Inforum’s International Women’s Day Event: Are We There Yet?

“Are we there yet?” – a popular question we often hear from a child on a road trip. But, it’s also a question that was on many women’s minds at Inforum’s International Women’s Day event last week. The audience was comprised of 550+ women and men with the drive to take action by listening, learning, leading, and growing. Here are five key takeaways from the event that left a defining impact on those in attendance:

  1. “Diversity and engagement among teams is critical.”

Chip Coe, Wolverine Worldwide Managing Director: Europe, Middle East & Africa

Chip Coe shared his experience working in his organization, talking about being part of a management team in the 90s that was predominantly comprised of Caucasian males in their 40s – 60s who all had similar viewpoints and ideas. Chip described the culture as brutal and, therefore, talent was leaving in droves. Fast-forward to the current team that he heads with a diverse team of women and men from different countries all over the globe. His assertion was that a diverse team makes things more interesting and engaging and that it is also aligned to the diverse customer base that is purchasing products. Chip pointed to the next generation of workers, Millennials, who are 25% more likely to focus on equality in the workplace than older generations. His rallying cry to corporations was to create diverse, dynamic, and open workplaces. Those companies that don’t aim for enhanced working environments will miss out on top emerging talent.

  1. “Businesses should actively engage in diversity planning.”

Jeffrey Tobias Halter, President of YWomen

Jeffrey Tobias Halter, a Corporate Gender Strategist and frequent Tedx Talk presenter, made a show stopping entrance – in six-inch patent red heels. His introduction statement was, “It’s only fair that men have to spend some time in women’s shoes.” Jeffrey’s message focused on data and the fact that diversity progress has stalled over the past 10 years. His take is that there is a leadership imperative to transition to a gender diverse workforce and that there is a business case to be made for this shift. He noted that women are the third largest economy in the world, they are achieving 60% of the masters degrees (highly educated), and that there are 130,000 women-owned businesses starting every day. With the last data point, Jeffery mentioned that American Express changed their business model to focus an entire division solely on women-owned businesses. He provided several examples of steps that can be taken by companies to become more diverse, such as engaging male champions and continue leading by setting an example for others within your organization. He stressed the importance of asking tough questions of organization’s managers and senior leaders: What is actively being done to attract diverse talent? What is the diversity plan for upcoming years and how will it be measured? What are the attrition rates of women versus men over the last year? Jeffrey reminded the audience that forward movement isn’t just about the present. It’s also about driving systemic change in the U.S. for the next generation – our daughters.

  1. “The strength of our sisterhood is limited only by what divides us.”

Dr. Debbye Turner Bell

Waving is a way of saying hello, but it is also firmly focusing the attention on the fact that you arrived. Debbye Turner led the audience in practicing the various forms of waving, drawing upon her experience from being Miss America 1990. Debbye has experienced a varied career, with past jobs ranging from  Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Broadcast Journalist to Motivational Speaker. Her message was laser-focused on the dynamics of sisterhood. Sisters can be a lot of things – adversaries, competitors, lifesavers, and fearless supporters. Debbye pushed for women to treat one another with tolerance, affirmation and acceptance. She asserted that women should have intense focus on the collective goal of pushing forward. “Carry the abiding understanding that a rising tide lifts all boats. We are one. Our fates are linked,” she exclaimed. Debbye broke down the spelling of SISTER into her key takeaway – S (Support each other), I (Invite), S (Be a Sounding board), T (Tell your story), E (Encourage one another – offer solutions), and R (Respect).

  1. “Embrace failing well and create a fail-tolerant culture.”

Amy Peterson, CEO & Co-Founder of Rebel Nell

Kristen Shackelford, Solution Principal, Business & Leadership

Amy and Kristen’s session focused on handling failure. They delivered tips on how to accept failure, how to keep going and outlined experiences/opportunities that can develop from failure. As a society, we are in the fourth industrial revolution which is driving innovation. Our failure tolerant culture allows us to close the gap between strategy and execution. It has been the birth place for an agile mind set to “Decide, Do, Refine, and Do.” Amy and Kristen also shared the key attributes of an Agile Leader – 1. Humility 2. Adaptiveness 3. Vision 4. Engagement. The notion of failing fast was discussed along with how to alleviate the fear of failure amongst colleagues and direct reports.

  1. “Develop an art of meeting for coffee and forming strategic connections.”

Terri Barclay, Inforum President and CEO

Brenda Meller, Meller Marketing LLC

“The definition of a personal branding can be summarized by how people talk about you when you are not present. Establishing a strong brand is the key element to a successful career and life.” These statements catapulted the discussion, led by Terri Barclay and Brenda Meller, forward by setting the tone for an interactive session of practice, conversation and laughter. Some great tips from the session are bulleted below:

  • Propel your career forward by finding the overlays (perform a LinkedIn profile comparison), acting on serendipity, and offering ways to help people with whom you want to connect.
  • Don’t be afraid to request an informational interview (15 minutes of time to seek information).
  • Post on LinkedIn at least once a week and take the opportunity to tag others in your posts in order to expand your audience reach.
  • Leverage the virtual coffee – if a new contact is too busy to meet in person ask them for a phone conversation where you can have a cup of coffee in front of you while you conduct a conversation.
  • Try to get the list of attendees and speakers prior to events to identify who you would like to meet.
  • Send personalized LinkedIn invitations before an event occurs to let attendees and speakers know your content interests while making a positive impression.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we look to spread these lessons and bring as many people as possible into this conversation – it is essential that we do so to ensure that every person feels supported in their careers and the changing work environment.