To mark International Women’s Day, we sat down with Banfield partner and global account director Kristal Felea to discuss the state of women’s empowerment in 2020, why women’s voices are more important than ever in the workplace and how we can all do more to advance the cause of equality.
Banfield: How did you become so interested and invested in the empowerment of women?
Kristal Felea: I’ve always been pretty interested since a young age and I think I’ve had some pretty phenomenal female role models in my life and by virtue of having really strong mentors growing up – even before you really realize there’s a title for that sort of a person in your life – there was an importance of learning how to be independent and how to have your voice heard and to be part of something larger and making a difference.
Banfield: You’ve been extensively involved with Women in Communications Technology for a while now. What drew you to that cause?
KF: I got involved with WCT about five years ago after attending an annual gala event in Ottawa and listening to stories from each of the award winners. I was inspired by the energy that was in the room, and all of the incredible brilliance I was surrounded by. Joining the WCT National Capital Region board was an opportunity for me to expand my network and to try and find other likeminded professionals. I figured this was a nice marriage of the communications side where my background stems from but also an opportunity to work with women from more technically-focused backgrounds from other industries.
Around the same time I was introduced to WCT, I had recently attended a conference down in the US for the satellite industry and at one point I remember looking around and it was predominantly male attendees. I had also noticed that in a four-day conference, all of the keynote speakers and most of the panel lineups except for one which included a woman. That kind of struck out at me – like “what’s going on here?” – I knew there were women in this industry. So I started to get a little more curious and I started to ask more questions about why there weren’t more women included on stage? This is now a lens I apply to any conference or event that I attend.
Banfield: What are some achievable initiatives we could be doing to reach this goal of creating these paths for women and young girls to achieve whatever they can?
KF: We need to make space and we need to show what is possible to those coming up behind us. To me, it’s two-fold. The first is making sure there are women that are in the C-Suite or other senior leadership positions and are visible and working as role models within organizations. We need to do a better job at shining a light on some of these women’s success stories.
And sometimes that can be challenging because women are typically the first ones to say “no, no, no – you don’t want to talk to me. You want to talk to someone else” or they’re just too busy taking care of business or juggling a multitude of responsibilities between their career, their family and their social lives.
The second part is ensuring women’s voices are featured in the media. If you look at the news, women’s voices are frequently drowned out. It’s important to educate reporters that if they’re looking for comment on a topic, they need to ensure that it’s not just male voices they are reporting – that they’re getting female perspectives as well. And they’re actively searching for and reaching out to industry experts and specifically looking for female voices as part of those narratives. We need to ensure we have strong female storytellers creating content – female writers, directors, producers. We need to ensure we have prominent women in politics making decisions. Because whether we like it or not and it doesn’t matter what age, people will pick up on some of those cues in the media that you’re consuming.
The main thing is, whatever the form or whatever the industry, we need to ensure there are female role models who are visible and looking like rock stars to inspire those coming up behind us. That’s how girls and young women are going to see potential and a path to success – in whatever they choose to pursue. In recent years, even Mattel has expanded their Barbie lineup of dolls to be more influential by launching a new line of Barbie inspired by women who are breaking boundaries in various careers paths, along with a gender-inclusive doll. Move over Beach Barbie, I wish I had a Robotics Engineer Barbie when I was a kid!
Banfield: There’s a lot of data to support this notion that having women’s voices, in addition to being the right thing to do, provides value in a business and marketing setting in terms of producing better decisions.
What’s your experience been with that – either from a personal perspective or the women that you’ve worked with bringing those sorts of perspectives to decisions?
KF: It’s definitely become a lot clearer and there is a plethora of research now to support this: The more diverse voices that you have contributing to something, the better end result you’ll achieve. The ability to take a moment and gather diverse perspectives from a problem-solving standpoint is invaluable and it’s good for business.
We look at it through a marketing or communications lens. When we think about our clients and their target audiences, oftentimes there is a specific demographic we are trying to reach so there is tremendous value in bringing multiple perspectives to the table to contribute to whatever communications challenges we may be trying to solve. Whether that’s during initial brainstorms or concept development or through production, being able to bring in a variety of diverse perspectives along with different backgrounds, skillsets and past experiences can only result in more innovative problem solving and a stronger end result. I am very proud that here at Banfield our leadership team has a solid balance of female and male representation which I think contributes to our overall general governance. And as part of our individual project or client teams, we try to ensure we bring in different voices at every step to ensure we are continually challenging ourselves to look at things from different angles.
Banfield: This agency has worked on a number of campaigns and projects with clients related to women’s empowerment. What has that meant to you?
KF: I think it’s extremely important and I am very proud of the work we have done. When you can feel like you’re truly making a difference or contributing to something larger that is trying to make an impact on society – you know you’re doing the right thing.
So whether it’s related to women’s empowerment or an organization that supports the development of women and young girls – we’ve worked with a few of them over the years: Nutrition International, SeedChange, the Leadership Foundry and there are a few others – telling these sorts of stories is hopefully helping to make a difference in the world. It’s feel-good type work but it’s also easy to get behind from a marketing support standpoint.
Banfield: When we first talked about this interview I expressed to you that I felt that, as a man, I wasn’t the right person to be asking the questions in an interview on women’s empowerment and suggested to you that a woman would be better-suited to it.
But you had this interesting perspective on men’s involvement in these sorts of interviews and in women’s empowerment more generally.
What is that perspective and why do you feel that way?
KF: When we talk about women’s equality, men’s voices need to be a part of that conversation. If men can’t get on board and be supporting players in the conversation or contribute to amplifying the voices of women and their stories and their narratives, we’re not going to change the conversation. We need men to help make space and to help ensure everyone is being heard and treated fairly. If it’s just women talking about issues women face, we’ll just be repeating the same stories and viewpoints back at one another. Unless we have allies working to support and mitigate things like unconscious bias and challenging the status quo, it’ll be much more difficult to achieve the change we’re seeking.
Everyone is a part of that narrative: Men and people who identify as non-binary. So it’s important for men if they’re not comfortable with an idea or a term, to get curious. If they see something, they should say something. If they see a female colleague constantly getting passed over for promotion, or being cut off any time she tries to speak up in a meeting they should say something. They can be her champion and can support her in being heard. Because, in some cases, it doesn’t matter how loud she’s going to fight for what she wants, she might not get it due to the fundamental systemic challenges in today’s business world.
Banfield: There seem to be all these new concepts or new ways of thinking about women’s empowerment. For example, you had raised this idea of womxn. There are also all these related issues to women’s empowerment such as LGBT discussions and the notion of people identifying as non-binary. It seems to me the core goal of equality stays the same but the concepts and ways of thinking are always changing because we have so much work to do to make things as inclusive as possible. If someone is reading this and shares those goals of inclusivity and equality, what is the best way for them to stay on top of these changing discussions?
KF: A good place to start is trying to stay aware and informed. It’s being mindful of those around you and the content you consume. It’s finding reputable sources that report unbiasedly. It’s being mindful of the media you consume and questioning things.
It all comes down to how can we build inclusive communities, and in turn a more inclusive society? It doesn’t matter what field or industry you are in or what stage of your life or career, the more inclusive we can be, the better we are as teams and the better solutions we turn out and the more innovative our thinking becomes.
Much like with everything else in life if you’re not going to stay open and curious, if you’re not going to question systems or processes that seem archaic or out of date, if you’re not going to continually strive to learn more, that’s where you can get left behind. There’s no gospel resource. It’s just a willingness to stay open-minded and committed to the fact that everyone deserves equal rights.
Kristal Felea is a partner and global account director at Banfield and chair of Women in Communications and Technology National Capital Region.