As the CEO of JOOR, the leading platform for wholesale business management, I spend my days immersed in the fashion industry. I'm used to weighing in on things like technology decisions, e-commerce trend, and the importance of real-time data.
But I'm also a citizen, a woman, and a mom. As such, I'm affected by what goes on in the world around me.
In December, I watched grisly reports about Jersey City with despair, as gun violence is something I've been profoundly concerned about since the devastating events at Sandy Hook. This year marks the seventh anniversary of Sandy Hook, and heart-wrenchingly, these poor children have now been gone longer than they were alive.
Sadly, these events are far too common in the United States. Every year nearly 1,300 children are killed and 5,800 injured by guns in this country, according to a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2017.
Translation? About 19 American children are shot on average every single day. As a mother and as a professional, I am absolutely appalled that nothing is being done to stop this terrifying trend.
I think about this when I sit down with my family for dinner each night. Frankly, the idea of my kids facing an armed shooter at school or in any public place is terrifying to me. And it's terrifying to them.
It may not be in my job description, but as a business leader, I have a responsibility to speak out on what is clearly a humanitarian issue. My feelings on this issue have nothing to do with politics. I'm disturbed that this has become such a partisan issue. I simply don't want to live in a country where 19 children are gunned down every day of the year, and I can't believe anyone else does either.
We're now seeing a trend of corporate leaders owning their power and responsibility by becoming social leaders as well. Peter Horst, consultant and founder of CMO Network, recently said that "in a world where they no longer expect the government to fix things, people are turning to Corporate America to step in and do some good."
Business Roundtable even supported this trend by expanding their "statement on the purpose of the corporation." The document now says that along with shareholders, companies should also consider employees, customers and the community as stakeholders whose interests should be included in decision-making. These are the people who are sending their children to school all over the country today. Just as I send my kids off each morning. It is refreshing that businesses are getting involved to advocate on their employees' behalf.
Along the same lines, I'm especially heartened to see private sector leaders taking action on the issue of gun control. In September 2018, Chip Bergh, CEO of Levi Straus & Co., pledged more than $1 million to American nonprofit organizations dedicated to ending gun violence. Bergh made this decision in spite of the risk that it could alienate consumers; the moral stakes were too high.
I applauded Walmart's decision to end the sale of handguns and handgun ammunition as well as their request to stop open carry in their stores. And I was moved by Dick's Sporting Goods' destruction of over $5 million in military-style, semi-automatic rifles. Both actions came after the horrific shootings last August in El Paso and Southaven.
Despite all these signs of hope and progress, we are not moving forward nearly fast enough on the issue of gun control. Other than a few states passing red flag laws, little to nothing has really been accomplished, and now Jersey City is just another gruesome reminder.
If we, as a country, are serious about stopping mass shootings, we have to disengage from partisan politics and commit to truly protecting our families and communities from gun violence. With so much media coverage and debate, it's shameful we've made so little progress in solving the problem.
We know that gun deaths and injuries can be reduced, because we've seen it happen in other places. Yes, cultures vary, and each country must develop solutions that are unique to its own specific cultural context. But we can learn from nations like Australia, Britain, Norway, and Japan.
Research institutions can provide unbiased help moving forward. For example, the Rockefeller Institute conducted an in-depth study on mass shootings and developed a list of 19 strategies for intervention based on its findings. Each and every one of us must learn about gun laws in our states and advocate for strong research-based legislation that will make the changes we so desperately need.
It's time to set aside partisan fighting, roll up our sleeves, and craft solutions that allow our families to feel safe going to school, church, the market, or any other public place. It's time to take the Sandy Hook Promise, something I did after marching with the organization, and help them fulfill their mission:
"I promise to do all I can to protect children from gun violence by encouraging and supporting solutions that create safer, healthier homes, schools, and communities." - Sandy Hook Promise
During a recent meeting on Microsoft Teams, I couldn't seem to get a single word out.
