'Don't blame the ice cream for melting. Build a freezer.'

By: Maggie Wilson Posted: 05/01/2019

WIBLI Spring Symposium focuses on allyship toward gender equity

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Photos within by James Nguyen, Seattle Metro Chamber

In April, the Seattle Metro Chamber's Women in Business and Leadership Initiative (WIBLI) program zeroed in on how men at all levels can work toward gender equity in our workplaces.

Chamber president and CEO Marilyn Strickland kicked off the event by observing that women entering the workforce are no longer a novelty; now, our conversation turns to equity in leadership. The engagement of men in this conversation is necessary - and it calls for their ongoing engagement and understanding . 

IDENTIFYING BLIND SPOTS
Attendees heard first from Amelia Ransom, senior director of engagement and diversity at Avalara, and Kirk Mead, principal and founder of The Carrington Group. The two led a candid discussion on barriers to gender equity, and steps that individuals and workplaces can take to address these barriers.

On whether these conversations reflect an underlying shift in expectations, Ransom said, “I don’t think the rules have changed. We (women) never wanted to play a subservient role in the workplace." 

Mead agreed. "Men know better," he said, adding that when men ask about rules changing, it is disingenuous.  

Ransom insightfully discussed how issues of gender equity extend beyond the issue of the pipeline. She challenged the audience to think about where responsibility lies when a workplace has difficulty attracting, retaining, and advancing women. She offered the analogy of purchasing ice cream, bringing it back to the office, and then blaming the ice cream for melting - instead of considering the importance of building a freezer. 

“We operate in a market that operates on advantage,” Mead said, calling out the importance of giving up advantage. Men do want to shine a light on their blind spots and understand how they can show up better, he said. And yet, he acknowledged that these conversations often do not take place when only men are in the room. 

Ransom observed that this dynamic presents an ongoing barrier to progress, pointing out that men shouldn’t be celebrated for suddenly realizing a woman’s worth only when connecting women with their own loved ones.

“We can’t wait for men to have daughters before they respect women,” Ransom said, to applause. She added that she has never heard a woman say they didn't realize how much value men had before having a son.

She noted that there are many books and other media available for men to begin examining the structural issues and power dynamics at play, and that it is critical that a person committed to allyship begins by educating themselves - and continues to do so.

Mead added, it’s not enough to just open your mind, you need to open your wallet. As long as a wage gap persists, we have not achieved meaningful equity.  An example of organizational work he highlighted was the 100% Talent initiative, of which the Seattle Metro Chamber is a founding signatory. This initiative engages employers in implementing best practices to close the gender wage gap. 

ALLYSHIP IN PRACTICE
Markham McIntyre, Seattle Metro Chamber chief of staff, and Stewart Landefeld, partner at Perkins Cole, then shared their personal reflections on male allyship in a conversation moderated by Liz Larter, SVP of Corporate and Public Affairs at Edelman. 

The panelists were asked what being a male ally means to them personally.

Landefeld said, “I don’t at all feel I am an expert here.” He said, for him, allyship is broad and fluid. He suggested it can be helpful to create mechanisms that organizations and allies can plug into.

McIntyre said he wrestles day-to-day with allyship and appreciated the sentiment of leaning into discomfort. “I’m learning. I’m making mistakes. I’m trying,” McIntyre said.

Landefeld gave advice to men entering allyship that “it’s OK to fail.” Keep trying things. Improving over time is what it’s all about, he said.

McIntyre’s advice was to slow down, become aware of your circumstances and context, including formal and informal power structures. Know when to act and advocate for women, but also know when to sit down and give women the platform.

LEARNING TOGETHER 
Lastly, attendees participated in a workshop on reciprocal mentoring and inclusion, with Julien Geiser, Director of Corporate Support with Greatheart Consulting, and Philip Jacobs, Racially Savvy Leadership, with Greatheart Consulting.

Attendees answered the questions together in groups and discussed them. Questions included, have you had a male ally in the workplace – and what are simple ways men can be allies?

Reciprocal mentorship was discussed as an equitable and intentional exchange of value across difference, in a high-performing mentorship that creates mobility.

Jacobs also said we need to move away from a win-lose mindset, where people falsely believe that if women win, men lose, or if people of color win, white people lose.

“Inclusion is about growth. It’s not a destination,” Jacobs added.

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Our fourth annual WIBLI Awards are coming up in June. Nominate a local leader or business for a 2019 WIBLI Award at this link. The WIBLI Awards honor organizations and individuals who are advancing WIBLI values and making significant impact toward advancing gender equity in our region's workplaces and communities.