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Conversations to Action

Sometimes I regret acting before I think. This isn’t one of those times. When I answered Britten Kuckelman’s video-message through Facebook at 11 pm the night after the Wichita Community Foundation Focus Forward meeting, I knew we had to do something. Because something needed to be done, and I knew I could help.

The day before that fateful call, Britten, me - and all the women of Wichita, had our snow globes shaken hard with the reality of what it means to be a woman or minority working to do business in the city we love. (Learn more at the 32:40 mark of this video.) Earlier, I’d noticed Britten’s post, inviting anyone who wanted to talk about the report, to let her know. I wrote her that I needed some perspective, and maybe we could see who else was interested. Turns out that spark started something.

The next day, I emailed some women business leaders I respect, to ask them to be part of the conversation. I was blown away at all the immediate, positive responses. Even if they weren’t able to be on the panel, due to scheduling conflicts, every one of them offered to help in any way they could and said they supported our efforts. We asked the panel to talk about their initial reactions to the Chung Report, and their thoughts on how we can maximize our collective efforts.

Our panelists were:

Alicia Sanchez - Chair of Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Director of Wichita State University Office of Diversity and Inclusion

Alicia Holloway - President, Wichita Independent Business Association

Angie Prather - Vice President of Marketing and Communications, Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce

Christina Long - Entrepreneur and Owner, CML Collective, LLC, and founder of Create Campaign, Inc.

Tami Bradley - Board Member of Wichita Community Foundation, Managing Partner at Bothner and Bradley Inc.

As the details came together, and we started spreading the word about what we were planning, we were amazed at the community response. We invited woman – and men – that wanted to be part of the conversation to register. We charged $5 per person, which will be donated to Dress for Success, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the Create Campaign.

Within three days it became apparent the event had outgrown the Finishing School, and we had to find somewhere else to accommodate everyone that wanted to be part of the discussion. Finishing School member Jacque, helped us line up the absolute perfect place at Pleasant Valley United Methodist Church, where she works, for the meeting. Finally cutting off the registration at 100 people a couple days before the event, the phone calls, emails and messages continued to pour in, asking if we could squeeze in one more. Of course, we told them to show up too!

An oppressively hot day, I expected 20 or 30 people to actually show up. I was blown away that around 80 people braved the heat, and showed up ready to work, including about a dozen Modern Men. My goal for the night was to start a conversation about how we can come together to create more economic opportunity for women in Wichita – for all women. We worked hard too! In an hour and a half, we:

  • Listened to the perspectives of women business leaders in the community, and their thoughts about what we can do.

  • Worked together to come up with some actionable items we can start working on right away.

  • Talked about what to do next to keep moving forward.

While there is a need to understand why and how this is our reality, that discussion is for another day. We set the tone with the guidelines that we weren’t having a blame throw, a whine fest, or an argument about if or why we’re stuck. It’s not my style to just talk about what to do, in case you haven’t noticed that about me. I want to figure out how to keep moving forward. I was confident that with our collective big brain power, we could put together ideas that will impact the situation, even as we’re all working to figure it out. To focus the conversation, we broke the issue into key categories:

  • Talent Drain

  • Wage Gap

  • Leadership in the Workplace

  • Women in Government

  • Women Entrepreneurs

We asked participants to choose the one they feel most passionate about, and work together in groups to come up with actionable items. After everyone brainstormed, we voted individually on our top favorites ideas in each category, to come up with ideas to work on right away. (Here are the results.)

This event exceeded my expectations in many ways, and I’m still working on my take-aways, but here is what I am grateful for:

  • I am grateful for the diverse crowd of people who came to this event. I especially loved seeing people of all ages get together to talk and share ideas. We have so much to learn from each other, and resources we can share to make our community stronger. It’s going to take all of us coming together to make this happen, and I’m excited by what I saw.

  • I love seeing the emerging leaders in our community coming into their power. I am so proud of the women leaders we have in our community, and missed the many more that couldn’t make it to the event. We have a big job ahead of us, and we need all the help we can get.

  • Bringing Modern Women and Modern Men together is powerful! The energy in the room, how engaged everyone was in being part of the conversation, and the joy of working together to solve problems, filled every inch of that big hall. We raised the roof!

  • More than once, it was mentioned how grateful we all were to the men who showed up. They were there to be allies, to listen, and see how they can be involved. Everyone was on their best behavior, so there was no need to go Handsmaid’s Tale on them, as mentioned in this Eagle article. We want men to be part of the conversation. We all gave extra bonus points to the couple that came to the event together for “date night.” (Remember: all genders are always welcome at the Finishing School for Modern Women.)

  • I am also very grateful that through the Finishing School for Modern Women I have been able to build the connections, community, and structure, to be able to respond to a community need, and start the conversation so quickly when the “Catastrophe is Now.

It will be interesting to see where this goes from here. There are a lot of plans in the works as a result of this event. It is my desire to see the momentum build and keep going beyond a couple days of feeling good. (Here’s an article that came out about it in the Eagle today.) It is up to each one of us, to make our community a better place to live - for all of us – Modern Women and Modern Men. Because, now that we’ve been shown the reality, we can’t pretend it doesn’t exist. Rather than feeling hopeless about our situation, we can own our power and create change – together.

If you want to be part of this movement, fill out our Conversations to Action form. We’ll be sharing more results, actions and ideas with everyone who wants to be in the know. The form also gives the opportunity to share resources and describe how you want to be involved. If you don’t know how you want to be involved right now, that’s okay. I know you’ll -have plenty of chances to figure that out.

This will not be easy. Leveling the playing field means no one gets to play King of the Mountain – and that’s a throne not easily abdicated. Still, we can’t ignore the obvious any more. We can’t wait any longer. The time to act is now. We’ve been stuck in our comfort zone of mediocrity way too long.

Let’s make this the beginning of a movement to make our community better. No one of us, including myself, can do this alone. Britten and I challenged all the leaders and emerging leaders in the room to step up – we challenge you too. We can’t wait for one or two people to do it all. That doesn’t work, and your Jillie is tired. Talk to each other – listen to each other - and do the work to lead our community to prosperity.


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