Join Change Catalyst Founder & CEO Melinda Briana Epler with Kat Gordon, CEO and Founder of the 3% Kat Gordon talk to us about the evolution of gender equity in the advertising space.
We talked about:
- Kat’s background as a creative director and what led her to create the 3%movement.
- How she helped move the industry from 3% of creative directors to 29%.
- And how to create a culture of belonging in the workplace, with the importance of putting people at the center.
Learn more about Kat and The 3% Movement at www.3percentmovement.com
- “50 Things to Create a More Anti-Racist Workplace” by The 3% Movement
- “The Elephant on Madison Avenue” by The 3% Movement
- “Permission to Feel” by Mark Brackett
- “Leading With Empathy & Allyship Episode 13: Women Championing Women with Brenda Darden Wilkerson”
“This is working from home in an absolutely impossible situation where society has failed us and I am nervous that the motherhood penalty is being reinforced with every Zoom call where a child is there, needs something, interrupts or the mother attends to the child at a particular point.”
“I think so much of belonging is about having the courage to ask and engage your employees in ongoing conversation about what’s working for them, what’s making them anxious, what do they need.”
Founder, CEO at The 3% Movement
Kat Gordon has been called the “triple threat” of an entrepreneur, ad woman + marketing to women expert and was named one of “30 Most Creative Women in Advertising” by BusinessInsider in 2016, Visionary of the Year from Advertising Age in 2018, and one of “Forty Over 40” women disrupting the world in 2014.
She is the visionary behind The 3% Movement. Started as a passion project to spotlight a huge business opportunity in advertising — the lack of female creative leadership and its impact on connecting with an overwhelmingly female marketplace — the 3% Movement has grown exponentially since its 2012 launch: hosting events in 17 cities globally, and offering consulting and certification programs that amplify creative cultures. In that time, the number of female creative directors in the U.S. has risen from 3% to 29%.
MELINDA EPLER: Welcome everyone and happy Tuesday. As people join, I am just going to describe the slides for anybody who is blind, or low vision, or on the phone. This is our video and podcast series Leading with Empathy & Allyship. The slide has lots of diverse faces of the folks that have joined us. Some of the folks that have joined us over the last several months. You can learn more that changecatalyst.co/allyshipseries. This is episode 29 on “The Future of Belonging” with Kat Gordon Founder & CEO of the The 3% Movement. Created by Change Catalyst has our logo on The Slide. Changecatalyst co. If you are just joining us, let us know where you are and feel free to share what you do. Zee a code of conduct. You can read that at tcin.co/COC. And last slide here, the next episodes coming up are a conversation with Rah and Deepa and we will be talking about leadership and women of color and then Kate Johnson, the president and CEO of Microsoft USA the following week. All right. Let’s get started. Hey Jeanine. Good to see you. Saw you on Twitter earlier. Sally, if you can take down the slides I will get started. Awesome. Welcome, everybody. Happy Tuesday. Happy December. It has been a year. We are almost at the end of it. One last month of 2020. Welcome to Leading with Empathy & Allyship. This is a live event and podcast series and I am your host Melinda Briana Epler, the Founder & CEO of Change Catalyst. In the series we go deep, get real, build empathy and explore tangible, actionable steps we can all take to be better allies and advocates for each other. We are speaking with Kat Gordon today. CEO of the The 3% Movement. And we will dive into her work in the advertising industry and the future of belonging. Kat, welcome.
KAT GORDON: Thank you. So glad to be here.
MELINDA EPLER: Glad to have you. Just going to go through a few logistics and then we will dive in. We have Kalina on screen. ASL interpreters. Our interpreters are sponsored by Interpreter Now. This is also being live captioned by Maggie at White Coat Captioning. If you want to turn on the captions, go to the bottom of the screen and you will see closed captions and you can add the subtitles and make them different sizes. Our team, Renzo, Juliet, Sally are monitoring the chat and Q&A. Please engage with us. Let us know your aha moments and what you are thinking during the conversation and we will leave time for Q&A at the end, so use the Q&A function at the bottom for specific questions. Hello to anyone who introduced themselves. Awesome. Good to see you all. Please feel free to continue to introduce yourself as you join. Let’s dive in, Kat. Can you tell us about your story and how you came to do the work you do?
