I recently had the pleasure of attending the Seattle Chamber of Commerce’s Women in Business Leadership Initiative (WIBLI)’s “21” luncheon along with two of my West Monroe colleagues, Liam Mundy and Maureen Hughes. The mission of WIBLI is to empower women in business and leadership to sustain a healthy and vibrant community.
As a woman who has spent most of her career in male-dominated industries (commercial real estate and now technology consulting), participating and encouraging discussions around women in the workplace, and connecting with a supportive network of female business leaders, has always been very important to me.
Why “21”? The luncheon was designed as a speed-networking event that guaranteed you would meet 21 people by the end of the event. During three structured rounds, each person at a table was allowed a minute to introduce themselves and speak about their business and why they were there. Then, we were given a discussion question to consider as a group for 10 minutes. The goal was to connect female business leaders in Seattle and spark thought-provoking conversations.
This format was effective for a number of reasons. First of all, it allowed me to meet a wide range of people – professionals in waste management, technology, hospitality, the non-profit sector, consulting and financial services, to name a few—in all phases of their careers. I was inspired by tales of women breaking ground in their industries, and frustrated by stories showing how far we still have to come. Second, the discussion questions prompted us to have a much more meaningful conversation than we might at a cocktail mixer, with a diverse set of perspectives.
One of the more interesting conversations was during my second round, when we identified what we thought was the most important gender equity issue. Our group discussed the issues of mentors for women, particularly in industries that still have a “boys’ club” mentality. Studies have shown that women have a harder time than men finding mentors and sponsors who can help advance their career and several women at my table discussion feared that this had impacted their career progression. One woman, who was on her firm’s leadership team, said she had no one to look up to at this point in her career, while another thought there were just too few women leaders and they were spread too thin as mentors. We agreed though that the guidance of a mentor isn’t enough – we must ask for what we want.
The Wage Gap
Another issue discussed was pay equity. WIBLI is focusing on the wage gap—the disparity between what men and women earn in King County—as a key issue and highlighted the 100% Talent Gender Equity Initiative for King County at the luncheon, in partnership with the Women’s Funding Alliance (WFA). WFA found that though King County is experiencing solid economic growth with low unemployment, the wage gap in the county is wider than either the state or the country as whole. This is not just a matter of fairness – solving this issue will increase women’s spending power and their ability to save for retirement, pay off loans and support their families, further strengthening the local economy.
In 2013, women in King County who worked full time earned just 76 cents for every dollar men earned, adding up to a collective $4.9 billion deficit annually.
100% Talent has identified 31 best-practice solutions employers can use to increase pay equity in areas including organizational culture, performance evaluations, senior representation and negotiations, and is seeking to partner with corporations to close the wage gap. Learn more and find out how to get involved on the 100% Talent web site.
Overall, the event was energizing and inspiring. I think one attendee said it best when she stated she was there because you can never have too many strong women in your network. I encourage other Seattle-area business women to attend a WIBLI event and participate in this important conversation!