I was asked the other day what I planned to do for International Women’s Day this year. The phrase resonating in the campaign is #BeBoldForChange, which moved me to reflect on how I could be bold, make a statement and initiate change.
Many women in the U.S. are taking part in the Day Without Women strike. The thought of me taking the day off as a form of protest causes me stress and would have little impact on those around me. Another option is to take part in the Women’s March on St. Louis happening during lunch in downtown St. Louis.
I believe the best way for me to make a difference though is to use my voice and take action to improve equality for all women.
I regularly advocate for women by sharing information about their business on social media, making business referrals and submitting these women for awards. My business partner Julia Koelsch and I were recently recognized by St. Louis Small Business Monthly as one of several St. Louis’ Top Business Owners. It was a great honor and we are thankful for the recognition.
When we met the rest of the award winners, one thing was immediately apparent: the group did not reflect the rich multiculturality that makes St. Louis a wonderful place to own a business.
Based on the Missouri Office of Equal Opportunity 2016 report, there are over 419 certified Women Business Enterprises (WBE) in the St. Louis area and over 130 of those are Minority Business Enterprises (MBE). We should see this diversity in our award ceremonies and panels – yet it is often conspicuously absent.
My commitment for International Women’s Day is to promote all women business owners and nominate them for opportunities for recognition.
My challenge to you is to identify one thing you will do to promote women.
Over the years, my personal and professional network has grown. My family teases me when we go out to dinner as I always run into someone I know. Meeting new people, getting to know their story and hearing about their success always energizes me. The reality though is my network is homogeneous (i.e., I have a network that looks like me).
Learning about others’ unique perspectives and challenges – attracting talent that doesn’t look like you, act like you, or have the same experiences as you – helps grow your business and create a work environment that is inclusive.
My commitment is to build intentional relationships with women I meet, especially if they differ greatly from me.
My challenge to you is to go to an event where not everyone is like you.
The Gap Is Real
Julia Koelsch (Chief Technology Officer) and I (Chief Executive Officer) hold leadership roles that are not typically held by women.
In a National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) report, “Women In Tech: The Facts”, women find it difficult to advance into leadership roles such as CTO, CEO and board of directors. Only 11% CIO positions in the U.S. are held by women, and only 4% CEOs of S&P 500 companies are women.
The World Economic Forum reports that it will take 170 years before women gain equity across the world. In the US, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research shows that Hispanic women will have to wait until 2248 for pay parity and Black women until 2124.
We can all take action to accelerate this change. Mentoring and supporting women is a great way to help create equality for all women. This includes working with women on how to negotiate salaries, titles and positions of authority.
Julia helps organize and support local tech meetups, camps, and hackathons. She has been a mentor for UMSL's Women's Hackathon, which helps college women gain exposure and experience in technology.
Her commitment is to increase women's awareness and participation in these community resources and events, so that any woman who has an interest in technology has the support, encouragement, and guidance necessary to achieve her goals.
My commitment is to continue our internship programs, including our participation in St. Louis Youth Jobs. I also plan to continue my support of UMSL’s IS area programs, especially their effort to send students to the Grace Hopper Women’s Conference and the Women’s Hackathon.
My challenge to you is to take a child, college student, or adult under your wing and help them soar.
I am one of those people who wants to change the world, and this is reflected where I spend my free time. Whether it’s raising money for women scholarships, telling my story to encourage bravery in others or making the connection that ignites the spark to help a women’s business take off, I will continue doing my best each day.
But I know the only way I can continue to grow and be an agent of change is to step outside my bubble – being challenged and uncomfortable is the only way I can move forward.