KAT GORDON: Sure. My background is in advertising. A lot of people have seen the series “Madmen” which is a fictionalized version of the world I come from. The job I had done historically is the Don Draper job and sadly things haven’t changed as much as they should have since the 1950s in terms of who is leading creative departments inside ad agencies. I got tired of being often the only woman in the room and seeing a lot of white faces and young faces and knowing how multicultural the buying audience is and it is largely driven by women, I decided to stop being a creative director and start being an agent of change inside my industry and that happened about 10 years ago. The 3% Movement
which I started, refers to how many creative directors were women at the time we launched. Out of a 100 creative directors only 3 were women. I see you shocking your head and it defies understanding. Through a long and sustained campaign of education, community buildings, workshops, and research, we have really turned the industry around and currently 29% of creative directors are women. It matters because advertising, as much as people might say they don’t notice it, or they are not really swayed by it, it is the most pervasive media we and our children consume so it is important that the depictions we see are inclusive and representation matters.
MELINDA EPLER: Absolutely. The representation, the stories that we tell, who tells those stories, yeah. Can you go deeper into what the The 3% Movement
is and what you do to make change happen?
KAT GORDON: Absolutely. There is a phrase my friend Cindy gallop and I don’t know if she coined it but she told me communication through demonstration and I am fond of it. I don’t know how I intuited that is what was needed to solve this problem but rather than trying to teach people, or convince people, or set out to change people’s minds about why diversity matters, we just showcased diversity in all of its glory at all our events and we have had events all over the world and let people draw their own conclusions and the conclusions are this is the best event I have been to, this is a creative way to bring to life this particular subject matter, and a lot of that was driven by the viewpoints represents and it wasn’t the same old cast of characters you are used to seeing at industry conferences. That became a potent form of waking people up to how much they prefer to reside in a world where a lot of different viewpoints are shared. In addition to our events where we showcase incredible diverse talent, we also do workshops inside companies especially creative companies, to really amplify and support that relationship between diversity and creativity. We teach creativity bias trainings which has to do with people that are looking to scout for new talent for all sorts of creative roles and helping them realize where they might be missing a whole group of talent or might be jumping to conclusions about particular candidates too soon. That’s something that not a lot of people are talking about. 3% is always at that intersection of innovation and creativity and diversity. You hear a lot about diversity in terms of business performance. That is absolutely true. We also take the tactic of the amazing magical things that happen and the idea collision of a lot of different types of people working side by side.
MELINDA EPLER: Awesome. A few years ago, you released a groundbreaking study called the elephant on Madison avenue which was a research study on sexism. If y’all haven’t seen it is a research study on sexism and gender bias in the advertising industry. I want to read a few stats from that and then maybe we can take a little bit about them. 54% of women reported being subjected to unwanted sexual advances, many repeatedly from a colleague, superior and sometimes clients. And something I think we don’t talk about much is the client factor and how hard it is to stop that when we don’t have the processes internally to do that in the same way. The majority of women didn’t take action on this unwanted sexually advances afraid it would negatively impact their career or wouldn’t make a difference. 91% of women experience demeaning comments from colleagues often very frequently. They are excluded from important business meetings, promotions, leadership positions, unfair pay, unfairly asked to perform admin or low-level tasks and then intersectional exclusions for people of color, women, people of other marginalize identities and the motherhood penalty and the fatherhood boost that happens as well. Do you want to talk about that research? I guess, you know, what is the importance of research in creating change? How has it helped?
