Becoming Better Allies in 2020: How We’re Using the Lessons from AdFed’s Women’s Leadership Panel
Late in 2019, we blogged about our experiences at AdFed’s Women’s Leadership Panel event. We included the perspectives of six Augur women who attended. At the close of that blog, we promised a sister piece covering the perspectives of Colin, Josh and Zack, the three founding Augurs who attended with us, as allies.
That night, I laughed a bit to myself when we first walked in. I noticed immediately that there couldn’t have been more than a handful of men in the building. Clearly, this was not a typical marketing/advertising event. Initially, I wondered how they felt being in the extreme minority. It was clear after the networking happy hour, however, that they were quite comfortable and had even collected a number of business cards they were eager to put to good use.
As Augurian’s Manager of Analytics, I personally have shouted praises from the rooftops because of the allyship I have felt from members of the leadership team. That said, I still discover opportunities for a more equitable and informed workplace regularly. In this blog, I want to break down some of the ways that we can change it up in 2020 – hopefully for even better results.
In 2019, we’ve been able to check a lot of the right boxes with the tactics we’re already trying, but the conversations that came out of the Women’s Leadership Panel helped me get a better handle on the trickiest part of workplace progress: creating and encouraging effective allies. I found so much desire for improvement and so much curiosity from our leadership team. However, the more I spoke to other Augurs, I also discovered more nervousness than I expected – there is so much desire to make the perfect choices and use just the right wording that it has almost become a barrier to further progress.
So, without any more prefacing, let’s dig into it.
Identifying Missed Opportunities
After the event, I sadly realized that some of the men in our office had been interested in attending the panel, but chose not to speak up and claim a ticket. The reasons varied between individuals, but a common theme was that they wanted to respect private spaces for learning and growing. They saw the panel as an event that was by women for women and that there wasn’t a proper place for them.
That really crushed me.
These are men with interest in being good allies, who felt unwelcome at an event that could have brought them into the conversation and helped us all level up together. It felt like such a missed opportunity. I’ve come to understand over the course of my education and career that when things are most unfair, it takes someone with power to correct that imbalance.
Equality would be easy to achieve if it was something we could just reach out and take for ourselves. Our suffragist foremothers would have swiftly taken their right to vote and avoided beatings, hunger strikes and imprisonment if we could simply will equality into existence.
At Augurian, we do a pretty good job of helping women lift up other women. We check a lot of the recommended boxes with our private slack channel, access to free menstrual supplies, etc. Still, like many other companies, we’re trying to figure out how to open up that conversation to be more inclusive of other layered identities and create a more empowering workplace for everyone.
The next step quickly became clear: to understand why the men who attended the event felt comfortable and welcome, I’d have to ask them. Unsure of what would come out of it, I arranged interviews with Colin, Josh and Zack and prepared a few questions to get us started.
I learned a lot from each of them, but I have to give extra credit to Colin, President of Augurian, for this blog coming to fruition. Exactly once in my time as an Augur have I voiced my sincere disapproval, and exactly once was I was able to put my concerns to rest. Making organizational change requires someone in leadership to be open to having messy conversations, even if you’re not sure what needs to be said or where to go next – especially if it’s uncomfortable.
I know now that we’ve got several allies in leadership who are happy to be uncomfortable, but I want to show extra gratitude to Colin for proving to me in past interactions that the Augurian brand would welcome this kind of content.
What made you want to come to this event?
Colin: “It seemed like a great way to support the women on the team and to go to an event that I’ve never been to before. I like being in circumstances where I shouldn’t feel as comfortable as I do.”
Zack: “I thought it would be a great way to connect with a community that’s different from what I usually do. I tend to be more in the tech/startup type of space and I get a lot of similar types of content and similar types of people.”
Josh: “My mom fought the man…I’m the father of daughters and this is really important to me. I’m used to drawing a line from a values side. The reality is that I’m a leader in a business where our entire leadership team is men right now. I want to figure out how, as an ally, I can work to strengthen our leadership by having more diversity. I’m excited by the level of diversity we have in our office, but I want to see that at more levels.”
Did you have any reservations? If so, how did you resolve them?
Colin: “The invitation came across slack… that we’ve got 10 tickets if anyone else would like to join us they’re welcome. That opening made it very concrete that anyone and everyone is invited to this event. If there was a barrier, that took care of it for me.”
Zack: “When I re-read the event description, it didn’t seem like it was intended for me to even be there and I wanted to respect the spirit of the event. But I really felt invited and encouraged by our group and I trusted that. I’ve been to women’s networking lunches before and people have always been welcoming.”
Josh: “I was all in but I saw Colin and Zack were going and I was worried we took all of the spots and might have been too eager. Outside of preventing any of the Augur women from going, I didn’t really have any hesitations.”
