Mobilizing the Power of Women: Notes from the Ellevate Summit
This post is written by Adriana Chavez, a writer for AppNexus and former AppNexus Girls Who Code student
“You might feel uncomfortable at times today, and that’s great. Because a big part of diversity, a big part of inclusion, is stepping outside of yourself.” With these bold words, Kristy Wallace, CEO of Ellevate Network, welcomed and prepared attendees for the second annual Mobilizing the Power of Women Summit held at AppNexus’ Razzle Dazzle space in June.
The conference – hosted by Ellevate, a networking community for professional women – brought together members and non-members alike to show women how they can strengthen each other and themselves, to ultimately reach gender parity.
Though the lead executive behind Ellevate, Wallace only chose to step onto the Razzle Dazzle stage to give opening and closing remarks, and to moderate the panel “Change of Focus: From Diversity to Inclusion and Equality.” Her story was not one that she felt needed to be highlighted on stage that day.
“I have much privilege just by nature of my title and how progressed I am in my career, and I recognize that. And if the only thing I can think about is not making enough as a white man, then I’m missing the picture," Kristy said in an interview following the event. "Because there are so many other people within our world, within our society, within our workplaces, who are facing other challenges, facing different experiences. So a big part for Ellevate about creating parity and creating equality is understanding what are the situations that others are facing. Learning how to better advocate for each other starts with awareness and understanding.”
A large factor that went into organizing the June event was understanding the needs of the audience. Attendees, many of whom were women in the middle of their careers, needed speakers who they could relate to and who would enlighten and challenge them. Ellevate wanted to highlight diversity in their conference that went beyond the traditional scope, which can sometimes mean only diverse in gender or race. The speakers and panelists of Ellevate varied in socio-economic backgrounds, (dis)ability, sexuality, and yes, race and ethnicity.
In the panel “Change of Focus: From Diversity to Inclusion and Equality,” panelists including Commissioner Charlotte A. Burrows of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission shed light on the importance of inclusion, not just diversity, in the workplace. If managers don’t give diverse hires (including women) exhilarating assignments, she commented, these employees will look inexperienced in the next phase of their careers. If companies do not trust or value their diverse employees, then hiring them in the first place means nothing.
A riveting topic the conference explored is that women often must forgo solidarity in order to get ahead. This is an idea that Ellevate chair Sallie Krawcheck weaved throughout her talk “Advancing Women is a Team Sport.” When there is only room for one woman at a high-power table full of men, women fight each other for that one seat instead of unifying. The solution? Women must invest in each other, to create more seats at the table.
According to Krawcheck, women forget their power: they make up half of the workforce, control 60% of consumer spending, and are amazing investors. Women need to realize their voice. They need to negotiate for the raise, speak up for themselves, and continue to try even when they fail.
KR Liu, a US Congressional Awarded Hearing Loss Advocate recounted during the talk “Technology and Accessibility” that once, before a big meeting, her hearing aids broke, and she chose to pay $3,500 for new ones instead of admitting she had a hearing loss to her company. She didn’t feel safe disclosing that she was hard of hearing. When Liu’s boss eventually found out about her hearing loss, she was flabbergasted. She told Liu she would have helped her. It’s stories like these – stories of fear, isolation, and desperation from women – that the summit hopes to end.
Towards the end of the day, the actress and activist Debra Messing came on stage and became the first recipient of the International Woman of Change award. Though most known for her work in the entertainment industry for shows like Will & Grace, she was honored at the summit for her tireless and heartfelt work to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS.
Her work advocating for vulnerable women and HIV/AIDS prevention with Population Services International (PSI) led her to Zimbabwe in 2009. There she was particularly struck by the Zimbabwe sex workers and married women she met who were most susceptible to contracting the disease. Back in the States she testified in front of the House of foreign affairs subcommittee which resulted in the American government committing $100 million towards HIV/AIDS treatment in Zimbabwe.
Messing took the award humbly, and she too admitted that feelings of inadequacy could have stopped her from doing more with her reach. Her job as an actress was to be likable, and she receives backlash for her strong activism.
She shared how she overcame her imposter syndrome, reiterated Kristy’s comments from that morning with her own twist. “We must be sometimes uncomfortable. We must be brave, especially now... With everything going on in this country and the world, I can’t worry about likability.”
The crowd erupted in a standing ovation.
AppNexus was event host and Platinum sponsor for the 2018 Ellevate Summit, and partners with Ellevate year-round to offer professional development opportunities for employees.