KAT GORDON: Thank you for that question because I think I am one of the only creative directors that started here career as a market researcher. It is a very unusual trajectory so as a result I believe research can often open minds and the creative expression of it can be persuasive and if you go to that URL the full study is there and you can download it and look at some of the stats you shared. I think what’s important about research is two-fold. When we released that research, I don’t think a single woman I know was surprised by the results and I think every man that I know was shocked. Research can be helpful at making people realize that the lived experience of different communities inside, whether it is a university, a company, or a church, or wherever, it be marketedly different. It is a potent way to get people to realize what they don’t know and what they need to get more curious around. We presented that research at advertising week in New York City and it was standing-room only. People were really eager to understand, you know, the breadth of this data and what it meant and also the action items around it. So it is super important. And then it is also one of the other tactics The 3% Movement
has taken in doing our own research is it is super helpful when something happens to have research to give context to it. Right after that research was released, there was a major me too experience in our industry at Jay Walter Thompson that was in all of the headlines and filled in a public court in New York so you could read the whole thing online. People were commenting like oh, that’s just, you know, kind of an outlier. “The Wall Street Journal” called us and we had definitive recent proof this was a systemic, long standing problem. Research can also be helpful in those — to make sure that particular things that are happening in the news have context for how widespread they are. That was another kind of benefit to having that research in our back pocket and it is funny that we are talking about this because a week from today we are going to be screening a new documentary on the subject of sexual harassment. It is called “nevertheless” and then we are a panel discussion with the founder of me too and the director of the film so I hope some of your listeners will join us for that. It is a very provocative film about how many women’s careers are sidelined from restaurant workers to CEOs. It really impacted and impedes women’s advancement and we have to address it.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah, yeah. So one of the things that I know you are really passionate about in the work you do is really focused on belonging. I just want to make clear to everyone, we might be talking about gender but we are talking about intersectional gender and belonging is about radically including people across race, ethnicity, gender, disability, age, and there is a lot of age discrimination and particularly against women at least in the tech industry and I assume in the advertising industry as well and most industries. The whole LGBTQIA community, veterans. Lots of marginalized identities that are apart of being a woman. What does inclusion mean to you? What does radical inclusion mean to you? How do we create those environments in the workplaces that are radically inclusive?
KAT GORDON: That was the title of our conference this year. The radically inclusive future of work. There is a host of reasons why I personally care about belonging and inclusion. Because of my background as the creative thinker and an innovator. I am very aware if you don’t have a sense of psychological safety and belonging you really can’t create. Creating is a vulnerable act. You are sharing a piece of yourself and incubating an idea in front of other people. It is a vulnerable act and Brene Brown has talked about that in her research and a lot of people remember being shamed as a child around something creative they did or didn’t do. Boys discouraged from singing or acting because it wasn’t considered masculine or art projects where someone took creative liberties and the art teacher wanted them to stay on project in a very limited way. I am really excited about the future of society and the world when we can create psychological safety for everyone because then the ability to — reach the depths of what you are able to contribute goes up exponentially. Whenever people talk about the future, it is always about tech, AI or space travel and I just firmly believe the most an — there are so many systems in need of re imagining and it will take all of us. Often when you hear bring your whole self to work, I grimace at that phrase because it is a platitude that misses that there are so many systems at play that make that impossible, challenges, and even sometimes dangerous for certain communities to do that. Even just this short while I have shared with you, there is so many things you are signaling to how you host the podcast and people’s pronouns being included. The longer I do this work, the more I am amazed at all of the ways we signal or don’t signal that people belong. I wrote something recently and someone gently called me out on Twitter that someone had a blind spot and someone said that’s ableist language and I never thought of that. The goal is not to be reactive. I was thankful someone brought that to my attention and now I am telling you and others might think oh, I have used that term and even something is tone deaf. That’s ableist language. These are small things we have a spotlight on and people are aware. Everyone has been othered at some point in their life even cis white men. Everyone has experienced ageism or grew up a lisp or outside the U.S. and moved here. Everyone has had a time where they didn’t feel they were part of the in group and they know and remember in their body what it felt like and how they felt they couldn’t contribute fully and be at ease or in peace in the setting wherever they were and that’s a valuable thing for everyone to have experienced because then they can imagine and invite other people to share their experience and be an ally to create atmospheres where people feel that psychological safety.
MELINDA EPLER: You touched on a lot of things there. I think one thing companies often want to jump straight to is how do we just create cultural belonging and it starts with psychological safety. You have to start with do people feel safe to be who they’re? I won’t say their whole selves because there is a whole other argument that you don’t necessarily need or want to bring your whole self to work but the pieces — bring yourself to work and really be free to be who you are and that means not covering a piece of identity, not code-switching and not feeling like you have to be somebody different at work than you are at home and calling out pieces of that identity. That means feeling like you are able to jump in, take risks, and — raw, share your ideas. There is so many places where sharing your ideas can be hazardous and obviously the creative space you are working in, the tech industry, and someone in tech is incredibly important to create that psychological safety. That’s where the benefits of diversity happen. When everybody can bring all of their experiences, their identities to creativity and innovation. Yeah. So what are some of the things that companies, a lot of people that are tuning into the podcast, that are attending live, are interested in really working internally in their companies to create change. Are there some things that you recommend to your clients to really foster that feeling of belonging? To foster psychological safety and belonging?
