By Kate James – Senior Facilitator
On International Women’s Day, this woman had the honor of attending the Catalyst Awards Conference in NYC with two of my colleagues from Second City Works. On the morning of March 8th, as my Facebook and Twitter feeds filled with calls to join the protest “A Day Without A Woman,” I was taking the train to work – on my way to join 800 women and men who were gathering to celebrate businesses on the forefront of recruiting, developing and advancing women in the workplace. Not a bad way to spend International Women’s Day if you ask me. Not that you did ask me – but I’m still going to tell you about it anyway. Cool? Cool.
My co-facilitator Jason (What?! A man was allowed to speak at an International Women’s Day event?! Yes. It’s true. More on this later.) and I were honored to bookend the opening and closing keynote sessions of the day. Our task was to lead the entire group through improvisation exercises that help facilitate inclusive, collaborative communication. Throughout the day, we were able to talk to the attendees about the work that we do within the Diversity and Inclusion arena.
- As you can imagine a few themes and recurring thoughts emerged within these conversations. Since you’re reading this (and I’m so glad you are!) I thought I’d share a few with you:
- People aren’t sure how to start the conversation about inclusivity and equality in the workplace. There is a fear of saying the wrong thing and offending the wrong person. Or right person. Are you offended that I just wrote “wrong person?” What is a “wrong person?” Oh God. That’s not what I meant. I just meant a person. Any person who takes it the wrong way. (long exhale) See what I mean? We are in our heads about this. And for good reason – this is incredibly important stuff!
- There isn’t one single, correct way to start this journey toward a more diverse and inclusive workplace. What is most important is that you start.
- If you are doing it right, your journey to an evolved workplace will never end. As the world keeps changing it is up to us to respond accordingly. In improv we have a crucial manifesto: play the scene you are in, not the scene you wish you were in. We know the cold hard facts about equity in the workplace, so now what? (And if you don’t know any of those cold hard facts, that might be a great place to start! For instance, did you know that only 4% of CEOs in the Fortune 500 are female? Yeah, it’s true. And just to confirm, women still make up 50% of the world’s population. Well, 49.6% if you reeeeeeally want to get technical. Which maybe you do. And that’s fine by me. But it might mean that you are focusing on the wrong stuff… Just a thought.)
- A lot of men care about inclusivity and equality in the workplace. Gasp! Shock! What?!? It’s true. These men are more than ready and willing to be an ally, but a lot of them aren’t quite sure how to start or what their role should be. (see #1)
- People are craving events like the Catalyst Awards Conference. It gives us all a chance to focus on the road ahead. A chance to steal (or lovingly borrow with permission) the bold, innovative moves that companies like 3M, BMO and Rockwell Automation have already set in motion. There is great power in sharing a space with 800 likeminded individuals who are all pointed in the same direction – or at the very least desperately trying to see what direction they should be pointing. (We were in a dimly lit hotel ballroom after all. Trying to find due North can be tricky.)
I assume most people showed up that day not expecting to talk about the art of improvisation, let alone practice it. And we were thrilled that everyone jumped in wholeheartedly. We realize it’s an incredibly unique way to approach the topic of diversity and inclusion and here’s the crux of what I’m hoping we imparted to our audience: there is a huge contrast between having a difficult conversation and having a conversation about a difficult topic. They are two wildly different things. By utilizing the tenants of improvisation, you allow folks to start crucial conversations that are open, honest and a true collaboration. The improv world, which I’m lucky enough to inhabit every day, has a set of guidelines that allow us to create without judgment, to rely on the strength of a diverse ensemble, and to see endless possibilities. And if you’re thinking, “well, that’s great for you and your magical make-believe land, but I have a real job” – I get that. And I will also tell you that I spent the day with companies that are embracing those philosophies right now – not because they have to, but because they know it is vital for their success.
Thanks to Catalyst for an inspiring and informational event. And may we all remember that this conversation needs to be happening every day, all day long, all over the world – not just on a beautiful March day in a Manhattan hotel.