The organization's new speaker series features a diverse range of voices discussing gender equality in the workplace and supporting women’s career trajectories.

NEWaukee is venturing beyond its night markets and other social and business engagement ventures to tackle the ever-important issue of gender parity in the workplace via a free female-focused speaker series called The Shift. Diversatek (102 E. Keefe Ave.), NEWaukee’s partner for The Shift, is hosting the first event in this quarterly series on Thursday, Feb. 21, from 6 to 8:30 p.m.

Angela Damiani; Photo courtesy of NEWaukee

According to NEWaukee’s CEO Angela Damiani, The Shift will showcase a more diverse array of speakers than those usually featured. “The conversations locally seem tired,” she says. “They feature the same voices. We want to change that.”

Instead of simply drawing on women in corporate leadership roles, The Shift features startup founders and non-profit leaders in addition to women in finance and manufacturing, some of whom are women of color and members of the LBGTQ community. The series’ leaders also made a concerted effort to feature women at different ages and at various levels of their careers.

Although this series is a step in the right direction toward opening up conversations about gender parity in the workplace, Milwaukee still has a long way to go on the road to equality. In January of 2018, in the heat of the #MeToo movement, TEMPO Milwaukee surveyed 97 women who hold CEO, executive and leadership positions in Milwaukee. Sixty-eight percent of these women reported experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace. Such instances included being forcibly locked in offices and other areas, being touched and kissed against their will and being verbally harassed with sexually innuendo.

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My October 2017 article about the state of women in the workplace in Milwaukee opened with an anecdote about a manager telling a woman in the 1980s that she was too pretty to be promoted. Because of this comment, she quit two weeks later. In this article, I reported that instances of such outright discrimination seem to be less common today than they were in the ‘80s. In light of the TEMPO Milwaukee report and the instances that have come to light from the #MeToo movement, maybe the stats were misleading.

Nevertheless, positive — small, but positive — changes have come about since the article’s publication. The 2018 Milwaukee Women Inc. Report found substantial increases in the number of women in leadership roles in Wisconsin compared to 2017, for example. Whether increasing the number of women in leadership roles can curb sexual harassment and improve workplace conditions for entry- and mid-level employees remains in question. But it does help that series like The Shift are addressing workplace parity for women of all ages and at all levels of their careers.

Brook Relich; Photo courtesy of NEWaukee

As for the series itself, its first iteration next week will open with a keynote speech from Meg Vierling, President and CEO at Diversatek, followed by a rapid panel discussion featuring two women at high levels in their companies, and a lightning round of stories about workplace gender parity from local men and women.

“I’m speaking from a mid-level career point, where I’m balancing career and family life,” says one of the panelists, Brooke Relich, Sr. Talent Acquisition and Engagement Manager at Diversatek. “I hope people walk away from our panel feeling more supported and knowing that they aren’t alone in their struggles.”

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The February 21 event will close with a speech from Emily Phillips, a financial analyst from Baird whose experiences were highlighted in our 2017 article. It will also feature networking opportunities, live music and a cash bar.

At the end of the day, NEWaukee CEO Damiani says that the goal of the quarterly series will be to broaden and strengthen conversations about gender parity in the workplace in Milwaukee.

“If we want to see a new era of equality, the conversation needs to be different,” she says. “The conversation can’t be about complaining. We want to be proactive and bring about actual change with this series.”

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