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More than 1,100 Network of Executive Women (NEW) members gathered at the organization’s Leadership Summit 2016 at the Omni Resort at ChampionsGate in Orlando, Fla., where attendees networked and participated in breakout session; gained inspiration an insights from leading keynote speakers and senior industry executives; and celebrated at an gala awards banquet.
Opening speaker, gender expert Michael Kimmel, set the tone of the event. “We cannot empower girls and women without the full support of boys and men,” said Kimmel. "Men come at gender equality as the fair…and ethical thing to do,” according to Kimmel, author of the best-sellers Angry White Men,The Gendered Society and Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men. "[But] they see gender equality as being nicer to women."
Men often approach gender equality like the cavalry, and described a common follow-up response. “’Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I’ll take it from here," said Kimmel, describing it as “’premature congratulation.’”
The most common corporate culture response to gender equality, he continued, is the "We’ll invite you to join us” model, which Kimmel describes as setting a place for women at the table without a change in menu or table setting. “But you can sit here, as long as you act just like us.”
To create gender equality, advocates must make the case to men that being a stakeholder in gender equality is not just about being nice or doing the right thing, but that it's in their interest, Kimmel said.
Kimmel called out two obstacles to gender equality: gender and equality.
Men don't see themselves in the gender equation," Kimmel said. "When you say 'gender' you think 'women.'" To that point, he went on, most men believe gender equality is a win-lose proposition – if women win, men lose.
In Men's Best Interest
The premise that women’s gains in the workplace are men’s losses is based on a lingering false perception that the size of the pie remains the same as women move into leadership roles, Kimmel said. "We know that gender equality is good for business. It leads to higher profits, higher ROI, lower turnover, higher productivity – the pie gets much bigger.”
Many men come to the gender equality conversation afraid they are "bad or wrong or have to change," he said. "But [supporting] gender equality is not asking men to do something different – because they are already doing it [on a personal level.]”
"Every man knows what it’s like to love a woman and want her to thrive, because all men are fathers, sons, husbands, lovers, partners and friends of women. We know what it feels like to want women to succeed and not face discrimination or assault.”
Now, men must talk the walk, Kimmel said. They must say publicly, in the workplace, "This matters to me, because there are women in my life who want to succeed and not face discrimination. Gender equality matters not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s in our best interest. It's the only way [men] can live as their authentic selves."
Amy Purdy Inspires by Overcoming Limits
In the realm of “authentic selves,” paralympic medalist, Adaptive Action co-founder and entrepreneur Amy Purdy, who delivered the closing keynote address, is an exceptional example.
Purdy, whose successes include roles as an author, model and actor, lost both of her legs below the knee at the age of 19, the result of complications from meningococcal meningitis. Now, the double amputee is one of the highest-ranked adaptive snowboarders in the world and 2014 Paralympic Bronze Medalist.
In 2005, Purdy and then-boyfriend (now husband) Daniel Gale, who she met as a fellow contestant on TV's "The Amazing Race," formed Adaptive Action Sports. The non-profit organization creates action sport camps and programs for youth, young adults and veterans with permanent physical disabilities, traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Purdy also successfully lobbied to make snowboarding a part of the Paralympic Games – then vowed to make the Paralympic snowboarding team herself.
Becoming the first Paralympic Bronze medalist in snowboarding, the honor helped her recognize two things: "What I'm capable of, and being a part of a community that never, ever gave up. Little did I know my biggest loss would become my biggest asset," she added.
A book offer from Harper Collins – with a six-week deadline – called upon her power of intention. Her memoir "On My Own Two Feet" was completed on time. "I didn't try to do it, I didn't hope to do it … I absolutely declared it."
Realizing goals comes down to commitment, says Purdy, a finalist on "Dancing with the Stars." "When I'm committed, I do not back down. It doesn't come down to mirror balls or gold medals – neither of which I have. It's about experiences you wouldn't have had otherwise.”