June 14 2013

Portrait of a Modern Feminist: Ann Stone

Charlotte Hays

When Ann Stone—direct marketing guru, bank founder, and activist—was 25, she was working for Richard Viguerie, the pioneer in the development of direct mail in politics. Like most twenty-somethings—Ann wanted a raise and a promotion.

Stone knew she had to do something more effective than whine about how much she needed to earn more money. Stone had just bought a book entitled The Managerial Woman, by Margaret Hennig and Anne Jardim, which came out in 1977, and which was billed on its cover as “The Survival Guide for Women in Business.” Hennig was a co-founder of the first MBA program developed specifically for women in the U.S.  

In what sounds a bit like Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, whose book Lean In gives women tough-minded advice on what is required to make it to the top—if Sandberg had been climbing to the top of the corporate ladder nearly four decades earlier—Hennig and Jardim wrote:

We [see] that men bring to the management setting a clearer, stronger, and more definite understanding of where they see themselves going, what they will have to do, how they will have to act and what they must take into account if they are to achieve the objectives they set for themselves. In contrast, we [see] that women are much less likely to bring to the same settings the insights, understanding and skills which from boyhood men have acquired and developed among themselves…

Stone took the book to heart. She read other similar books that further confirmed what she needed to do. She became clearer about her goals and thought deeply about how to behave in a work setting. “I put into action things I had learned. I didn’t know my job better, but I changed the way I acted, interacted and reacted,” Stone recalled recently. The upshot was that in the next ten months, Stone received three promotions and more than quadrupled her salary. Viguerie took Stone out to lunch and they discussed what she calls her “meteoric rise.”  He unknowingly confirmed to her that the things she had learned in the books she read, and had put into action, had indeed made the difference.    

Flash forward to the Independent Women’s all-star panel on Sandberg’s book and the reaction to it in May of this year at the Stephen Decatur House. Speaking from the floor, Ann Stone stole the show.

Rising from her seat, Stone said bluntly that Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, which had been greeted by howls of outrage from many left-leaning feminists, was stirring up so much venom because Sandberg had "stuck a knife in the breast of [female] victimhood big-time."

While victim feminists prefer to whine about supposed gender obstacles to female achievement, Facebook COO Sandberg proffered some tough-love advice: “Negotiate your salary,” stop obsessing about “work-life balance,” and don’t expect a “mentor” to come along to smooth your way to the top. It all sounded familiar to Stone, who’d been using these techniques for years.    

As it happens, Stone has long been giving workshops and seminars designed to help women negotiate their ways in the corporate world. Stone says, “Negotiating is one of many skills on which I counsel women.” Stone speaks to women about such matters as the importance of proper office demeanor, decorum, and dressing appropriately for the workplace. (Tip: Always have a jacket at the office—it is the universal symbol of authority.) Stone says that women often need to learn that a job isn’t a solitary undertaking—they need to “win the support” of those around them, both those "above" them as well as their subordinates. “Winning support is a way to get a job done,” she says. “Another big thing is learning to take criticism in stride.”

A male executive, Stone noted, is likely to say “a mistake was made, and we've  already taken steps to make sure it won't  happen again” and move on, while a woman is likely to get stuck in the embarrassment of being criticized. “Stop taking things personally,” Stone advises. “That is one of the biggest things that drives management crazy. If you make a mistake own up to it, but don't take it personally. We fret, keep bringing it up, and won't shut up about it. Men never do that.”

Stone is a dynamic, energetic speaker. But her impressive resume is one of the reasons ambitious women are eager to listen to what she has to say. Stone is founder and president of The Stone Group, Inc., a prominent direct marketing business. She has helped start more than one NGO that helps women help themselves.  She is Chair Emeritus of Empowered Women International, which helps immigrant and low-income women develop an entrepreneurial spirit and skills. She also has served on the board of The Washington Center, Women as Leaders project, which fosters leadership and civic virtue among young people.     

She is a graduate of George Washington University, with a double major in history and communications, and with graduate credits in corporate finance and management at the Wharton School of Business consortium.

She laughs about the time a Stone seminar backfired on a well-meaning boss—he’d asked Stone to address the women on his staff.  Stone gave such good advice that one female employee immediately put it to use to get a big raise! But learning to speak up for yourself isn’t just a corporate skill. Stone once helped a homeless woman in a shelter learn negotiating skills to move into a house and begin to turn around her life.

Stone says women can improve their earnings if they “make a plan” and “take charge instead of letting things happen.” They should speak to their boss and let the executive know that they are serious about staying around and regard money as a measure of success. But what about women who plan to take time off to raise children? Stone regards that as another good choice. But, ever the negotiator, she suggests that mothers, who want to continue to work, should negotiate for the option of having more time with their children. A woman can say, she'd  like to double her salary in three years, but she'd be willing to take less for some more time for working at home, telecomuting.

Stone is also one of the three incorporators of the National Women’s History Museum and still serves as an officer on their Board.  As one of the first projects of NWHM, Ann was a leading member of a campaign to move the “Portrait Monument,” a statue of suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott, from the Crypt of the Capitol to the Rotunda. Stone is the person who negotiated the terms for giving the statue a more visible place of honor—so of course anybody who opposed the move was doomed from the start. No victim here, Stone is a true advocate for women by helping women become better advocates for themselves. 

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