KAT GORDON: Yeah, I mean, I think it is kind of a byproduct of a larger company culture. It is not something you can kind of add-in and layer in like in a solitary ingredient. One of the things that 3% is known for is our list of micro actions. On our website, we have several lists that you can download and share. We just released one in coordination with our July event that was 50 things you can do towards a more anti-racist workplace. You will notice we didn’t say an anti-racist workplace because that’s almost impossible that there will be 0 residue of any of the isms but you can still aim to have the most accepting and open workplace possible. These are small things that when they are done, I call them doable doses, just small things that signal belonging, or not belonging, and same. We have one for working parents. I know you and I talked, Melinda, about what’s happening now with COVID, and the Zoom kind of reality. I have a very real fear, and this is something that maybe companies could be thinking about, that the motherhood penalty and the fatherhood boost, for anyone that doesn’t know that means when women become mothers, working women are deemed by both men and women to be less competent and dedicated to their jobs regardless of their performance. It is just this literal bias we have that woman are distracted or their attention is elsewhere on their children whereas men the opposite. They are considered more competent and proficient once they become dads. I have a very real fear in this moment that because so many working parents are working from home with zero safety net. They don’t have school, they don’t have nannies, they don’t have grandparents to help out. Their colleagues are seeing what might be construed as something that is working from home which is something mothers and dads have been asking for and this is not working from home. This is working from home in an absolutely impossible situation where society has failed us and I am nervous that the motherhood penalty is being reinforced with every Zoom call where a child is there, needs something, interrupts or the mother attends to the child at a particular point. These are conversations I think so much of belonging is about having the courage to ask and engage your employees in ongoing conversation about what’s working for them, what’s making them anxious, what do they need. There was just a study that during COVID, since COVID began, there is a 67% increase in employees desire for more regular feedback. That’s a really interesting stat. What it suggests is that in the isolation of not seeing people, people get anxious about how their performance is being perceived knowing that is there beginning of great leadership and cultures of belonging. That’s something as small as a CEO or company President saying you might be feeling this and here is how we are going to address it. I want to lead with relief and tell you that we are going to implement such and such. It is amazing. I can almost feel myself exhale at those words. Your shoulders drop a little. I am being heard. People are paying attention and understand this isn’t business as usual. I almost feel like this year, more than any other in my professional career, has required leaders to be far more fluid in how they are addressing all sorts of programs and policies. I put something on LinkedIn recently that got a lot of traction. I wrote future planning is out. Future proofing is laughable. What this moment needs is future playing which is playing out potential avenues and having a plan for all of them. That emotional and mental agility is something I don’t think leaders are great at but this is a good time to practice it. These signal belonging. It is listening without judgment. Making it is a safe place for people to share their realities. For leaders to say I don’t know. Help us think about what would support for me look like? What a powerful thing for a CEO to say. I say that to my team at times when I can tell they need something from me and I am not sure what it is and I don’t assume that I know. I ask.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah, yeah. Just going to share MJ. Mary Jane in the chat says I had the motherhood penalty when raising VC funds. One guy said I don’t know how you do it doing a mom. I dug deeper who found he always had a stay at home wife who did all of the kid stuff. I challenged him and he said well, I could never do what you are doing.
KAT GORDON: I am sorry that happened to you Mary Jane. It happens sadly — at least the guy spoke up and you knew that’s what you were up against. It is so often I think people are making assessments of us that they don’t say out loud so we can’t question them or offer another perspective.
MELINDA EPLER: Thanks for sharing that, Mary Jane. So, how does power play a role in belonging? Power structures? Was thinking about this in the car earlier. Just thinking through how do we, yeah, do you have any thoughts there?
