On October 18 and 19th, S.H.E. Summit will be hosting its seventh annual conference at the 92nd Street Y. The rows will be filled with women and allies looking for inspiration and to inspire. Connecting and motivating people is the reality that I worked towards manifesting when I imagined the first S.H.E Summit in 2012. Now, close to 6 years later, I’ve shifted my focus but not my purpose.
I still wholeheartedly believe that true change comes from empowering people. In fact I am convinced that the energy of empowered people is how we shift society in a positive direction. When I started S.H.E. Summit my focus was on unleashing female power to change the world. Today women everywhere are starting or participating in important movements that help us create a more equal and inclusive world. But after years of working with and listening to so many women inside workplaces, our approach has evolved to embrace what I believe is an even greater energy source for creating change — the power of employees inside companies who understand what’s possible when they engage their agency and the infrastructure at their disposal.
Research shows that 51% of US workers are employed by a firm that has at least 500 people or more, when multiplied by the countless number of corporations that exist in the US alone, we’re looking at an enormous potential for impact. By shifting S.H.E. Summit to activate and empower those corporate employees, I’m dedicating energy to making sure that they recognize the power to create change that they have at their fingertips as corporate professionals.
Here are the four reasons I give whenever someone asks me why S.H.E. Summit is shifting unleashing employee power in the private sector:
1. Companies can propel change at a colossal level…
It’s no secret that I’m a big believer in the power corporations have to enact change. When viewed as micro-societies, corporations can empower their employees to contribute to issues bigger than themselves and therefore to contribute to the solutions helping move society forward as a whole. My goal is to use the S.H.E Summit platform to ensure that everyone in our audience or watching via livestream understands that whether they’re an entrepreneur or a employee that they can have an impact and feel purpose driven in their work.
2. Helping corporate talent find purpose in their job not only drives retention, it creates more inclusive cultures …
Too many employees believe that the only way that they’d be able to make a change is by volunteering their time with nonprofits or to start something on their own. For instance, a 2016 Deloitte study found 86% of women surveyed left their corporate jobs to start their own companies, while 43% said they left because they weren’t following their passion.
When corporations encourage their teams to step into their power, they can help shift the narrative. The more corporate employees feel like they’re change makers, the more inclined they will be to continue to invest their passions and skill set where they are. Ultimately, this will help create a more inclusive and diverse company culture.
3. Companies can do a better job of retaining women and diverse talent when they have offsite forums to speak and listen with their guards down
I’ve heard so many stories from friends, colleagues, and in the media, underscoring how company culture makes it more difficult for women to stay in the workforce or in a career. Knowing this, I wanted to be a part of the solution not of the problem. Inviting corporations into the “whole self” leadership conversations happening at S.H.E. Summit offers these employees an off-site experience where they can be fully who they are to speak and listen. They have a forum where they can share feelings they may not feel like they can share at work—this offers great insights for leaders in thinking about how to retain and advance diverse talent.
4. I believe now is the time…
When I started shifting the S.H.E. Summit focus, I knew in my gut we were keeping with the conversations already happening at brunch, by the water cooler, and in HQ elevators. The signs are everywhere — wherever we look corporations are being appropriately challenged by their stakeholders, the media, and audiences alike. The atmosphere around corporate organizations is inviting a deeper conversation around what sustainable change actually looks like. It’s true that change happens from the top down, but it’s also true that empowering every level of the corporate ladder to feel invested in the mission of the organization that creates long-lasting change.
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.