Lessons from my life as a Chi-EO

This month, White Ribbon announced that it would be merging its social enterprise, Parker P. Consulting, within White Ribbon’s activities.

A year ago, my terrific boss and dear friend, Todd Minerson announced that he would be stepping away from his dual role as Executive Director/CEO of White Ribbon (and its fledgling social enterprise, Parker P. Consulting). I had been with the White Ribbon family for about a year, working alongside Todd and his incredible team. And, with this departure, we braced ourselves for some big changes. Todd had been at the helm for a dozen years. He had shepherded the organization’s growth from an annual campaign to mark anniversary of the Montreal massacre, to a year-round, national campaign of gender violence prevention with men and boys — in classrooms and communities across this country. Parker P. Consulting, the for-profit social purpose arm was set up and launched in the fall of 2016 as a new approach and experiment in revenue-generation for White Ribbon.

Last August, I was asked to step into Todd’s shoes to continue the work of building this new consultancy. I was incredibly proud, and so ready to step into this kind of role. I knew that the chances for creating a viable, sustainable business model would be challenging but believe strongly that this was the right time to make this work.

But, with the previous experience and incredible innovation that White Ribbon had already undertaken, I thought that this was a real winner.

In my tenure at Parker P. Consulting, we achieved a lot in a remarkably short amount of time. We found many like-minded partners and supporters who believed in our vision of gender transformation. We challenged institutions to look at their own practices and how they could prevent gender violence. We helped men to understand how they could be better allies to women in the workplace. And, we did this with an understanding that we all have an opportunity to grow and to change.

Since we started Parker P. Consulting, there has been an incredible awakening to the damage caused by gender violence. The outcomes of the Ghomeshi trial, the first Cosby trials, and the Brock Turner case left many people wondering how justice could be served. Then, with the stunning revelations that emerged through the #MeToo movement, everyone has started talking about the impact and epidemic of gender violence, violence and harassment in the workplace. While some have characterized this movement as a witch hunt, this is about how institutions, organizations and corporations have a duty to protect and prevent gender violence.

As a new, scrappy social enterprise, we spent our energy delivering for our clients, looking for new work and spreading the gospel that gender equity is good for business. But, as a solid experiment in social innovation, it became clear that what we needed was to better align and re-integrate with our White Ribbon family. White Ribbon remains in the business of working with institutions, communities to help them prevent gender inequality and gender violence.

So, what did we learn in our three years?

  1. Women’s voices must guide us. While our expertise is in helping men to understand the important of unpacking toxic masculinity, we need to always ensure that we prioritize the experiences of women — ACROSS all sectors.
  2. Investing in one-offs is easy for companies. Committing to wholesale culture change is much more courageous and brave.
  3. The best kinds of organizations and companies we worked with demonstrated and took a visible stand as both progressive and inclusive. This means that senior leaders share in learning and listening to the people within their organizations to transform. They struggle and challenge themselves to learn and understand that they too have a personal opportunity to take on this transformative work.
  4. Bravery and honesty are the right things to do: those who are able to bravely recognize that they have made mistakes, and work hard to correct them are best positioned to rebuild trust within their organization. Without acknowledging and apologizing for damaging behaviours, institutional practices, and unintended biases, leaders cannot move forward with the full confidence of their institution.
  5. Starting up a new for-profit business venture, while being rooted in the blueprint of charitable can be a real challenge. It doesn’t matter if the work, the team and the reasons for the business are good, but there can be a tension as purpose-seeking and revenue-generation are both critical to the raison d’etre of social enterprise.
  6. While the Canadian landscape is very open to innovation and new models of social enterprise, access to resources, capital and the opportunity to build can be tricky. Much of the focus for social enterprises in Canada has created exciting opportunities around employment, but we can do a better job of broadening and redefining the social enterprise movement. This is a question for many countries, and we need to think about what this means for Canada as well.
  7. Nailing the elevator pitch is hard. Hey, when you’re in the world of primary prevention and upstream social behaviour change, finding the “1 min” elevator pitch is tricky. And, while the #MeToo has made many people much more aware of the depths of these challenges, work that is grounded in lasting, sustained institutional transformation can be a bit more difficult to convey simply.
  8. Reframing gender equality as an issue that impacts women and men is mission critical today. We’ve been taught for so long to see gender as a women’s issue, but now, we need men to help amplify the calls for gender equality.
  9. We are not in this alone. Our work has been inspired by, promoted and championed by many friends and stakeholders. Here in Canada and across the globe, there are many who are also seeking the kind of gender equality that we know is possible. This is a long-term game, and we all need to continue to champion these changes if we can achieve the fullest potential for each of us.
  10. This work must be deeply personal for each of us. As a lifelong feminist advocate, I’ve always wanted to see a world where women no longer faced the institutional, cultural and societal barriers of misogyny. But, now, I’m inspired everyday to work towards gender equity because of the two beautiful boys in my life who also deserve a world free from toxic masculinities.

Serving as Parker P.’s ChiEO has been an incredible privilege and honour.

I can’t wait to see what the White Ribbon team will do next.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying a few more moments with my scrumptious baby Sam, writing about what’s next for gender equality in Canada and sharing my thoughts on how we make things better for Sam and his generation.

I am deeply grateful to our clients, to White Ribbon and to our community partners. And, I hope we stay on this path towards a world free of gender violence.

lifetime feminist/committed keener/political junkie working hard to do good. proud momma. butter addict. heel-wearing cyclist. views are my own.

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