Women in Business: history, allyship, and affecting change

In support of people of all gender identities, the David Eccles School of Business hosted the Fall 2019 Women in Business Luncheon, featuring panelists Shireen Ghorbani, Salt Lake City Council Member; Kris Liacopoulos, former general manager of Fidelity Investments Utah region; and Shawn Coon, Ph.D. candidate and graduate assistant at the University of Utah.

Ghorbani kicked off the event with a brief yet thorough history of women’s issues in the United States. “As early as 1919, we knew there were major issues shaping the work environment for women, such as equal rights and pay,” she noted. While acknowledging that progress to affect change on the state — or country — level can be slow, she also noted that doing so is an opportunity women and people of all gender identities can take part in.

Adding to Ghorbani’s comments, Coon spoke about the importance and vision of allyship. “Allyship should look however you want it to look,” he said. “An ally should be allied with you, not with themselves.” In addressing directly what the audience can look for in allies, Coon highlighted the importance of listening and of distributing privilege.

In regards to how allies can come together, Liacopoulos shared three main areas where she’s seen the growth of women’s programming and initiatives in companies: staffing and recruiting, networking and training, and policies and procedures. She talked about the traditional value of networking, sharing that in her experience it brings people together and helps minority-group members feel less isolated. As far as the impact of such groups, she shared that she’s not yet seen it be particularly effective in solving the larger problems women face in the workplace.

As the audience had the opportunity to ask questions of the panelists, the speakers left them with a few pieces of advice:

  • Coon relayed that when traditional methods aren’t working to change workplace culture and policy, change-makers “need to try new methods and organize in a different way.”
  • Ghorbani encouraged attendees to “stop telling negative stories about yourself.”
  • Liacopoulos left the audience with, “You have value … either you can sign on to make [a company] better [in their diversity and inclusion efforts], or you can go somewhere else.”
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