I've worked closely with women my entire professional life.
My first (and best) boss was a woman. Women made up my entire team when I ran the entrepreneurship center at DePaul. Of course, my co-founder in Junto is a woman and, for a few years, most of our team consisted of women.
Beyond that, I grew up with a working mom, have been married to a successful career woman for nearly 25 years, and have two college-age daughters with ambitious career plans.
Needless to say, I've had many conversations with women about their careers and professional lives. But none of that prepared me for the delightful surprises I'm experiencing as our efforts with JuntoWomen unfolds.
Last week was our second Quarterly Gathering, attracting nearly 30 women from Alumni companies and Program Partners. Including last year's pilot program, we've now held ten JuntoWomen sessions. And while I haven't been in the room for any of them, I'm learning a great deal from the planning and prep work our team does, the exchanges with our facilitators, the verbal feedback from participants, and their evaluations on the sessions.
At this point, three distinct things stand out.
We must intentionally create spaces in business for women and other gender identities to have their conversations. I'm learning that because the business world is still male-heavy, spaces for men-only and mixed-gender conversations are organically created. But because few companies of size have no men at all, leaders (and support organizations like Junto) have a responsibility to create safe spaces for everyone to be engaged in conversations that are private, meaningful, and relatable.
The kinship of female identity is a source of inspiration. I'm learning that, despite gender equality advances over the decades, many women continue to want role models, deeply appreciate shared experiences from those who have walked in their shoes, and thirst for a safe space to have conversations they otherwise can't, don't, or wouldn't have.
Women naturally integrate business with humanity. I'm learning that through the topics that are being covered in sessions, all of which have been brainstormed by the participants. Last week's gathering was on Finding Strength & Conviction in Voice & Tone. And earlier topics included Leading Our Way, Navigating Inferiority/Superiority Dynamics, Crafting a Public Persona, and Being a Business Leader Not a Business Woman or Man.
As I've shared with many members of the JuntoTribe, I haven't been as excited about any initiative as JuntoWomen since our launch nearly seven years ago. Admittedly, it's been nerve-wracking since I'm not in any of the sessions. But the other thing I'm learning is the power of letting go of something that so many other people are deeply passionate about.