Post updated below with video from panel.
Janes of Digital events may seem like swanky cocktail parties, but they are all about the business of promoting equality in the workplace.
“We wanted an event that feels like a party but where we can actually have some really substantive conversations with our peers, particularly women, to share the experiences that we’re going through, so that, as a community, we can be stronger and help each other,” said Frances Donegan-Ryan, Janes’ co-creator and Bing Ads’ global community engagement manager.
Janes of Digital is a meetup event of women (and some men) who work in the search and digital realm. On Tuesday night, around 140 people met at Olympic Sculpture Park to attend Janes’ third year in Seattle. Panels are held annually in New York, San Jose and Seattle. Events have covered a variety of topics – from mentorship to the confidence gap to equality. This year’s focused on safety and inclusion.
“I find inclusion a really meaty topic,” Donegan-Ryan said. “We wanted to talk about the actual actions and behaviors that you need to model and bring to your team. There are strategies that you can do to make people feel more included.”
The major topics that were touched upon during the panel were how to be an active bystander – speaking up when witnessing discrimination or harassment – safety and inclusion, the importance of community and advocacy and education.
Donegan-Ryan said she always makes an effort to create a diverse panel of professionals.
“When I go to conferences, I’m looking at a room that’s 50 percent women, sometimes even more, but when I look at the speaker bench and the keynote bench, it’s like maybe 25 percent women. We really noticed that gap and the lack of effort to correct that. Here, we can actually talk about issues that matter to women,” she said.
This year’s Seattle panelists were Sarah Bird, the CEO of Moz; Amy Bishop, director at Clix Marketing; Jason Walkerden, senior global diversity and inclusion manager at Microsoft; and Karen DeJarnette, senior SEO strategy analyst at Expedia.
The way women are treated at conferences was a much-mined point of discussion among the panelists. Donegan-Ryan discussed an incident of a man being inappropriate with her after listening to her talk about equality at a Janes of Digital event.
“I was really public about it, so a lot of people responded that similar things happened to them,” she said. “I thought safety was very relevant and timely. There’s the physical safety, but then there’s also that emotional safety: Not being heard, valued or paid attention to.”
To end this behavior, the panelists believe that it will take everyone in the scene to speak up. In order to be a good advocate, Bird said, you also have to be an active bystander, even if that makes you uncomfortable.
“If you’re feeling like that, imagine what the woman who has to deal with this shit at a conference must feel like,” she said.
There was also much debate on being respectful by being aware of someone’s perceived discomfort. DeJarnette noticed differences in how she has been treated and perceived as both a man and a woman. Before she transitioned into a woman, she noticed that men didn’t understand that women may be made uncomfortable by their physical presence. She said that she tried to be conscious of making women feel safer.
“I remember going into the stairway of a parking garage (at my former job) multiple times, and there would be a single woman. I remember thinking, she doesn’t know me. I represent a potential threat,” she said. “I’m very conscious of the space that I have and the space I give others. If we’re just cognizant of how we’re perceived in our anonymity, it could really help show respect for other people.”
An audience member responded, saying that idea bothered a male friend of hers because it felt like men were being stereotyped.
Donegan-Ryan was quick to respond with the statistic that one in four women will be attacked in the U.S. Walkerden added that a woman where he had worked at a previous job was attacked in a parking garage.
Safety was key to creating an inclusive environment, both in the workplace and in the community, according to the panelists. Educating people in empathy is another key to creating an inclusive environment. During job interviews, Bird said, she asks pointed questions to determine a candidate’s empathy. She also has empathy training at Moz because “it can be hard to live it in practice. It’s a skill set,” she said.
“If you’re living those values then people will feel more comfortable,” Bishop said.
Sometimes creating inclusivity is about paving the way for others. DeJarnette originally wanted to quietly transition at work but found that Expedia didn’t have any guidelines for transgender employees.
“Expedia didn’t offer transgender health care before this year. They now offer it because of me,” she said to a wave of audience applause. “We should stand up and say what we have to say. One person can make a difference.”
DeJarnette’s experience is one of the things that makes Janes a valuable resource, according to Donegan-Ryan, because it provides multiple perspectives and the chance to grow and learn.
“Every time, we come to an event, I learn something new and am challenged in a new way. That’s the joy of Janes,” Donegan-Ryan said. “I think it’s really broadened people’s minds that there isn’t one answer to feminism.”