Since 2014, payroll automation company Justworks has hosted the Justwomen series in New York City and Washington D.C. to give female leaders a chance to come together, address inequalities and share insights and support. But this year's conference set for Thursday, March 29? It's not going to be just women at all. Men are attending, too.
And Valerie Avila, Sales Manager and founder of Justwomen, wants it that way. She shared why she opened the event to both genders:
"Any large movement has required the participation of 'the majority' or those in power to stand alongside the disenfranchised to change circumstances. In a Harvard Business Review article written just last year, it was stated that only about 2% of all venture funding goes to women and only 7% of all VCs are women. Men often times write the check and invest in the future of business. Based on a Catalyst study, men are also commonly the decision makers in hiring and career progression seeing as only 28.5% of key management positions are held by women in the U.S.
"If we're only telling women that we need more equity and that we need more women in leadership positions, we're talking to a group of people that are agreeing and yet are not always in a position to pave the way for change. Men can offer incremental action that will lead to greater equity; but it's only with the agreement of those men and commitment to said action that we'll be able to create greater change."
Avila's not alone in her sentiments, either. Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg, for example, while noting possible negative ramifications of #metoo, has called for a cultural shift to support more even distribution of household responsibilities, asserting that the unfair distribution of home work contributes to women being held back professionally. And CEOs like Reed Hastings (Netflix) and Brian Chesky (Airbnb) have taken the #MentorHer challenge, committing to giving female professionals the support, resources and advice they need to move up the ladder. Men in Hollywood also teamed up to form the #AskMoreofHim campaign to support the #metoo movement, inviting men to become allies for women and demanding more morally sound behavior from the men in entertainment.
Some understandable hesitation
Still, the decision to open Justwomen to men has ruffled some feathers, with some women upset about the change. Avila isn't particularly surprised and has a concept of what might be fueling the frustration for some of those ladies.
"There are stories that have been shared in the past where the individual causing discomfort and inequity has been a man," she explains. "[And] studies around the 'us vs. them' mentality indicate that the division especially develops when one has been hurt by the other or a certain group has more power than another. A fear develops over time, and some individuals simply feel more comfortable speaking to a room of people that can related to their experience in a more direct way."
With this awareness, Avila stresses that the intent of Justwomen is to respectfully hear everyone's story, learn from one another and come up with actions individuals can take to improve the imbalance. Everyone on the panel, she claims, is aligned with that mission.
After the party's over
Even if the event goes off without a hitch, Avila doesn't want it to be one night of focus. She hopes that attendees take the energy from it and continue to work for equality in their everyday operations. The biggest logistical area to attack, she says, is hiring, as diversity in that entire process dictates the future culture of a company. But the ultimate goal is to change the way people think and talk to each other.
"There is a lot to be done, but a place to start is by recognizing we're all biased. Once we are conscious of that and set aside those preconceived notions, we can continue the conversation in a way that is open to hearing all sides. It's in that moment the mind says, 'Well, maybe let me not jump to conclusions and instead hear this person out'. That active listening instead of being on defense mode is what will more likely lead to greater change.
"Men and women go through different experiences, yes. But just because the experiences are different does not mean they're incapable of listening to each other, learning from one another and propelling each other forward. Instead of critiquing differences, let's elevate one another because of those differences and maximize the strengths that each individual brings to the table."