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“We Have To Go Beyond Gender:” Diversity And Inclusion To Headline At W.IN. Forum

Culture

After twenty years as a woman in STEM, Catherine Barba knows a thing or two about diversity and inclusion.


The French native, who has been based in New York since 2015, is running her third Women In Innovation Forum this May 21st, and touts this year will push beyond the gender aspect that its predecessors have focused so heavily on. “My event is evolving from women to diversity," she notes. This year's one-day forum will center on how a culture of diversity, whether ethnic, sex, age or otherwise, will benefit not only STEM in the future, but the entire workforce.

Her familiarity with this necessity of inclusion stems way back to when she was beginning her entrepreneurial journey as a young woman in an extremely male-dominated industry. The dot-com boom was just beginning, and Barba had to go out of her way to get a seat at the table. While that same industry has since opened itself up to more women, tech sector pay gaps remain to be some of the worst in the world, and seeing little to no advancement in recent years.

It was in this knowledge that Barba, now a serial entrepreneur and investor, launched the first W.IN. forum in 2016. “I've heard the statistics, it's like 2.2 percent of [VC funding] going to women. That's crazy!" she emphasizes, knowing the uphill battle these female entrepreneurs are facing in order to make it here. “Here, there are very, very few female investors," she comments, making it difficult for burgeoning female talent, because male investors, “tend to invest in people like them."

"Fear is a very, very bad advisor, Don't do things out of fear, because when you fear something you can't think, it blocks everything."

-Catherine Barba

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This is something Barba counteracts daily when female entrepreneurs present her with their decks. Having started her first business in 2001, Barba now invests in digital retail among other projects, and recommends that when women set out on their entrepreneurial journey and are looking for investment, to start with female investors first, not because it will guarantee them funding, but because they will be more receptive to providing feedback.

"Whenever I receive a deck from a woman entrepreneur, I read it, and I take the time to give feedback," she says. "Whether it's negative or not, I think it's useful, it makes them feel valued."

While feedback will certainly help any female entrepreneur on the path to funding, Barba notes that there is also a collective responsibility from everyone, including the media, to get these stories told so representation and thus imitation can occur. "It's hard to be what you haven't seen before," she comments. "If we highlight those kind of women who show us the way, and tell younger generations, 'you belong here.' Well I guess more and more girls will go that way." She uses the major impact her daughter's computer science teacher is having on her school life as a small example of this, but one that will have a lasting impression on both her daughter's future and all girls in the class that might have previously shied away from the male-concentrated field. "I'm very grateful that she has that female teacher and [that] she's so good," says Barba.

"We have to take this to the next level, we have to go beyond gender. I'm not sure it's a good thing to do events, by women, for women,"

-Catherine Barba

Catherine Barba. “There are less female entrepreneurs, less female investors, but I am very optimistic about the future."

This year the forum won't simply be focusing on girls and women however, with Barba realizing that to completely welcome innovation and inclusion, the workforce must be as diverse as it can possibly be, and that indeed goes beyond gender gap.

"We are at a tipping point today,"

-Catherine Barba

“The last few years, I was very much supporting and promoting women, women in tech, women in business, women entrepreneurs, but I think that now we have to take this to the next level because of what happened last year with #metoo and everything," she notes. "I think we can all agree that things have to change, now we have to include men in the conversation and we have to think broader and think of diversity, difference of gender, age, culture, ethnicity."

In light of this, the dynamic of the event has shifted, in order to move away from the traditional focus of a 'woman's conference' to incorporate a larger audience and a bigger message. "The theme this year is 'Diversity powers innovation," says the CEO. "Diversity increases our ability to innovate. If we surround ourselves with people who are different, that's the only way to survive and [feed] the innovation economy."

Speakers this year include a broad range of talent from across the traditional sectors like Beauty, Fashion, Finance, Politics, Media, and newer frontiers like Blockchain and AI, and indeed are representative of the diversity Barba is pushing for. "They are women, or people of color, or people who are actually different kind of leaders," she comments. "When you see them and they share their learnings with you, you [will] understand that you too can make it, and that's the main message."

Having personally hand-picked the speakers for this year's line-up, Barba is assured of their lasting impression on the audience. A quick skim of their titles and profiles prove a different tone and nature to the litany of conferences that head up New York's stages every year. Executives and personalities from all walks of life and different sectors are to be seen, from the President of Vera Wang, to a research scientist from Facebook's AI lab, to multicultural media leaders and beyond. And what's perhaps the forum's most enticing bait, is that it's all neatly packed into a one-day spectacle. Barba knows we're very busy.

The 2018 W.IN. forum will take place on May 21th at Parsons New School. You can find the agenda and a list of the speakers here. Register here for discounted rate with code SPECIALOFFERSWAAY for 60% off.

Career

Male Managers Afraid To Mentor Women In Wake Of #MeToo Movement

Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.


In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.

What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.

Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.

Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.

While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.

According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.

In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.


Source-Alex Brandon, AP

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.

Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.

The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.