Panel Discussion “Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change” on International Women’s Day

On Friday, March 8, 2019, the Utah Valley University (UVU) Office of Engaged Learning hosted a panel discussion titled “Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change,” as part of the United Nations International Women’s Day celebration. Moderated by Ms. Annie Davis, former Fox News reporter and current managing director of communications for Salt Lake City, the panel discussion featured Ms. Chris Redgrave, Senior Vice President of Zions Bank and host of “Speaking on Business” KSL radio program;

Ms. Antonella Packard, State Director for Utah Councils of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC); Ms. Ann Watasaki, Big Ocean Women, Chair; and Ms. Brylee Bromley, newly-elected UVU Student Body Chief of Staff.

After briefly introducing themselves, the panelists described how they worked to think equal, build smart, and innovate for change. Ms. Packard first described her role as a business advisor/instructor at LULAC, where women and minorities come to seek advice on creating and financing their business ideas. In her position, Ms. Packard shared how she helps her clients take innovative and creative approaches to starting businesses, often with little or no money available to start. She also mentioned how LULAC’s Women’s Council aids women by providing scholarships, including for trade schools, as well as serves women and others regardless of their legal status. Ms. Watasaki then spoke about her NGO Big Ocean Women and how it takes an interfaith and global approach to empowering women by helping them realize their “innate and inherent gifts associated with womanhood” primarily through their roles in families as mothers. Ms. Redgrave then spoke about how she takes a private sector perspective in training female business owners to be successful in what is mostly a male-dominated sector, fighting for wage parity and focusing on empowering men as well as women. Ms. Bromley then spoke about her experiences working to empower new and graduating UVU students to prepare them for a proper education and to successfully enter the workforce.

The panelists then spoke on how recent societal changes related to diversity and equality can be helpful or hurtful to women and the work they do. Ms. Packard began by describing her experience starting out in her field and how even though she is a person of color, she felt more discrimination as a result of her gender than her ethnicity. She stated that new changes have led to more women-centered organizations and initiatives, such as TECHNOLOchicas, which helps mobilize women to join the tech industry. Ms. Redgrave then cited the 2018 Global Gender Gap Report which stated that gender equity won’t be reached for 217 years, as well as Gallup polls that reveal women in the United States rank the lowest among other developed nations regarding how safe its women feel. Ms. Redgrave stated that there is a long way to go and that the work must be sped up. Ms. Watasaki then stated that the influence of women, along with positions in companies, should be considered as well, saying that recent changes can motivate women to realize their innate gifts and influence others around them. Ms. Bromley then spoke on the importance of focusing on individuals, describing a survey she took which revealed that many women struggle with self-confidence and comparing themselves to others, and how recent changes can help women believe in themselves more and speak up on issues they face.

Speaking on what they thought were the most significant barriers to women’s leadership, Ms. Bromley began by stating that the most significant barrier was women not living up to or being afraid of their own potential. Ms. Redgrave then stated that along with gender parity not moving quickly enough, women need to have a higher sense of responsibility in taking charge of who they can become and what they can change. Ms. Watasaki stated that women are constrained by economic, political, social, and educational systems that are male-dominated and male-centered, so women must be creative and confident in their femaleness to effect change, but also that women cannot be elevated without also elevating men. Ms. Packard agreed, stating that women must advocate for themselves.

Next, the panelists discussed how they act as mentors and the role of mentorship. Ms. Redgrave stated that mentorship is critical, especially because women are underrepresented in STEM fields. She stated that women should not be pigeonholed into positions or roles because of gender expectations and that business should be structured around equality and mentorship. Ms. Packard then stated that both men and women should be seen as equals, both for mentoring and being mentored by others, but also specifically in wage equality, because women often choose to leave the workplace to tend to their families. Ms. Watasaki then addressed mentoring unpaid and unrecognized women through empowering them to be mentors in their own spheres of influence, and that there are many ways women can thus be influential. Ms. Bromley stated that along with becoming mentors themselves, women need to seek out mentorship.

Finally, the panelists discussed how to motivate more women to enter STEM fields. Ms. Bromley spoke about the importance for women to visualize themselves in such positions, while Ms. Packard spoke of the need for companies to be serious about hiring women and wisely investing money into making jobs look attractive and lucrative, as well as partnering with educational institutions to funnel women into STEM jobs while still supporting women’s desires to care for families. Ms. Redgrave then spoke on how social media is a part of the reason why women are not motivated to inter STEM fields, because for many women, they must feel perfectly ready before taking such risks, whereas men do not have the same proclivity, and social media makes them try too hard to be perfect. Ms. Watasaki brought a different perspective, citing Norwegian and Swedish studies that suggested that in places with greater gender equality, women choose not to enter STEM fields, and opined that women should not be forced to go into such fields, but be empowered to choose whatever occupation they desire.

The panelists then took questions from the audience. The first question dealt more with social media, with all panelists agreeing that social media is a two-edged sword and can be used both smartly to empower women and extend their influence, but can have negative effects on women’s confidence, work ethic, and desire to engage with others in meaningful ways. UIMF member Viktoriia Bahrii asked the panelists whether the role of femininity in the workplace was still relevant, given other feminist rhetoric that says otherwise. The panelists all agreed that women should not be afraid of embracing and showing their feminine qualities, which they defined as confidence, ingenuity, creativity, and diligence.

Overall, this event was a relevant discussion on how women can be personally responsible for their own success, whether in being influential to their families and friends or in the workplace. It was especially relevant for myself given my colleagues’ and my preparations to attend the 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW63), where we will be showcasing how nontraditional students, many of which are female, have acted as mentors and received mentorship from other students and faculty mentors to gain professional advancement and opportunities to meet and work with local, state, regional, national, and international leaders, as well as to engage in meaningful research projects and host events related to empowering women. The principles and calls for action discussed by the panelists also intersect with our goals for CSW63, namely to show how education and engaged learning can empower women and girls in mountain communities to effect change in their own families and communities.

Michael Hinatsu, UIMF member

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Leslie Sixtos-Cruz- 2019 International Women’s Day at UVU

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