2018 is the year to stand up for women — whether you are one or not // Notes from the Executive Director // Jan 02 2018

From the Executive Director:

Have you ever walked out of an event and thought, wow, I wish I had invited so-and-so to this?

Amy and I were invited to an event a few weeks ago, an informal gathering of women in entrepreneurship, and as I left, three names came to mind of other women whom I should have invited. It would have been just as impactful for them.

What held me back?

I perceived a risk — whether it was valid or not is another story — that they might not fit in with the group, or might act in a way that reflected poorly on me.

Thinking about it now, I’m disappointed in myself. This is a perfect example of the kind of situation where women can raise each other up, and I missed the opportunity. If the names of those three women came to my brain, there’s a reason they should have been there.

I failed to give them a literal seat at the table because I was focusing on my reputation.

My goal, as the co-founder of an organization dedicated to leveling the playing field in entrepreneurship for women, should be to elevate them.

But you don’t need to be a leader, or a person in power, to step up in this way. If you are attending a private event or a meeting that has the potential to give you new opportunities or meet influential people, ask yourself who else should be included in the invitation list. Ask the event organizers to add them. If the event is open to the public, extend the invitation yourself. And if it’s an important event, but you can’t go, invite a woman to go in your place.

In the case of this event, we were invited because another guest asked the organizers to add us. Someone else raised us up, and it’s our turn to raise other people up.

And if you are already in the habit of doing this, do you have a go-to list of the same three women that you always ask? If so, considering diversifying that list to provide more opportunities for more women.

Here are three more situations where your actions will makes strides in changing the ecosystem in 2018:

Mentor/mentee relationships:

We all know that mentoring and sponsoring is an important part of changing the ecosystem, and many corporations have had formal programs for many years now. But with slow progress toward gender parity in executive roles, it’s time to ask ourselves, are those programs actually working?

A mentor or sponsor should be your biggest advocate in your career. They should fight for you and take risks for you. They risk their reputation to put you forward, because they believe in you. Remember the risk I felt in simply inviting other women to that event? It’s a risk that must be taken.

If you are a mentor or sponsor, think about what you’re doing to support your mentee and make sure they’re hitting their goals. If you can’t be the mentor or sponsor they are asking you to be, there’s no hard feeling in saying so and helping the mentee find someone who can better support them. When you are the mentee, what are you doing to communicate what you need and make sure your mentor or sponsor is fulfilling that? If you don’t feel comfortable communicating, or if they’re not meeting your needs, it’s time to reevaluate that relationship. Finding the best sponsor or mentor who fits what you’re working towards is crucial to taking steps forward, so don’t let someone else hold you back.

Media exposure:

Madison’s media outlets need to step up their game with diverse sourcing. Whether it’s InBusiness, the Wisconsin State Journal, the Cap Times, or any other media outlet, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a story that quoted exclusively male sources.

We know what it’s like to be a reporter on constant deadline. You call the first name that comes to mind or the one you can count on picking up the phone on the first ring.  We’d like to challenge Madison’s journalists to expand their list of go-to sources to include more women in 2018 — and not just the same three women every time. Journalists, if you don’t know who else to call, ask the people you are calling to suggest names, or just call me. I can make dozens of introductions for you.

If you’re already a go-to source for local reporters, you can help change this. When you get called to comment on a developing story about the economy, entrepreneurship, or any subject, recommend women for the reporter to speak to. Better yet, defer the call to those women. And then, make an email introduction between the reporter and that source.

Panels:

There has been a national movement to call out panels that only feature men — just check the hashtag #allmalepanel on Twitter. We’d like to bring that movement to Madison. If you can’t find a local woman expert for your panel, you are simply not looking hard enough. There is no excuse.

Again, just like with media exposure, you can make a difference even if you are not the one organizing the panel. If you get asked to serve on a panel, make sure that you are not contributing to a lack of diversity. If you are a male, refuse to serve on an All Male Panel/All White Panel, and make a recommendation of a woman or a person of color who could serve in your place.

When women do better, everyone does better. The research supports it. As a woman or a man, don’t get sucked into the lie that life is a zero-sum-game. Elevating others will not bring you down.

It’s 2018. It’s time for everyone to stand up for women, with no strings attached. When women thrive, the entire ecosystem thrives.

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