Take a Seat at the Table: Make Workplace Equality a Grassroots Initiative

Professional Development


While it’s true that now is the time for women in tech, talking about it isn’t enough.

Here at Marketo, we’ve chosen to use our optimism about women in tech to drive action. Most importantly, we’re inviting everyone to take a seat at the table (men included), inspired by this quote from UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson’s HeForShe speech at the United Nations Headquarters:

“How can we affect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feels welcome to participate in the conversation?”

If you haven’t watched her speech in its entirety, I highly encourage you to do so, or read the transcript here. The important takeaway is this: establishing equality requires participation from everyone.

It’s my passion to help people live their very best lives personally and professionally, so I collaborated with my amazing colleague, Liz Oseguera, to bring you this list of how to start an empowerment organization at your own company. A huge thank-you to Liz for documenting her process in creating Momentum, Marketo’s grassroots initiative designed to drive an awareness and dialogue around the challenges that employees, particularly women, face in the workplace as well as educate, inspire, and encourage employees to support each other across the organization.

Read on to see how you can take the initiative at your company to drive engagement and elevate your fellow women (and men) in business. If you’re not sure where to get started, here are five simple steps:

1. Make It a Grassroots Initiative

In September 2014, our Sr. Community Manager, Liz Oseguera, identified an opportunity within Marketo for a grassroots initiative–aptly called Momentum. When Liz brought her idea to our CEO and SVP of HR, they were supportive of the initiative and excited that it stemmed from a passionate employee. Why? Anytime a program is driven by someone other than the executive team, it creates less of a mandate and shows other employees that anyone can make a difference.

The first Momentum meeting highlighted Margo Smith, our SVP and General Counsel. Margo shared her personal story of overcoming diversity and her career path to joining Marketo’s executive team. It’s been nearly two years since then and we’ve enjoyed a diverse range of speakers–from Clara Shih, CEO of Hearsay Social, to Jamie Gutfreund, Global CMO of Wunderman. The conversations cover highly relevant topics: succeeding in male-dominated fields, changing organizational culture, and shaping a diverse and balanced workforce.

Meetings fluctuate from 25 to 150 attendees and are always inclusive of men and women. This is paramount, and it’s the only way we can all make progress towards a balanced and equal work environment.

2. Drum Up Interest

If you want to go far, go together. Talk to your colleagues about what they’d like to get out of the program.

Options for formatting include:

  • Speaker series
  • Happy hours
  • Fireside chats
  • Panels
  • Team building activities
  • Workshops

Once you’ve picked a format, you can determine which speakers would be a great fit for them to learn from. Who are their role models? Would they like to learn from someone in the organization, or perhaps someone in an entirely different industry?

One of my favorite speakers at Momentum recently was Edna DeVore, Director of Education and Public Outreach at the SETI Institute. Edna is a science and astronomy educator, and her breadth of work includes collaborations with NASA. I was riveted by her story and inspired by her strength and tenacity as she continuously ascends in a deeply male-dominated field.

3. Create a Taskforce

We strongly believe that you rise by lifting others, which means that you can’t do it alone. Find a team of people who are similarly passionate (our taskforce ranges from 8-12 people) to help you promote, ideate, and execute logistics.

Our incredible taskforce helps with all the critical details of our events: promotion, setup, takedown, and ordering/serving food and beverage. Make sure you thank your taskforce publicly, abundantly, and often. Inspire them to think of their own ideas for events and people in their network who could serve as speakers or panelists.

4. Get Executive Support/Sponsorship

We recommend making sure your manager is on board with you driving what is considered to be ‘extracurricular,’ as it will take some time from your day-to-day responsibilities. Equally important is to obtain executive support. You need the most visible leaders in your company to help you drive your message of why this initiative is important and how it can help each individual.

If you would like some data to help you garner support, this extensive McKinsey study shows clear correlations between diversity and company performance. For example, according to the report, companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.

5. Solicit Ongoing Feedback and Input

We learn from every event we host and continuously test variables such as time of day hosted, type of food and beverage served, and venue.But bi-directional communication is crucial to the success of your program. From the beginning, you can develop a short survey and communication channel to solicit ongoing feedback before and after meetings. At Marketo, we use Slack, an email alias, and our employee portal to communicate with employees. It is not only helpful to have input on what is important to employees, but it also keeps them included and a part of the conversation. From there, the leadership team is responsible for making the ideas come to life.

One final thing to remember: wherever you are in your career, you can partner with others and help elevate their lives.

At our most recent Momentum event, Jamie Gutfreund said something that I’ll never forget. She said (and I’m paraphrasing here) that she doesn’t believe in mentorship because that term implies one person is giving the other the benevolence of their wisdom. Rather, she prefers the term partnership, because she is always learning from others, no matter their rank or title. I found this humble statement profoundly inspiring.

We sincerely hope you take the tips above and pay it forward. If you have a similar setup at your organization, we’d love to hear about how it got started and how it has made a difference at your company–leave a note below!

Marketo Virtual Event