KAT GORDON: Yeah, that’s such an excellent question. It invites a lot of different introspection. I read something recently about how with one of the best things about being any marginalized group and you don’t often hear about the upside of being underrepresented is that you need other people and you learn how to cooperate and ask for help and support one another and often the groups that are in advertising, when I talked about that 3%, the men that were running advertising, and this is not an indictment of individuals. They were a bit clueless about the lived reality of most of the people around them that were not looking like themselves. I think power can blind people at times from the reality of others. It is so important, again, to be having open communication, again, safe mechanisms for feedback, or else you really do, you know, fall danger to thinking you know the reality of people inside your team and you don’t. You know your own reality that gets mirrored back to you by others that look like you. It was the first time where I understood through that story that there is actually an advantage. It might not show up in your paychecks so I don’t want to minimize the struggle of marginalized groups but learning how to be in community with others and how to make others feel belonging and how to help others and how to listen is a super power. I think modern leadership is finally cluing into that. We had an amazing speaker at our conference named Dr. Mark Bracket whose new book, permission to feel, is a must read. It is all about how emotional intelligence as a leader is the absolute necessary skill that sets you apart from, you know, the old command and control doesn’t work especially for the younger employees entering the workforce. They are not motivated that way. They have a very different sense of where they get their value in work. They want to be in community with their coworkers. It is a very, very interesting time for leadership and what modern leadership is shaping up to look like.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah, absolutely. I think part of allyship is knowing what power you can give. What power you can seed or lend and really how to rethink power structures. Part of exclusion also and even what Mary Jane — let me know if you are not OK with me talking about your story, Mary Jane. But I think one of the things that is in that — thank you. It is OK she says. One of the things in that is that power structure and that by using micro aggressions and the micro exclusions there is a taking away of somebody’s power and I think that that is a really important point when we recognize that we have misstepped and we recognize that power dynamic and we change it. Whatever that means. You know, in this VC example we clearly did not. But I do think that is an important step in allyship and recognizing the power and balance and it happening and where to collect it.
KAT GORDON: Yeah, and I don’t want to speak for Mary Jane or anyone that’s had a moment like that, but it is like someone throws invisible paint an you. In that moment, you become stripped of so much of your professional identity and value. You know, involuntarily and without cause. It’s just so destructive. I think you shared some of the statistics from our elephant on Madison avenue and I felt the saddest thing in the research was the micro aggressions that were not sexual but they were diminishing. They were subtle actions, words, deeds that said that you were not valued or overlooked and how that happens cumulatively takes a toll. We have to get people that are currently in power to understand even if their intention was not to do that the impact is very real and that they need to be responsible for that.
MELINDA EPLER: What does the future look like where we focus on belonging? How does that change the future? What does the future look like that has belonging at its core in the advertising and tech industry?
KAT GORDON: That’s such a big question. If I had to boil it down to one thing and this is the question I ask every company we consult with to ask is who is centered and who is an afterthought and to apply that question to every single thing in your office from what hours the office operates to what temperature the office is set at — is it cold? Is it hot? According to whom? Whose body type? Do you have social gatherings that always involve alcohol? If they always involve alcohol do they also involve other cocktails or non-alcoholic beverages? All these tiny choices that get made, often by default, what holidays do you take off as a company? What is a paid holiday? That is incredible signal to your people about what your values are. Belonging is not one question or one pursuit that you set out in a manifesto style way. It is a series. It is an ongoing exercise of asking who is centered and who is an afterthought and applying that to every single choice your company is making.
MELINDA EPLER: Absolutely. And when we do that, what happens? Have you ever been in a culture where everyone truly felt they belonged? What does that feel like?
KAT GORDON: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s important to acknowledge that we are humans and we are social mammals and being human is incredibly messy work. Part of being an ally, I believe, is being OK with that. I feel like so much of my job is telling CEOs to keep the path. This isn’t a silver bullet. Tech loves results that are fast and talking back to shareholders quickly and this is very different kind of work. When you say what does it look like, what does it feel like, I think that can change day to day but what I think it feels like is that that question about who is centered and who is an afterthought is that no one feels like an afterthought. That’s what I think ultimately is the end goal. You might occasionally mess up and you own it and you apologize and you do better. But you don’t give up. There is a story I have told multiple times about a CEO that I had dinner with in New York and he was telling me about these courageous conversations they hosted inside his agency mostly around race and it sounded meaningful and like it was done very, very well, so I was commending him for convening these gaths gatherings and he turned to me and said Kat, but in the exit survey, 30% said they felt uncomfortable. I said that sounds statistically right where you want to be. It is just normalizing the work of creating cultures of belonging is not a perfect science and people are going to feel pushed out of their comfort zone and that’s OK and in fact, that’s needed.
MELINDA EPLER: That’s the future, absolutely. Yeah, yeah. Andrew in the chat makes a good point. Great leaders drive their own culture rather than preexisting culture and that emotional intelligence also includes community awareness and cultural awareness I would say as well. Those are key pieces. I think — when I work with my clients and talk about emotional and cultural intelligence, the two together are really important, knowing yourself, and also having a good cultural intelligence of the people around you and the people who work with you.
