Pam Downey
PR & Influence
Making A Difference: MAKERS Conference 2018

Hundreds of influencers gathered for the Makers conference, held in Hollywood. It’s always a highly anticipated event, but the conference titled #raiseyourvoice—arrived in the dawn of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements. The over 50 women and men who spoke at the conference covered many of the topics that the recent movement has helped usher into the current daily cultural conversation: workplace diversity, gender pay equity, transforming the workplace culture and more. Activists, philanthropists, artists, pastors, and entrepreneurs were all represented, and their stories were emotional, shocking and inspiring. The oldest speaker was 96, the youngest in seventh grade. It’s difficult to sum up these three incredible days in full, so here are the highlights:     

More Representation at Executive Levels

Joanna Barsh of McKinsey shared recent research on women in the workforce, including the following concerning statistic:  in 2017, 47% of entry level positions were held by women, but only 29% held VP positions and just 20% were in the c-suite. Of Fortune 500 CEOs, a paltry 32 were women. Barsh encouraged companies to “make commitment real” by, among other things, setting achievable gender targets, embedding specific targets in leaders’ objectives, and linking diversity objectives to bonuses.  She also called on companies to address performance criteria, ensuring that it’s the same for everyone, and to call out use of biased language in performance evaluations.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg spoke about the systemic barriers that often prevent women from moving up the ladder. One is that research from showed that as a reaction to increased media coverage of sexual harassment, a sizeable percentage of men are shying away from time spent with women. “Almost half of male managers are uncomfortable participating in a common work activity with a woman, such as mentoring, working alone, or socialising together,” the study says.  And that’s an issue, Sandberg noted; since top executive roles are predominately filled by men, there are not enough women to take on the mentoring of those who need it. Sandberg took the opportunity to announce the launch of a new campaign, #mentorher, intended to bring awareness of this issue and to encourage men to step forward to help rectify it.

Women and STEAM

The gender pay gap is still a real and serious issue across the world, and was rightly a topic of conversation throughout the conference. One way to increase women’s earning power is by encouraging more representation in male-dominated professions. Barsh cited a recent research finding that the five highest-earning majors, such as Engineering and Computer Science, are 13% female; while the five lowest earning majors such as Education and Arts are 69%-96% women.

There are efforts underway to rectify this imbalance. Karlie Kloss, fashion model and entrepreneur, spoke about her own interest in coding and how it sparked the over 50 summer coding camps for girls that she and her organization have established.  Fei-Fei Li of Stanford and Chief Scientist of AI/ML, Google Cloud, spoke about her summer outreach program teaching girls about artificial intelligence. These types of programs hope to inspire more young girls to gravitate towards studies in male-dominated fields like engineering and computer science.

Transforming Corporate Culture 

Blake Irving took the audience through how he went about changing the culture of GoDaddy after he joined as CEO, including a dramatic shift to the company’s brand communications. There were good reasons to do that. The existing company advertising did not dovetail with his target market – more than 50% of small businesses are owned by women. And he wanted to ensure that the company was one that people were proud to say they worked for. Now 50% of their new engineering hires are women.

A contrasting story was shared by the co-founders of Harry’s, Andy Katz-Mayfield and Jeff Raider, who said that as a start-up selling men’s shaving products, they had to think about women from the very beginning – or they would have ended up as company of mostly men. They put a great deal of effort into challenging cultural norms. They now offer an equal parenting leave policy, and 40% of their leadership is women.

Forcing the Conversation  

Katrina Lake, Founder of Stitch Fix, talked about her struggle to get funding from a mostly male investor community, despite a deep knowledge of her business and a positive financial outlook. She surmounted the challenges of moving ahead with less funding than she needed, and now leads a $2 billion company. Lake recommended one tangible action for all companies and those looking to start them: ask about diversity and gender metrics when seeking out potential partners. She said that doing this forces the conversation  at that company, and that’s a start.

Helping Women in Need

Nicole Richie, Kelly Sawyer Patricof and Norah Weinstein spoke about the connection between diapers and working women. People in need often don’t have laundry facilities, thus rely on disposable diapers. Those diapers can be costly, and they’re required by daycare centers. So if women can’t buy diapers, they are effectively barred from working. The three hope to help solve this issue  and help working families through their nonprofit organisation, baby2baby. They’ve partnered with Huggies, who has donated 11.6 million diapers to date—an example of a way brands can do something specific to help solve a problem that has a real effect on their consumers.

Moving forward

The conference concluded with a streamed message from Hillary Clinton and action-oriented sessions to ensure that good intentions post-conference would be transformed into individual and collective action. Lisa McCarthy, CEO of the Fast Forward Group, challenged the attendees to construct a transforming personal vision and then track against it. And each Makers Board Member committed to actions they would take at their respective companies. Lauren Crampsie, Worldwide Chief Marketing Officer for Ogilvy, pledged to publicly disclose Ogilvy’s gender statistics, across all levels in the U.S.

It was clear from listening to the speakers that there are tangible actions that brands can take in ensuring diverse voices, and gender parity in their workforce – all of which has been proven to drive business results.  Some of the recommended actions covered by conference speakers include:

  • Ensure gender pay equity, and equal representation of women at all levels
  • Provide mentoring opportunities for women at all levels, by both men and women
  • Help nonprofits that are focused on improving conditions for women in the workforce
  • Ask potential partners to reveal their diversity and gender statistics
  • Provide guidelines and policies to prevent harassment in the workplace

Makers has made many of the talks available online here, and I cannot recommend them highly enough.  It’s impossible to watch one of them and not leave inspired to raise your own voice!

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