On Everyday Empowerment, Creating a Work Environment that is Beyond Equality and Living an Authentic Life

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Breaking BarriersDiversity, Equity, and Inclusion

May’s She+ Geeks Out event was hosted by EF Tours in their Cambridge office. Panelists shared their stories and advice around the evening’s theme: advocating for work empowerment and creating cultures that emphasize authenticity.

Lilah Williams, Director, EF Educational Tours
Lilah Williams from EF Tours kicked off the evening with her discussion around Everyday Empowerment. She started her career at EF over 13 years ago and shared that female empowerment conversations hadn’t been something she thought about frequently, until last year.

For her, female empowerment is a mentality, just the way she was brought up. As a teen, she remembers her mother making sizable sacrifices for her family. Her mother made a decision to return to school to further her nursing career and that commitment meant completing a program that separated their family on a weekly basis. At that time, Lilah did not understand why her mother had made such a sacrifice. That experience however, impacted Lilah in a very profound way. Her mother’s drive despite some family time loss helped shape Lilah as an adult.

Lilah approached her career at EF with two rules in mind:

  1. You are never too old to step out of your comfort zone. “We’re told that one is supposed to know what you want to do in life, but pivoting should be accepted.” Small pivots were able to push her out of her comfort zone. In 2009, she had an opportunity to move to Switzerland. Although she had to endure a 2-year separation for her now husband, she made it work.
  2. Seek out opportunities for yourself. Having developed a reputation for being direct, she has been able to create her own opportunities by following the now MBTA famous tagline: If you see something, say something. Similarly, if you want something, you need to be able to advocate for yourself.

Tulia Plumettaz, Senior Data Science Manager, Wayfair
Next, Tulia Plumettaz from Wayfair spoke about why hiring diverse employees is important. More specifically, she highlighted that hiring is the first step into creating a more inclusive work culture. She focuses on what happens once a candidate becomes an employee.  “Once someone is in the door, something is happening. Women are not climbing.” As a manager, she focuses on closing that gap.

Huge strides have been taken to encourage women to join and stay within technology, think Anita Borg and Grace Hopper initiatives. Along the way however, Tulia notes that the number of women in tech is either vanishing or being diluted.

Tulia has analyzed this workforce issue with the help of two different levers:  the why and the how. The why as the quantifier for the gap and the how as the action to counteract it.

The why points to evidence that shows that diversity is just plain, good business. Diversity provides us with different points of view, “it’s something beyond equality.” Diversity in a team, takes us out of our comfort zone and helps drive innovation.

Tulia offered three points of advice to help nurture a diverse and inclusive work environment:

  • Take a pragmatic approach to inclusivity: That is, talk about it and acknowledge that it needs to be addressed. Question teams and think about everyone’s background. This will provide you with the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
  • Be a sponsor: network and encourage. Advocate on behalf on your team members and speak up during meetings/discussions. Give credit when due – especially to those that don’t feel empowered to do that for themselves. Go above and beyond – identify who really is driving initiatives. This will grant someone with a deserving promotion/credit.
  • Give feedback to all: “How did you do? What could you have done better?” By providing prompt feedback you can ensure that you build up your teams equally – and not give away something simply because of someone’s gender/background.

“We should not be fighting for a seat at the table. We should be fighting for the head of the table.”

Jennifer Farah, Founder of Sprouts IO
Jennifer Farah from Sprouts IO closed out the evening with a brief discussion about authenticity. She shared that at the core of her business is the idea that the team “lives what [they] do”.  They care and create relationships that focus on authenticity.

On her road to building Sprouts IO, a system that grows produce based on personal preferences, she has been able not only to cultivate a successful product but a working environment that “lives this idea about caring about your food. And sharing with others.”

Since half of the Sprouts IO office is a plant lab; the team is constantly tweaking their final product. It has become a part of their work DNA. They’ve introduced weekly team lunches in which team members take turns preparing meals for the office. These dishes give them an opportunity to experiment and learn about food. (You can check out the beautiful produce/meal images via Instagram!)

Sprouts IO has had the opportunity to work with world-renowned chefs (ahem, Barbara Lynch) and introduce their technology to world class kitchens. They’ve enjoyed the process of talking to chefs, teams and people in the kitchen. These users can then feel part of the design process; in turn, kitchen staff can feel like they have ownership of their own produce. This also means that they know and care about where their food comes from.

The “farm-to-table” solution has garnered success in regional restaurants and is slated to launch its consumer product by year end.

“It’s not only just what we do, but how we do it.”

Want to hear more? Join us in June’s networking event at Rue La La, where you can hear more inspiring stories, meet other amazing women and network to find your next career opportunity.

About the author: Karina Becerra is a She+ Geeks Out Ambassador/Diversity & Inclusion facilitator and MBA candidate at Babson College. A proud geek, Karina loves fostering innovation, diversity and women inclusion in technology. In her free time, you can find her cooking at home with her husband, enjoying a cocktail with friends, or acting as an Instagram stage mom to her newly svelte 15 lb. cat, Santiago. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Photo credit: Cara Brostrom