KAT GORDON: I am so glad you talked about the importance of knowing yourself because we have been talking a lot about awareness of others and the beauty in Dr. Bracket’s book was about the importance of self hef recognition and self-regulation. He has a tool to help you know what’s happening in your own body with concern emotions. When you are the status quo, whatever that status quo is, in a particular industry, you are grossly unpracticed at doing that because the world is mirroring back to you the status quo. It is this bizarre hall of mirrors where everything reflects one another. I think it is so wonderful to see, especially groups of men, like at the better man conference, and other convenings like that, realizing how much they need to get more in touch with their own emotionality so they can help regulate it and not in a way where you are tapping it down but where you have coping strategies and if you are in fear or anger to just make peace and move through it and just stuff it. I think a huge part of allyship is learning self-awareness and doing the inquiry about how am I feeling and learning meditation and breathing and things like that.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah, and one more thing I would add is that internal investigation when you are resistant to something. When your first reaction is defensiveness because that happens so much in diversity, equity, and inclusion work. We hear something, we hear somebody’s experience, an idea, and we resist, and we may even say something that we, in the future, because we aren’t and haven’t done that internal investigation to figure out why we are resisting. I will say when I first started to hear about privilege, and that was one thing that I have really resisted. I worked hard and dedicated my life to creating change and why are people telling me I have too much privilege or whatever. And you know, I had to really do some internal investigation to realize yes, I worked hard and I have privilege that other people don’t have. You know, so we do have that internal investigation for sure is about fear, and getting through the discomfort, and I think that getting through the resistance, internal resistance as well because we don’t do that then the danger is gaslighting and telling people that you don’t believe their stories and their experience.
KAT GORDON: Yeah, absolutely.
MELINDA EPLER: So as you think about allyship and advocacy and being an ally to other women, what are some of the things that think about as you do that work and keep in mind as you are doing the allyship work?
KAT GORDON: I ask a lot that question I told people earlier. What would support for me look like? I don’t presume to know where I can apply my muscle or my access that would be most helpful. I ask. And another thing, whenever I do spend time either mentoring, or otherwise guiding someone, no matter who that someone is, I always conclude our exchange with who can you help? Who is looking to you? Or who might need you to open a door because so often I think until we have a certain level of access or influence we are not particularly at supporting others. I ask students that. You are never too young. Your job title is never too small for you to be able to help others. So a lot of what I do is try to — I think the thing I most love about my job, and about I think the way I am wired as a person is I see potential in people often before they believe it in themselves. That is a beautiful lens to look through the world at because it is everywhere. When you see someone and they have a particular gift that might not be something that’s normally prized in a corporate setting but you see the value of it and to make that person aware that that is unique to them and special and valuable and how to amplify that. I think that, to me, is my fastball in terms of how I try to show up as an ally and that is to pay attention to people to what is unique and how they might have a gift that others don’t and how to get it noticed.
MELINDA EPLER: We will jump to questions in just a minute. If anybody has questions. I see a few have come through. If you have questions, put them in the Q&A so we can find them easily. As you have gone through your life, can you remember a time, or a couple of times where allies have been really important in your career?
KAT GORDON: Oh, absolutely. I feel like The 3% Movement
is a case study of that. When I had the idea to have a conference, you know, this is back in like 2010, there is so many factors about me as a person that made me, in my own mind, be the wrong person to do this. I was not a household name creative in the ad industry. I have never made a television commercial. I didn’t have this — I have won a couple industry awards but I was kind of a quiet freelancer and I reached out to the small network I had and they introduced me to other people who saw the value, like I just said, they saw the potential in me, and they opened doors for me. People like Nancy Hill from the 4As. I didn’t know her. Someone introduced me to her. We were on the phone for an hour and I was telling her what I wanted to do, why it was important, and at the end of the call she pledged money to make that first event happen and we now have an award named after her that we give to women who help other women because literally 3% is only what the force it is today because of allyship people took to me at a time when I had a crazy idea and no funding and wasn’t in the event space and there is so many things about it that were crazy but I had a really passion for it. So, yeah. I am incredibly thankful to those early supporters of 3%.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah. Awesome. We actually did an episode and I talked with Brenda Darden Wilkerson from Anita B in women championing women if anybody wants to go back and listen to that. That is there. We had a great conversation going deep into that. Shireen asks do you believe women of color should be centered in a company particularly a tech company who rarely hires them? Hiring is one thing but keeping them is another.
