Today is International Women’s Day. As a female executive who has worked in the male-dominated technology industry for more than 25 years, I see first-hand the need to create a more gender-balanced workforce—and the business performance achievements that come from having diverse perspectives represented in the C-suite.
That’s why I’m really excited to share that BlueJeans is now a sponsor for the Professional BusinessWomen of California (PBWC). Founded in 1989 by United States Congresswoman Jackie Speier, PBWC is focused on empowering women in the workplace. The organization inspires women at all levels in their careers to achieve their own ambitions and collectively advance gender equality in professional settings through providing skills development, networking opportunities and motivational workshops throughout the year.
With a diverse community of over 45,000 female and male business professionals, corporate sponsors and media partners, PBWC is now one of the largest women’s empowerment organizations in the world—and we’re glad to be a part of it!
As part of our involvement with the organization, we’ll be exhibiting at their 2019 annual conference. Taking place April 23rd at Moscone South in San Francisco, the theme for this year’s conference is UNSTOPPABLE! While the 2019 keynote speaker hasn’t been announced yet, previous keynote speakers have included esteemed individuals such as Hillary Clinton, Jane Fonda, Ashley Judd, Maria Shriver, Taraji P. Henson, Rosario Dawson, and many more. I had the opportunity to see Malcom Gladwell keynote the event back in 2005 and found it to be really impactful.
We recently sat down with PBWC’s 2019 Board President and Chair, Alexandra Roddy, to talk about the upcoming event and the importance of empowering women in business. Here’s what she had to say:
Q: How did you get involved with PBWC?
AR: I’ve been formally involved with PBWC for around six years, but I would say I’ve been aware of and engaged in the topic of equality challenges and ensuring that we move in the direction of equal access to pay and opportunity for people who are otherwise underrepresented in some vein for my entire career. I joined because two friends of mine were already participating with PBWC and saw the importance of creating a “sisterhood is power” mentality by bringing their network into the organization.
Q: Who has been a female role model for you?
AR: It evolves over time. I really admire our founder Jackie Speer. I am huge fan of my fellow board members who I think are amazing, strong women and admire them for their generosity to this organization and what they do. And I am an enormous fan of the rising group of young, inspirational and powerful women who’ve just ascended to the congress—23 or 24 this midterm crop alone. It’s been phenomenal to see their courage, their authenticity, and them speaking truths that have been hard to say in the past. I’m just really inspired.
Q: What can men to do to better support gender equality in business?
AR: Men have an incredibly important and vital role to play in fixing what is currently an unlevel playing field, and allyship is absolutely key. I think that starts with recognizing that the playing field is not level, and that we are all subject to unconscious bias. For men to stop and think that a woman who is quiet isn’t ‘meek’ and a woman who is outspoken isn’t ‘hostile’ is really important. To think about what you’re doing and the situations you’re creating and whether they are inclusive of all parties involved is important. Men should be more mindful of creating inclusive gatherings.
Q: What are ways you’re seeing companies lead in their diversity and inclusion efforts in the US?
AR: There are a bunch that have made explicit commitment to equal pay for people in the same roles, which is an important and powerful first step. What’s an even more powerful step is in admitting that women and other underrepresented groups actually aren’t getting equal opportunities for growth in the workplace. Some companies are making conscious efforts to create more inclusive cultures through their hiring and promotional practices and do everything they can to take bias of all kinds out of all of these processes, and I applaud these efforts.
Q: How can technology help with diversity and inclusion?
AR: Technology can either really help us or really hurt us—and there’s lots of data to indicate that early intelligent agents have bias built into them. When it comes to usability and other areas, it’s important to ensure that product design is built around both men and women equally. When looking into any new technology, really, the same holds true. We need to look into any decision-making capabilities built into the technology that may have some kind of implicit bias built into them. If we don’t, we run the risk of having a seed of gender bias that will be perpetrated for many generations forward.
Q: What are you seeing as being most important to women in the workplace today?
I think opportunity, I think equity, I think fairness. Women have great perseverance, but I think women are disheartened and fed up. We need stronger statements at the top of the house, followed by real action where women with potential are given the chance to succeed in top management positions and cultures.
Q: Advice for women looking to rise in business?
To start, women don’t make a consistent effort to support other women, and that needs to change. Women bringing other women down is only perpetuating the situation. Next, never underestimate the extent to which most women are going to have to self-regulate in business. Figure out how to position and conduct yourself in a way that allows you to be perceived as a promotable leader. An important part of this is to find confidence in your answers, or you will be passed up for the position by someone less worthy but more confident. Finally, look very carefully at the context—sizing up the situation and then navigating it. As women, we have to be really smart in thinking about the context and how we play our cards.
I couldn’t agree more! I am where I am today in part due to the support that I’ve received over the years from female and male peers and mentors, and I look forward to being a part of this incredible professional community. With the right tools, mentorship and training, we can all become our best selves.
If you’re committed to advancing women in business and wondering how you can get involved with PBWC, they’re always looking for volunteers. Check out their website for more information, and stay tuned for more information on BlueJeans’ participation at what is sure to be an empowering conference next month—I hope to see you there!