Thursday, December 11, 2014

1871 welcomes ARA for Breaking Barriers Event with Special Guests

         Trailblazing women: Lead the way on                     diversity, direct the conversation

Women must use positions of leadership to guide conversations, panel says

Laughter reigned as a panel of female trailblazers told stories of success, risks and struggles at an ARA event called “Breaking Barriers: Lessons Learned from Trailblazing Women.”

The Wednesday night discussion drew about 300 people, mostly women, to the auditorium at tech hub 1871. Sandee Kastrul, president and co-founder of i.c. stars, a non-profit that prepares inner-city adults for careers in technology, moderated. The Chicago-based ARA network — that’s ARA for “Attract, Retain, Advance” — promotes women in IT through mentorship.

Panelists urged companies to honor both diversity and inclusivity — that they must support a diverse perspective in order to get results. When women earn respect based on merit, they can use their positions to advocate for policies that support diversity.

Sarah Spain, an ESPNW columnist and sports radio personality, said women in secure positions must use their platforms to direct the conversation.

“If you worry too much about what could go wrong when you take that leap, you’re setting yourself up for disaster,” Spain said. “You have to have that bit of fear or that bit of risk, or it won’t mean enough for you to put yourself out there.”

She recommended women get in a position to talk — by building rapport with colleagues, for example — then take control of the conversation.

Stephanie Izard, Chicago-based chef and owner of Girl and the Goat and Little Goat, spoke about how she quit her job at 27 and bought a building the following week to open her first restaurant. Now 38, she joked that she didn’t know how she managed to get the loan at such a young age.

“I’ve got to find that banker again,” said Izard, a past winner of Bravo’s “Top Chef” TV show and competition.
Even though that worked out, Izard said she now takes time to think things through before tackling opportunities. She mulls options while swimming, her favorite pastime, she said.

Connie Lindsey, executive VP and head of corporate social responsibility and global diversity & inclusion for Northern Trust, emphasized that women and girls prefer to approach leadership as an opportunity to help rather than to control.

Lindsey, former national president of the Girl Scouts of America, helped create this year’s controversial “Ban Bossy” campaign in which female leaders such as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and singer Beyonce appealed for banishment of “bossy” to describe girls.
And then there’s the other B-word.

“When someone calls [a young woman] the B-word, I say, ‘You’re a Being In Total Control of Herself,’” Lindsey quipped. She urged women to be leaders so that they can take part in talent discussions and help promote individuals from underrepresented groups.

Retired U.S. Army Col. Jill Morgenthaler, a professional speaker and author who served in South Korea and Bosnia, among other places, said she owned her identity as a woman so that her counterparts would know that her gender was not a limiting factor.

She said both men and women offer varying leadership styles and perspectives that organizations should recognize and use to their advantage.

“You look at what your strengths are and you bring in those people who don’t have your strengths,” Morgenthaler said. “In other words, you bring in people who don’t look like you.”

Chanell Jackson, a Chicago Technology Academy senior who attended the panel with her classmates, said she enjoyed the women’s confidence.

“It was helpful to see,” Jackson said. “Most of them are in male-dominated fields, but they still feel like they can come out on top no matter what they do.”

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