KAT GORDON: Yeah. Hell yeah. I don’t know how many of you have heard that if you ask and engage Black women in every aspect of your company, it’s like the best indicator for the health of the entire organism because if Black women, who have experienced sexism and racism, like the double whammy, if they are involved in ensuring who is centered and who is an afterthought is infused in everything you do, I can think of no greater investment than giving Black women not only a megaphone or microphone to talk about what is happening but put them in leadership. Black women are the most educated demographic in the country with the highest desire to lead. It is the most incredible talent pool and I can’t believe we have to think about whether or not they should be centered. Of course, of course.
MELINDA EPLER: Stephanie says I love your term courageous conversations. How do you encourage managers, leaders, et cetera, to have uncomfortable conversations with their staff? How do we ensure employees feel comfortable being honest in these conversations?
KAT GORDON: First of all, that term is Glenn Singleton’s term. He is a diversity and inclusion leader who I really admire. Often I find what’s needed, it was so funny, I was talking earlier when you talked about 3% and I talked about the trainings and workshops we have. Often when we get inside companies with the trainings, we get through a third of the content and realize the rest of the day is spent just convening a safe conversation. The fact that I am in the room or someone else from my team is in the room and that we have built a calm, open forum for people to share and that we are there as kind of oversight or a third party that is trusted and safe. That’s how brave conversations happen. You often have to bring in someone from outside that sets the table for what’s going to happen. It is all about rookie questions being welcome. It is all about this is the place where if there is something, like when you shared earlier that the word privilege is off putting. That’s the exact conversation you should have. Not if you — have you heard the expression if something aggregates you get interested. Something about this is triggering for me. What’s happening? I would encourage your leadership to be open to bringing someone in from the outside who can first earn trust with the leadership. You don’t go in and host that right off the bat. You have pre-calls and Zoom meetings with the leadership to get to know what’s going on there and, you know, where are systems broken down and which group might feel the most vulnerable and how can we safely invite them or give them a mechanism to give feedback semi anonymously if that’s what is needed but the worst thing to do is nothing. You are guaranteed to signal belonging means nothing if you do nothing.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah. Yeah. Let’s see. We have an anonymous attendee that has asked about multi-generational belonging. It happens a lot in the tech industry where women over 40 or definitely over 50 feel excluded and there is a lot of EOC has brought a lot of cases around age discrimination in the tech industry in the last few years. The anonymous attendee says I am seeing more older workers, especially women who have lost power as they have raised children, pushed aside or leapt over for the so-called next-generation. It seems like there is really no easy on-ramp to get back on the leadership path.
KAT GORDON: I talked about at our conference the radically inclusive work and broke it down into four pillars and one was multigenerational workforces. AARP had a hand in content creation. This is the first time in history five generations have been in the workplace working side by side and the question is absolutely right. By the way, ageism happens to young people that are written off as not able to make real contributions right out of the gate which nothing could be further from the truth. I am in my 50s and definitely sense at times I can even feel that too. Like am I irrelevant or how am I staying current? It is interesting. I wrote a piece on LinkedIn shortly after COVID began that I would love for your watchers/viewers/listeners to go check out. It was something that happened for me this early. I decided to write about it. What it was was when the queen of England was featured on BBC in a bright green dress, four minutes, and she was talking about this moment of, you know, world unity and what’s needed and how hard it is. She said we will see better days. We will be together again. I absolutely sobbed when I watched her on the television and it made me realize I was starving for my grandmother and these women and men who have lived, think about what the queen of England has witnessed in her life, and there was something about her words that were so comforting in that moment to me as a person, so I wrote this piece on LinkedIn and interviewed six friends about what would your nana say now and everyone said they have been thinking about their grandparents more than ever during COVID. I think there is something about this moment that I am hoping reinforces that with age, and with experience comes unbelievable insight and that you can’t negate that. Especially in advertising. They say advertising eats its soul and it is an age glorifying industry but if you think about the job of trying to make connections to consumers at a host of different life stages, it is helpful to have years under your belt, and maybe have some battle scars. Maybe you have been fired. Maybe you have lost a child, had a miscarriage, maybe you have faced cancer. There is so many realities that if you have lived through it is just like your toolbox of human connection and human understanding is vast. I feel the pain of older employees. I think it is important we talk about how old we are. I don’t try to appear younger than I am. I don’t hide when I graduate from college. I talk about the fact I am turning 55 in January. I am starting to realize that I love getting older and I love — we need to see, again, back to media representation, why 3% matters, we need to see older people in advertising. I think part of the reason I love to watch British BBC series is because they have a lot of older characters that are not overly plastic surgeoned and look beautiful and are aging. I think even our depictions of who we revere in society needs to include elders.
