In 2012, I started SHE Summit with one goal in mind — I wanted women to inspire masses of women to become change makers for issues they were passionate about or inequalities they experienced. By getting 50 awe-inspiring role models on stage to share personal stories of rare success I extended a platform that fed into this mission. Each was an example on how to be vulnerable and transparent about challenges and the strategies for overcoming them. There was little convincing needed in this process, the women in those seats, and across companies and startups, were already aware of the need to change their worlds as a desire coming from deep inside of them.
With SHE Summit, we took that desire and gave it legs.
Panels and keynotes were more than sessions to sign up for, they were the train others could latch onto in order to propel their ideas forward. And as each year’s summit has reached thousands via our 92nd Street Y home in NYC and the livestream, they have inspired over 100,000 personal actions and commitments that have started or fueled gender-equality movements. Today, as we gear up for our seventh annual conference, we are focused on a new possibility: activating the corporate change agent.
Entrepreneurs are hoarders of possibility, they see opportunity at every corner and make their way through every conversation with the intention of moving their mission forward. For too long, we’ve ignored how much agency and possibility rests within the walls of the world’s corporations by way of the individuals who staff them.
After 6 years of working with corporate partners on women’s and diversity initiatives as an outgrowth of S.H.E. Summit, I’ve had hundreds of conversations with internal talent spanning from senior leadership, marketing, HR, diversity, CSR to employment-resource-group heads. The seats at those tables have given me a unique perspective on what actually prevents strategies from having lasting change for both internal-culture and community impact. On the other hand, it’s also shown me the tremendous impact that one person can have in launching inclusive initiatives with the appropriate support.
I realized organizations are one of the most powerful vehicles for change because of their scale and their impact on stakeholders from their employees, suppliers, industry, customers to advertiser. A company that employs 2,000 to 200,000 can really impact millions if not billions of people when you realize who their policies, programs, products and advertising touch.
A company’s decision to remove plastic straws from their kitchen doesn’t just affect their kitchen, it encourages straw production companies to come up with more environmentally friendly options and it cuts down on the company’s own footprint. Bacardi, for instance, has committed to using its platform to impact change within its own company and outside of it. With the launch of its #TheFutureDoesntSuck campaign the company aims to remove one billion single-use plastic straws by 2020 through a personal commitment to ban plastic straws at any Bacardi sponsored event, as well as a larger promise to curb unnecessary use of plastic in its supply chains. The company has promised to use its platform to spark collaborations that will promote environmental efforts across all industries.
Lyft is another great example of a company that understood the power one seemingly small change could have on the company and industry. It heard one of its employee’s desire (and data-supported pitch) for a more realistic, inclusive parental leave policy and ultimately played a larger part in a ripple effect of change within tech companies.
For the employee at Lyft what needs to change isn’t the structure of companies, it’s how individuals, like you, see their role within.
My goal through my work with S.H.E. Summit is to awaken people to the notion that they can change the world through their companies, without needing to leave their companies to do so.
Here’s how to start.
Develop a new definition for leadership…
Through the trajectory of our careers we begin to develop limiting beliefs, amongst them that the power to lead is gifted only to those at the top of the corporate hierarchy. This belief could not be more outdated and self-sabotaging.
Our best leaders aren’t limited to people with a “Chief” in their title. On a daily basis, it is also those who are in the trenches, whose lived experiences and day-today- decisions help make up company culture.
In my book, This Is How We Rise: Reach Your Highest Potential, Empower Women, Lead Change in the World, I dedicate an entire chapter to underscoring that change can start wherever you are whether you are in an entry-level position or a senior one because we can all take actions to plant seeds of change.
One of the reasons we hold ourselves back from activating change is because we feel like we don’t have the right to. We wait for an identity or title to give us permission. I believe that we can give ourselves that permission by embracing agency. Your first step in being a change maker in your workspace is to accept that you already are.
Make your greater purpose and vision clear…
It’s not enough to want to be a workplace change agent — that’s only the first step. The second is taking the time to hone in on your why and your what. With entrepreneurs their top-questions-asked are always “what is the pain I am looking to solve, who experiences that pain and what am I going to create to alleviate it?” As an intrapreneur ask yourself similar questions. “What is problematic about our culture, do certain actions not match corporate copy? What can be done better and what can I initiative or support to help achieve that that just makes common sense?
That’s your starting point and your greater purpose.
Grab inspiration from Meredith Bogas, of Working Mother, whose own pregnancy and the company’s own criteria for its 100 Best Companies list are what led her to petition her CEO for a more comprehensive family leave policy.
Determine your benchmarks…
In your first push to create change within your workplace you want to be two things — realistic and actionable because you will need small wins to build on.
Set a realistic timetable for goals you would like met and milestones you deem as steps in the right direction. Making these markers clear will help lessen the chances of you feeling overwhelmed by your desire to enact change. This process will also help you simplify your ask when it comes time to petitioning the decision makers in your company.
Find your tribe…
Last but not least, a huge part of being a change maker within your company is your ability to rally others who want to work towards the first benchmark or goal. There is so much collective power in just 2 people, then 3, 4, 5 and so on. Choose these people carefully. Look for colleagues with senior leadership team influence who also have enough passion to push this change with you. It’s actually not hard to find these people. You’ve likely seen their passion displayed in the past.
In 7 years of hosting audiences who want to create change and are only steps away from taking the first steps to make it happen, I’ve found that connecting with new people who share your drive is what propels the process from anecdote into action. Join us at S.H.E. Summit to activate your intrapreneurial drive.
So, start here — when looking to awaken the energy in others that you have burning in your own chest, think about what sparked your interest in the issue. How can you get others on the path of living out their own cycle of these four steps? The ripple effect of that action will help propel the entire mission forward.