What was your favorite takeaway? Will you do anything with it?
Colin: “Hearing some of the stories and things that the speakers have to overcome that I don’t even have to think about really starts to add perspective that you don’t get unless you put yourself in a place where you can be exposed to it. I continue to gain an appreciation for the struggle that human beings go through that I can’t personally relate to. I stayed for the entrepreneurial panel and I could relate to so much of that. We were kindred spirits in a lot of ways, like I know exactly what they’re talking about. But there is another layer of what they have to go through as women, and there are things I will never have to experience myself.”
Zack: “One thing that did stick out for me is people’s own perception of whether or not they’re qualified to do something. For my own experience and my own privilege, I’ll always try it and think, “What’s the worst than can happen?” It stuck with me as a reminder that I need to use the opportunities that I have to help people ask “Why not?” and take more chances out of their comfort zone. It’s a lot of pressure to feel you’re representing more than just yourself when you’re given an opportunity. A huge benefit was having those conversations with people on our team and sharing that experience.”
Josh: “I left feeling good that I had gone and the biggest reason for that is that a few times speakers looked out into the crowd and said that they saw a few men here. And if Colin, Zack and I hadn’t come, every person in the Augurian row would have been thinking, “hmm, none of the Augur men came.” It reminded me that there are a lot of little things I can do to show the women at Augurian that you don’t have to be a partner, you don’t have to be a man over the age of 40 to be able to lead here. Honestly, all of the women in our office are so impressive. I just know there’s more potential there and I don’t know what, if anything, I can do to help unlock that.”
We all understand the need for private spaces and introspection, but there’s so much eagerness to learn and grow that it only took a simple direct invitation to make them feel welcome.
“Some groups gather to support each other and share their life experiences and figure out how to remove barriers and learn from each other,” said Colin. “There are plenty of instances where it might not be appropriate for me to go to something because it’s not the perspective they need at that point. But once that door is open and other perspectives are invited in, that’s fantastic and I would love to participate.”
I also noted that the men I spoke to really valued the opportunity to connect with other Augurs outside of work and get to know them on a deeper level. It was the best part of the night for a couple of them. It meant more than Whirley Ball or holiday gift exchanges –it was an opportunity to connect in a really meaningful way that we otherwise wouldn’t have gotten.
We clearly already had allies in leadership, but the event created relationships between us that helped us take those tricky conversations to the next level. Handling uncomfortable conversations requires trust. Going to this event together and conducting these interviews afterward, I realize now, has built a lot of trust between us.
The event was so candid and personal instead of the traditional conference type of approach that’s meant to teach universal lessons. It was about sharing individual perspectives, because no two experiences are the same and our layered identities have a lot of impact on our career paths.
Josh touched on something really important when he said: “Colin, Zack and I have different experiences. As much as we’re like brothers because we grew up together, we don’t have exactly the same life experience.”
“The level of communication and vulnerability that you might perceive as a value of our organization comes directly from us continuing to operate on that very close level. When we brought on Micah, Derrick and Shin as partners they were able to continue operating on that level. Colin is really upfront and transparent, and I think that’s really important for setting the tone.”
Each of the men I interviewed expressed an interest in going out of their way to give more opportunities to combat imposter syndrome and keep the lines of honest communication open.
Colin summed it up so nicely when he said: “It’s important to do our part not just to hear it, but action has to happen. That’s the next major frontier for us to evolve as a culture. For us to embrace those differences and understand those shortcomings,and work to address it so we can make it as equitable as we can.”
We shared so many of the same takeaways from the event. One thing I couldn’t put my finger on, until I played the interview recordings back later, was that it didn’t really feel like a handful of men in a room packed with women for any of us. It wasn’t so simply divided. We all resonated with different layers of the speakers’ identities –as entrepreneurs, as women, as Minnesotans, as members of the queer community– and came to appreciate new perspectives from some of the layers we didn’t identify with.
Conducting these interviews and digging deep into different points of view helped us find common language to take with us into these tough conversations. We formed unexpected bonds between our layered identities which eased some of the friction that accompanies discussions of privilege and power dynamics. It’s events like this, imperfect as they can sometimes be, that help us make progress and articulate the most valuable next steps that we all want to align with.
We’re all on the same journey toward a more inclusive workplace and we’ll have to get there together. Figuring out how to be an ally to the rest of your community is hard. We all need room to explore our experiences and articulate what needs improvement.
It’s no secret that the group being marginalized should drive the conversation on what needs to change, but the heavy lifting often belongs to those with power and privilege.
Our conclusion put simply; send the invitation and start the conversation. You don’t have to know exactly where you’re going as long as you decide to go together.
For more information about our company values, see the culture page on our website.
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