MELINDA EPLER: Yeah, we will share resources in the follow-up email to anybody who is joining here and also on our website and our podcast too. We can share your block post. I have an old friend who has done a project for the last, I think, maybe the last 20 years on grandmother’s wisdom. It is an incredible. She has shared stories, documentary, gatherings and they are Indigenous grandmothers.
KAT GORDON: I would love to watch that.
MELINDA EPLER: I will share that as well. They also have an Instagram account which is fantastic. So, I think we have time for one more question. Really quickly Karen has a question. Do you remember the research you mentioned earlier about 67% of employees want more —
KAT GORDON: Yeah, that’s from Life Labs Learning.
MELINDA EPLER: Awesome. Then Jamal asks. Do you have a better term for blindspot? Gap? Knowledge gap?
KAT GORDON: Yeah, exactly. Or unawareness, I guess.
MELINDA EPLER: Jamal asks what are the ways we can educate people, especially the older generation on recognizing those without having them pointed out?
KAT GORDON: I am trying to understand.
MELINDA EPLER: Recognize those gaps — how can we help educate people on those gaps in our understanding knowledge?
KAT GORDON: Yeah, yeah. I find a really effective way is to, again, the word curiosity is such a good reminder because if someone says something that you think shows that they have a lack of awareness about something yes, you can call them out and you should especially if it is blatant but questions are so powerful. What do you mean? Tell me more? It forces them in a way to do the work right there on the spot of questioning their own thinking. There is nothing wrong with a question of what did you mean by that? It is a pretty neutral question.
MELINDA EPLER: And Karen, thank you. Blank spot. That’s perfect. Very cool. All right. I think that’s all the time we have. This has been awesome. Thank you, Kat. I have loved the conversation.
KAT GORDON: My pleasure. Thanks, everyone, for tuning in.
MELINDA EPLER: Appreciate everybody’s question. There was a question Kat asked earlier that I want to leave you all with which is coming away from this, who could you help? What could you do next and for whom? Thank you,, for your great questions and your chats. Really appreciate that. Join us each week for Leading with Empathy & Allyship. You can learn more about what’s coming up at changecatalyst.co/allyshipseries and please subscribe to the podcast and give us a review or thumbs up depending on the platform and share this so we continue to have this ripple effect from here. Yeah. Appreciate you all. Happy December. Thank you, again, Katrina.
KAT GORDON: Thank you.
MELINDA EPLER: We will see you next time.
Host: Melinda Briana Epler
Melinda Briana Epler has over 25 years of experience developing business innovation and inclusion strategies for startups, Fortune 500 companies, and global NGOs.
As CEO of Change Catalyst, Melinda currently works with the tech industry to solve diversity and inclusion together. Using her background in storytelling and large-scale culture change, she is a strategic advisor for tech companies, tech hubs, and governments around the world. She co-leads a series of global solutions-focused conferences called Tech Inclusion, where she has partnered with over 450 tech companies and community organizations and hosted 43 solutions-focused diversity and inclusion events around the world.
Previously, Melinda was a Marketing and Culture Executive and award-winning documentary filmmaker – her film and television work includes projects that exposed the AIDS crisis in South Africa, explored women’s rights in Turkey, and prepared communities for the effects of climate change. She has worked on several television shows, including NBC’s The West Wing.
Melinda is a TED speaker. She speaks, mentors and writes about diversity and inclusion in tech, allyship, social entrepreneurship, underrepresented entrepreneurs and investing. She has spoken on hundreds of stages around the world, including SXSW, Grace Hopper, Wisdom 2.0, the World Bank, Obama White House, Clinton Foundation, Black Enterprise, Google, Indeed, Capital One and McKinsey.
Watch Melinda’s TED Talk
Change Catalyst Co-Founder Melinda Briana Epler has spoken across the globe in hundreds of venues and virtual events. Empathy, Allyship, Advocacy, Microaggressions, Inclusive Leadership, and Building Inclusive Teams are just some of the topics Melinda has spoken on. Let us know about your next speaking engagement needs! Melinda has also spoken on how to build organizational capacity to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion, such as how to lead behavior change or how to build allies and advocates.
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