When I tried to chime in, I kept getting interrupted. At one point two individuals talked right over me and over each other. When I thought it was finally my turn, someone else parachuted in from out of nowhere. When I raised and waved my hand as if I was in grade school to be called on (yes, I had my camera on) we swiftly moved on to the next topic. And then, completely frustrated, I stayed on mute for the remainder of the meeting. I even momentarily shut off my camera to devour the rest of my heavily bruised, brown banana. (No one needed to see that.)
This wasn't the first time I had struggled to find my voice. Since elementary school, I always preferring the back seat unless the teacher assigned me a seat in the front. In high school, I did piles of extra credit or mini-reports to offset my 0% in class participation. In college, I went into each lecture nauseous and with wasted prayers — wishing and hoping that I wouldn't be cold-called on by the professor.
By the time I got to Corporate America, it was clear that if I wanted to lead, I needed to pull my chair up (and sometimes bring my own), sit right at the table front and center, and ask for others to make space for me. From then on, I found my voice and never stop using it.
But now, all of a sudden, in this forced social experiment of mass remote working, I was having trouble being heard… again. None of the coaching I had given myself and other women on finding your voice seemed to work when my voice was being projected across a conference call and not a conference room.
I couldn't read any body language. I couldn't see if others were about to jump in and I should wait or if it was my time to speak. They couldn't see if I had something to say. For our Microsoft teams setting, you can only see a few faces on your screen, the rest are icons at the bottom of the window with a static picture or even just their name. And, even then, I couldn't see some people simply because they wouldn't turn their cameras on.
If I did get a chance to speak and cracked a funny joke, well, I didn't hear any laughing. Most people were on mute. Or maybe the joke wasn't that funny?
At one point, I could hear some heavy breathing and the unwrapping of (what I could only assume was) a candy bar. I imagined it was a Nestle Crunch Bar as my tummy rumbled in response to the crinkling of unwrapped candy. (There is a right and a wrong time to mute, people.)
At another point, I did see one face nodding at me blankly.
They say that remote working will be good for women. They say it will level the playing field. They say it will be more inclusive. But it won't be for me and others if I don't speak up now.
- Start with turning your camera on and encouraging others to do the same. I was recently in a two-person meeting. My camera was on, but the other person wouldn't turn theirs on. In that case, ten minutes in, I turned my camera off. You can't stare at my fuzzy eyebrows and my pile of laundry in the background if I can't do the same to you. When you have a willing participant, you'd be surprised by how helpful it can be to make actual eye contact with someone, even on a computer (and despite the fuzzy eyebrows).
- Use the chatbox. Enter in your questions. Enter in your comments. Dialogue back and forth. Type in a joke. I did that recently and someone entered back a laughing face — reaffirming that I was, indeed, funny.
- Designate a facilitator for the meeting: someone leading, coaching, and guiding. On my most recent call, a leader went around ensuring everyone was able to contribute fairly. She also ensured she asked for feedback on a specific topic and helped move the discussion around so no one person took up all the airtime.
- Unmute yourself. Please don't just sit there on mute for the entire meeting. Jump in and speak up. You will be interrupted. You will interrupt others. But don't get frustrated or discouraged — this is what work is now — just keep showing up and contributing.
- Smile, and smile big. Nod your head in agreement. Laugh. Give a thumbs up; give two! Wave. Make a heart with your hands. Signal to others on the call who are contributing that you support and value them. They will do the same in return when your turn comes to contribute.
It's too easy to keep your camera turned off. It's too easy to stay on mute. It's too easy to disappear. But now is not the time to disappear. Now is the time to stay engaged and networked within our organizations and communities.
So please don't put yourself on mute.
Well, actually, please do put yourself on mute so I don't have to hear your heavy breathing, candy bar crunching, or tinkling bathroom break.
But after that, please take yourself off mute so you can reclaim your seat (and your voice) at the table.