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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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2020 is Around the Corner: Here's How To Design Your Next Decade

Personally, I am over the top excited that we are on the cusp of turning the page on not only a new year but also on a new 10-year window of opportunities and possibilities!

You may be thinking, whoa…I am just embracing the fall season…yikes… it is tough to think about a new decade!


Yet it is this groundwork, this forward thought that you put in place TODAY that will propel you and lead you into greatness in 2020 and beyond. Designing a new decade rests in your ability to vision, in your willingness to be curious, in your awareness of where you are now and what you most want to curate. Essentially, curating what's next is about tapping into today with confidence, conviction, and decision. Leading YOU starts now. This is your new next. It is your choice.

Sometimes to get to that 'next', you need to take a step back to reflect. Please pardon my asking you to spend time in yesterday. Those who know me personally, know that I created and continue to grow my business based on enabling the present moment as a springboard for living your legacy. So, indulge me here! True, I am asking you to peek into the past, yet it is only in order for you to bring the essence of that past forward into this moment called NOW.

One of the best ways to tap into what's next is to clarify what drives you. To design a new decade, ask yourself this question about the past ten years:

What worked? What were my successes?

Make a list of your achievements big and small. Don't type them, but rather use ink and paper and sit with and savor them. Move your thoughts and your successes from your head, to your heart, to your pen, to the paper. Remember that on the flip side of goals not attained and New Year's resolutions abandoned, there was more than likely some traction and action that moved you forward, even if the end result was not what you expected. Once you have a full list of a decade's worth of personal and professional accomplishments, think about how this makes you feel. Do you remember celebrating all of them? My guess is no. So, celebrate them now. Give them new life by validating them. Circle the successes that resonate with you most right now. Where can you lean into those accomplishments as you power into the decade ahead?

Now comes a tougher question, one that I used myself in my own mid-life reinvention and a question I adore because in a moment's time it provides you with a quick reconnect to your unique inner voice.

If it were 10 years ago and nothing were standing in your way, no fear or excuses to contend with…what would you do?

Don't overthink it. The brilliance of this question is that it refocuses purpose. Whatever first came to mind when you answered this for yourself is at its core a powerful insight into defining and redefining the FUTURE decade. Bring your answer into the light of today and what small piece of it is actionable NOW? Where is this resonating and aligning with a 2019 version of yourself?

Then, based on your success list and your answer to the above question, what is your 2020 vision for your business and for the business of YOU?

Designing a new decade begins as a collection of 3,650 opportunities. 3,650 blank slates of new days ahead in which to pivot and propel yourself forward. Every single one of those days is a window into your legacy. An invitation to be, create, explore, and chip away at this thing we call life. One 24-hour segment at a time.

While you have a decade ahead to work on design improvements, you have the ability to begin manifesting this project of YOU Version 2020 right NOW. Based on exploring the exercises in this post, begin executing your vision. Ask questions. Be present. Let go of 2019 and the past 10 years so that you can embrace the next 10. Position acceptance and self-trust at the forefront of how you lead you. One choice at a time.

Don't get bogged down in the concept of the next 10 years. Instead position clarity and intention into each new day, starting today. Then chase every one of those intentions with an in-the-moment commitment and solution toward living a legendary life!