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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.

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Politics

Michael Bloomberg Can’t Handle A Woman With A Voice (aka Elizabeth Warren)

Elizabeth Warren majorly called out "arrogant billionaire" Michael Bloomberg for his history of silencing women through NDAs and closed-door settlement negotiations. Sound familiar? Probably because we already have a president like that. At this point, Bloomberg may just spend the remainder of his (hopefully) ill-fated presidential campaign roasting on a spit over a fire sparked by the righteous anger of women. A lesser punishment than he deserves, if you ask me.


At last night's Democratic debate, Michael Bloomberg could barely stammer out an answer to a question on whether or not he would release any of his former accusers from their nondisclosure agreements. His unsatisfactory response was basically a halting list of what he has done for certain nondescript women in his time at City Hall and within his own company.

But that certainly wasn't enough for Elizabeth Warren, nor should it be, who perfectly rephrased his defense as, "I've been nice to some women." Michael Bloomberg is basically that weird, problematic Uncle that claims he can't be racist, "Because I have a Black friend." In a society where power is almost always in the hands of straight, white, cisgendered, men being "nice" to a lucky few is in no way a defense for benefiting from and building upon the systematic silencing of all marginalized communities, let alone women. Stop and frisk, anybody?

Here is a brief clip of the Warren v. Bloomberg exchange, which I highly recommend. It is absolutely (and hilariously) savage.

But let's talk about the deeper issues at hand here (other than Warren being an eloquent badass).

Michael Bloomberg has been sued multiple times, yet each time he was able to snake his way out of the problem with the help of his greatest and only superpower: cold, hard cash. Each time these allegations have come up, in Warren's words, he throws "a chunk of money at the table" and "forces the woman to wear a muzzle for the rest of her life."

As reported by Claire Lampen of The Cut, here are just a few of his prior indiscretions.

  • Pregnancy discrimination—Bloomberg reportedly told a former employee of his to "kill it," in reference to her developing fetus.
  • Sexual harassment—You could literally write a book on this subject (someone did), but for the sake of brevity...
"I'd like to do that piece of meat" - Michael Bloomberg in reference to various women at his company.
  • Undermining #MeToo—Not only did he defend the accused, but he went on the disparage accusers every step of the way.
  • Defaming transgender people—Though he claims to support trans rights, he has also been qupted multiple times as referring to trans women as "some guy wearing a dress."
Yeah... That's not a winning formula for me, Mike.

Furthermore, Warren points out the simple fact that if, as Bloomberg claims, these instances were simply big misunderstandings (He was just joking around!) then why go to all the trouble to cover them up? Does Michael Bloomberg think women can't take a joke? Or can we only surmise that the truth of these events are far darker and dirtier than we could even imagine?

Certain commentators have called Elizabeth Warren's debate presence "agressive," especially in regards to this instance but also continually throughout her entire campaign. If asking poignant questions to known abusers who are seeking to further their own political power is considered "aggressive," then I am here for it. Bring on the aggressive women, please and thank you.

Calling a woman aggressive for being confidant and direct is a gendered complaint. You don't see anyone whining that Bernie is "aggressive" when he goes off on a screaming tangent. Also, have you seen our president? He's basically the poster boy for political temper tantrums. But still, it's Warren that is deemed "aggressive," for honing in on the exact issues that need to be considered in this upcoming election.

This type of derisory label is another aspect of how our society silences women—much like Bloomberg and his NDAs. Because "silencing" is more than just putting a "muzzle" on someone. It's refusing to listen to a person's cries for help. It's disregarding what a woman has to say, because she's too "aggressive." It's taking away someone's power by refusing to truly hear their side of the story. Because if you aren't listening, responding, or even just respecting someone's words, they may well have said nothing at all.

"Silence is the ocean of the unsaid, the unspeakable, the repressed, the erased, the unheard." - Renecca Solnit

Nondiscolusure agreements are a legal gag for people who have experienced harassment and abuse at the hands of those above them.

Gretchen Carlson, possibly the most famous person subject to an NDA, is one of these people. Her story is so well-known that it has even been immortalized on film, in 2019's Bombshell. Yet she is still forced to maintain her silence. She cannot tell her side of the story even when Hollywood can. She was cajoled into her current position after facing harassment in her workplace. She didn't have the power then to do more than accept her fate. And now, she doesn't have the power to tell her story.

She was, and still is being, silenced.

After her experiences, Carlson was moved to fight for all women to have the power over their truths. In a recent op-ed for the New York Times she declared: "I want my voice back. I want it back for me, and for all those silenced by forced arbitration and NDAs."

Carlson may still be tied to her NDA, but there are those who go a different route. Celeste Headlee, who wrote an op-ed on SWAAY about her experience, chose to break her nondisclosure agreement. Though doing so undoubtedly opened her up to numerous legal ramifications, she knew that she could no longer "sign away [her] right to justice."

Because that is what an NDA is all about, signing away a person's right to justice. Their story is their justice. Their NDA is a lock and key. Headlee may have broken through that lock, but she must face the consequences.

Neither Carlson nor Headlee are any less brave for how they have handled their journeys. They are both actively working to shift the cultural and political norms that led them here, and their work will, with hope and time, lead to real change. But they are just two drops in an ocean of women who are held hostage by their nondisclosure agreements, by men like Michael Bloomberg, and by a society that would rather silence them than let truth and justice be had.