Michelle Obama tackles a tough truth about who gets a second chance and who doesn't.

Speaking at the 2018 annual United State of Women conference, Michelle Obama opened up about leadership, parenting, and — perhaps most notable — failure.

The former first lady grabbed headlines during her 40-minute discussion with actress Tracee Ellis Ross for her comments about the 2016 election:

"When the most qualified person running was a woman, and look what we did instead, I mean that says something about where we are. That's what we have to explore, because if we as women are still suspicious of one another, if we still have this crazy, crazy bar for each other that we don't have for men, if we're not comfortable with the notion that a woman could be our president compared to, what, then we have to have those conversations with ourselves as women."

A number of news outlets framed her comments as sour grapes, with Fox News' sneering headline, "Michelle Obama still questioning why women voted for Trump in 2016" and The Hill singling her out by saying "we let that happen." Beyond the election comments, however, there was an important bit of commentary more people really should hear.


Michelle Obama speaks at the 2018 United State of Women Summit. Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images.

To fail is to learn and grow. Too often, Obama says, women aren't given that chance.

"I wish that girls could fail as bad as men do, and be OK," she said at one point during the discussion. "Watching men fail up — it is frustrating. It's frustrating to see a lot of men blow it and win. And we hold ourselves to these crazy, crazy standards. We hold each other to these standards."

GIFs from United State of Women/YouTube.

Obama continues by urging women and men to take chances for the sake of a better world, pushing back on this sort of utopian view of society and urging people to take a realistic look at where things really stand right now.

"I think if we want our daughters to dream bigger than we did, then we have more work to do," she said. "I think so many of us have gotten ourselves at the table, but we're still too grateful to be at the table to really shake it up. ... Just holding onto our seats at the table won't be enough to help our girls be all that they could be. I think it's going to be on us as women, but men have an important role to play in that as well."

Statistically speaking, in the professional world, men are given second chances that women simply aren't.

A 2017 Stanford University and University of Chicago study looked at gender disparities in the financial industry. What researchers found was pretty troubling: Men were three times as likely to get caught engaging in some sort of professional misconduct like negligence or fraud. And even though men's mistakes were, on average, more costly to firms and male offenders were more likely to slip up again than their female counterparts, women were more likely than men to actually lose their jobs in the event of a mistake.

Following up on the study, The Washington Post learned that men who did lose their jobs over mistakes or misconduct were more likely to find new jobs in the field compared with women who lost their jobs over a mistake.

In other words, women have less room for error compared to men. Researchers suggest that this could be the result of what they call "in-group tolerance," the tendency to provide people of the same gender, race, religion, or other community factor with preferential treatment. In-group tolerance could partially account for why so many male-dominated fields remain male-dominated even as efforts to recruit women ramp up.

Obama and Tracee Ellis Ross speak at the United State of Women. Photo by Chris Delmas/AFP/Getty Images.

Obama isn't encouraging a "woe is me" attitude toward the world but rather one that puts work into addressing the problems as they exist.

Because it's not about her or Hillary Clinton; it's not even necessarily about politics. It's about creating a world in which we can encourage our children to dream big and be whatever they want to be — and have it be a realistic aspiration. That means getting our hands dirty now, taking risks, and fighting injustice and inequality wherever it is.

Watch the discussion from the United State of Women conference below.

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"I was living in a one-bedroom apartment with no heat for two years," Jackson said. "The Department of Veterans Affairs was doing everything they could to help but I was not in a good situation."

One day in 2019, Jackson felt a sudden sense of hope for a better living arrangement when she caught wind of the ongoing construction of Veteran's Village in Carson, California — a 51-unit affordable housing development with one, two and three-bedroom apartments and supportive services to residents through a partnership with U.S.VETS.

Her feelings of hope quickly blossomed into a vision for her future when she learned that Veteran's Village was taking applications for residents to move in later that year after construction was complete.

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Courtesy of Tory Burch

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This March marks one year since the start of the pandemic… and it's been an incredibly difficult year: Over 500,000 people have died and hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs. But the pandemic's economic downturn has been disproportionately affecting women because they are more likely to work in hard-hit industries, such as hospitality or entertainment, and many of them have been forced to leave their jobs due to the lack of childcare.

But throughout all that hardship, women have, over and over again, found ways to help one another and solve problems.

"Around the world, women have stepped up and found ways to help where it is needed most," says Tory Burch, an entrepreneur who started her own business in 2004.

Burch knows a thing or two about empowering women: After seeing the many obstacles that women in business face — even before the pandemic — she created the Tory Burch Foundation in 2009 to empower women entrepreneurs.

And now, for International Women's Day, her company is launching a global campaign with Upworthy to celebrate the women around the world who give back and create real change in their communities.

"I hope the creativity and resilience of these women, and the amazing ways they have found to have real impact, will inspire and energize others as much as they have me," Burch says.

This year's Empowered Women certainly are inspiring:

Shalini SamtaniCourtesy of Shalini Samtani

Take, for example, Shalini Samtani. When her daughter was diagnosed with a rare immune disorder, she spent a lot of time in the hospital, which caused her to quickly realize that there wasn't a single company in the toy industry servicing the physical or emotional needs of the 3 million hospitalized children across America every year. She was determined to change that — so she created The Spread the Joy Foundation to deliver free play kits to pediatric patients all around the country.

Varsha YajmanCourtesy of Varsha Yajman

Varsha Yajman is another one of this year's nominees. She is just 18 years old, and yet she has been diligently fighting to build awareness and action for climate justice for the last seven years by leading school strikes, working as a paralegal with Equity Generations Lawyers, and speaking to CEOs from Siemen's and several big Australian banks at AGMs.

Caitlin MurphyCourtesy of Caitlin Murphy

Caitlin Murphy, meanwhile, stepped up in a big way during the pandemic by pivoting her business — Global Gateway Logistics — to secure and transport over 2 million masks to hospitals and senior care facilities across the country. She also created the Gateway for Good program, which purchased and donated 10,000 KN95 masks for local small businesses, charities, cancer patients and their families, immunocompromised, and churches in the area.

Simone GordonCourtesy of Simone Gordon

Simone Gordon, a domestic violence survivor and single mom, wanted to pay it forward after she received help getting essentials and tuition assistance — so she created the Instagram account @TheBlackFairyGodMotherOfficial and nonprofit to provide direct assistance to families in need. During the pandemic alone, they have raised over $50,000 for families and they have provided emergency assistance — in the form of groceries — for numerous women and families of color.

Victoria SanusiCourtesy of Victoria Sanusi

Victoria Sanusi started Black Gals Livin' with her friend Jas and the podcast has been an incredibly powerful way of destigmatizing mental health for numerous listeners. The podcast quickly surpassed a million listens, was featured on Michaela Coel's "I May Destroy You," won podcast of the year at the Brown Sugar Awards, and was named one of Elle Magazine's best podcasts of 2020.

And Upworthy and the Tory Burch are just getting started. They are still searching the globe for more extraordinary women who are making an impact in their communities.

Do you know one? If you do, nominate her now. If she's selected, she could receive $5,000 to give to a nonprofit of her choice through the Tory Burch Foundation. Submissions are being accepted on a rolling basis — and one Empowered woman will be selected each month starting in April.

Nominate her now at www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen.

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