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Two weeks ago, I – along with eight of my Weber Shandwick colleagues – had the privilege of attending the Women’s Funding Alliance’s annual leadership breakfast at Amplify 2015. It was a morning full of inspiration, fellowship, and thought-provoking discussion highlighting the work that still needs to be done to reach gender equality — both in Washington State and across the world.

According to recent Women’s Funding Alliance research, women in Washington State are currently earning 78 cents for every dollar earned by men. The research points to the year 2071 as the year we will reach pay equality if we continue at our current rate of progress.

I don’t know about you, but waiting 50+ years to have women earn the same pay as their male counterparts is FAR too long.

At Amplify, several speakers shared first-hand stories about their injustices in the workplace, their trials of working in male-dominated industries, and the lack of progress they’ve seen in appointing women to more leadership roles to solve for these inequalities.

At the same time, we have much to celebrate. There has never been a better time than today to be born a woman in the United States. We have many freedoms and benefits our mothers, grandmothers and generations before them never experienced. I’m so thankful I have the right to vote, work at a company that supports working parents, and offers good maternity leave options. I’ve also been lucky enough to have been mentored by many successful women throughout my career, which has helped influence the professional I am today.

The speeches and discussions at Amplify reinforced several things for me. No matter what industry you work in – communications or otherwise – these principles are ones worth living by as you navigate your career path:

  • Support other women – Women’s Funding Alliance executive director Liz Vivian opened her speech at Amplify with a personal story from when she was in grade school that exemplified this point well. She was faced with a decision on the playground many years ago where she could have joined in and bullied one of her young friends – a girl less fortunate than her and her classmates. But she didn’t. She took a stand then and there to be on her team, an opportunity that would continue to present itself throughout her life and career. That mentality has never changed for Liz – now she leads an organization all about supporting girls and women and making life better for them today and in the future.
  • Find stand-out mentors and role models – If there was anything I took away from Amplify, it’s that there are so many women out there who care about the well-being and success of other women — whether you are just entering the workforce or are a seasoned professional. Don’t be intimidated to ask for advice. In my career I’ve found fear is my worst enemy – you’d be surprised just how willing people are to support and guide you as you grow.
  • Be yourself, you don’t have to work “like a man” – Keynote speaker Pat Mitchell (former president and CEO of the Paley Center for Media and the first female president and CEO of PBS), reflected on her days in broadcast journalism and said that early in her career she tried to dress like a man, behave like a man and report like a man. But in doing so, she missed the very reason it was valuable for her employer to have a woman on the broadcast team – to bring a different perspective to her reporting and bring a diversity of ideas to her viewers.
  • Power is best when shared – It’s not about women taking over the workforce; it’s about women having an equal seat at the table. Pat Michelle said, “When we bring our full experience as women, we change the nature of power.” Diversity is the ultimate goal – working in an environment where everyone comes from the same place, has the same life experience or looks the same way will hinder a company’s long-term success. Diversity is key to building an environment that fosters creativity and innovation (For more on how diversity is a competitive advantage for companies, I recommend Forbes’ Ruchika Tulshyan’s – a local Seattleite and good friend – new book: The Diversity Advantage: Fixing Gender Inequality in the Workplace).

 

I’m proud to say I work for a company that supports these values. For me personally, it’s important to have an employer that not only supports this mentality, but walks the walk to attract and advance women in the workplace.

It’s also critical to identify and partner with organizations that are making a difference for women today and in the future. Women’s Funding Alliance is leading the charge for gender equality in the State of Washington, and if you haven’t been involved with them in the past, I highly recommend attending one of their upcoming events to learn more about what is being done locally.

Wherever your career takes you, know that you have people in your corner that are ready to encourage and push you, along with resources available to help you meet your goals. Because like me, I’m sure you’re not willing to settle with waiting until 2071.

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