and benefits they face to using their political power… And (given demographic realities) how fatal that was to my life’s mission to advance equity and justice for all.

decided that it was time for me to leap into a new project called GALvanize to understand, connect with, and engage women who are not yet (or only recently) using their power to advance equity. I enter this project from a place of humility. Aware that when folks are foreign to us we tend to other them – and that my complete lack of understanding of these folks demonstrates a willingness to treat them as disposable. In my own strident righteousness for equality and justice, I have not done enough to build community with other white women. And at this point in my career, I feel like this is my work to do.

I’ve left Move to End Violence in the capable hands of my partners - powerful women of color who have been guiding the evolution of the program along with me these many years. I know that the program will continue to evolve and adapt in new ways that I cannot imagine and I’m excited to see what new things become possible under their leadership.

Tell us about a time in your career where you failed and how it changed your life. What did you do to overcome it? What did you learn?

This question makes me smile. I fail a lot. I think anyone who takes big risks and leaps into the unknown is bound to fail.

Our culture tells us to be perfect and as a result “failing” has a really negative connotation. If we want to create transformative change, we have to try untested theories. And this means working really hard to reframe “fail” as “First Attempt in Learning.” (h/t Care Strategies.) More important than getting it right on the first try is cultivating a learning stance and a willingness to adapt as needed.

For me this has meant getting over the idea that as the principal I’m supposed to know what to do all the time, genuinely engaging the input of folks who don’t think like I do and listening to understand them, working on not being defensive (ugh) and holding on to the vision without being overly attached to specific strategies or ideas (however brilliant they once seemed.) Finally, I think regular feedback loops are key to seeing our own blind spots and I’m always trying to figure out how to do this better.

I was really lucky to work with the NoVo Foundation for the last 9 years because they invited learning from fabulous flops as well as smashing successes. That stance, of experimentation and learning, is so rare for Foundations and so liberating.

What does Women's History Month mean to you?

I appreciate the attention it draws to how much of the history I learned in school is the history of white men in the U.S. and creates opportunities for addressing the gaps in my own learning. I’m super grateful for books like Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls that are helping me to give myself and my son and daughter a fuller history. It would be great if we could audit our history books to correct for this in school the whole year long. 😊

 What woman in history do you relate to / admire most? Why?

I admire Grace Lee Boggs immensely. Her work spanned so many different social justice movements and her theories on how we can create the world we want have influenced the importance I place on the value of interdependence and “critical connection.” I highly recommend her books!

How can we insure Women's History Month is not just a time to celebrate women from our past but to ensure a brighter future for women? What specific ways can women work together to ensure further progress? 

One thing we can do is recognize the way that our dominant culture perpetuates the value of individualism (including the individual family unit), trains us to believe in the myth of meritocracy (congratulating individual success and condemning individual failure) and thrives on us-versus-them thinking.

We can work together to pull the curtain back on that myth by noticing and acknowledging the systemic and structural forces at play (including those that benefit us and our children) and demanding changes that promote equity for all.

Even as we read Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls and celebrate the individual courage, strength and brilliance of these girls and women, we can notice the scaffolding that helped make them successful (powerful networks, access to education, the support of a parent or teacher) and the barriers they had to overcome (gender norms, gender-based violence, racism, etc) and talk with our kids about what is needed to advance gender equity today.

I like to think about what a generation of girls and boys raised on Rebel Girls will believe is possible and the conditions they will create to make it so.

Any specific women rocking your world that we should be keeping an eye on? Why?

From Washington state, I would lift up Pramila Jayapal and Nan Stoops. On the national scene, I would lift up Alicia Garza and Ai-Jen Poo. All these women are working to advance equity and justice for all and the way they do it makes me believe in the future of humanity. These women act as though our fates are intertwined. It’s inspiring to see leadership like that.