On March 8, companies around the world recognized International Women’s Day (IWD). At Zeno, we assembled a virtual panel of accomplished women to cast a much-needed spotlight on the biases that still exist. While hopeful for the future, our four panelists minced no words describing their unique, multi-dimensional lived reality and the work still to be done. We thank them for their vulnerability and voice so real change can be made. While IWD is but one day, this is a conversation that needs to be part of our everyday in order to #BreakTheBias.
Kate Kelly, human rights lawyer and author of Ordinary Equality: The Fearless Women and Queer People Who Shaped the U.S. Constitution and the Equal Rights Amendment, was refreshingly blunt in her assessment, “Rumors of our progress have been greatly exaggerated.” Like others, she stressed action over empty talk. “I hear a lot of young women say they feel equal in their home and workplace, and I always say equality is not a feeling. Equality is measurable. And in every conceivable measurable way, whether that is pay, access to opportunity, positions in government or even success in litigation, we have not achieved equality.”
The tone was set, and one after another of our badass panelists shared raw and honest perspectives that must not only be heard and understood, but acted upon. Nobody held back, because there is just too much work to be done.
Perhaps the most moving testimony came from Michelle Hanabusa, founder of the community-driven clothing line UPRISERS and co-founder of Hate Is A Virus. As Michelle opened up about the lived experience of growing up as an Asian American woman, the emotion in her voice was audible. “There’s nothing new about hate crime,” she told us, “It’s just that the media is talking about it now.” Michelle recounted watching the opening scene of The Batman depicting a violent racist attack against an Asian American. “It was one of the most triggering things I’ve ever had to see on screen and I had to walk out for a while.”
So, what will it take to make lasting change? After all as Kate pointed out, we have been at this since 1920 when the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote. It was then that suffragist Crystal Eastman said, “now at last we can begin."
Samantha Skey, CEO of SHE Media, said “intent is lip service,” emphasizing the need for all of us to report our progress and lack thereof, and action the gaps. She added, “We need to be vulnerable and understand our own biases.” Because she said, “we all have biases that cannot be ignored.”
Carmen Daniels Jones, President and CEO of Solutions Marketing Group, spoke honestly about being a woman of color who has been a paraplegic since a car accident in her junior year of college. “As a person with a physical disability, I carry a mantle of responsibility to conduct myself in a way that makes it easier for someone else behind me,” she said. “Have conversations with people who are different from you. Understand their personal journey. Listen and hold onto your own judgments.” Carmen also shared that at times educating others can be exhausting.
Samantha highlighted the importance of showing that you can be a leader and a mother – and prioritize both. No need to pretend you are at a meeting when you are actually picking up your child from school or attending a soccer game. Samantha’s Gen Z daughter’s teases, “Aren’t we done with the whole woman thing now, mom?” While this raised a wry smile in many present, Samantha repeated that even as a privileged white woman with much to be grateful for, we are not done. “Women are not remotely equal to men,” she said.
So where do we go from here?
Sam McAlister, author and former interview producer at BBC2’s Newsnight, brought the discussion to a close with the steps each of us can take now to help break the bias. This includes making sure that everybody is accountable. Not just the CEO, but all employees must have diversity and equity incorporated into performance goals (as we do at Zeno). The responsibility to break the bias is on all of us. Find the courage to speak up and invite others into the conversation. The women emphasized the need for senior men to step forward and take mentorship roles with women as well.
I leave you with the panelists’ closing thoughts on the actions we can take today, so those rumors of progress become reality -- long-lasting and measurable.
Kate: Start by intentionally getting out of your comfort zone.
Michelle: Be the example.
Samantha: List five biases of your own and five that have been inflicted upon you. Face the uncomfortable truth.
Carmen: Truly listen, uninhibited by your own perceptions. Withhold bias, hear the person.
#ZenoForEveryone #ChampiontheCourageous #InternationalWomensDay