How I started shesaidso and why we love men

I recall the exact moment that determined me to create the original shesaidso group one evening. The story would not be complete without adding that at the time all I had to my name was a degree that impressed no one, and Romanian roots which at that time were working against me [bear in mind Romanians are often perceived as gypsies and are discriminated against as such, particularly in Western Europe].

Growing up I was always potrayed as the poster daughter in my family. Perfect grades, advanced maths training and national writing competitions all signaled the potential of a high achiever on her way to med or law school. And so I was, up until the end of high school when my urge to defy authority and rebel against the status quo took over my noble ambitions as an academic and propelled me into pursuing a Media degree in London instead. I still look back at the time I made this decision and wonder if it was motivated by a desire to rebel or out of fear to conform with the very predictable trajectory my Romanian law degree was going to put me on. A bit of both, very likely.

At no point during this time did I express an interest in women’s rights. My parents did an incredible job instilling empathy in me from an early age but I was never able to condense my passion into one single mission, least one focused on gender. I was a tomboy with a significantly higher number of male friends and a serious apathy towards “feminine” concerns around makeup, hair dos and other stereotypical fables of this nature. At the same time, media propaganda that portrayed men as physically strong and emotionally empty were equally sickening to me. I grew up thinking all of this is unnecessary and a byproduct of capitalism gone wrong. My world was very much split between male and female and I couldn’t find a comfortable place for myself in either [even if I do fit the traditional definition of female].

Moving to London from a small town in Eastern Romania was the greatest challenge of my life. My entire foundation was shook to the core. Things I took for granted or thought I understand were dismantled the second I exited Kings Cross station. I slowly woke up to a world where things were not black or white, a world where all the other nuances were not only present but actually housing the truths of most people. Fast forward a handful of years, I find myself in a job at the intersection of two worlds I loved: music and technology. In hindsight, I was probably attracted by their seemingly opposite nature, as most things did in my youth.

Here I was, at the crossing of two communities that couldn’t be more different. The music business, on one hand, was barely keeping itself together, ruled by chaos and “relationships”, not by talent; the tech industry, on the other hand, was obsessed with productivity and efficiency, and a newfound sense of success driven by great ideas with intelligent execution. The only common thread between the two, I noticed, was the lack of women in positions of power. While tech was, at the very least, acknowledging the fact that gender diversity, or lack of, is an issue, the music industry was ploughing through blindly, desperately trying to save itself from another year of financial losses. Little did anyone know (or care), gender equality is strongly correlated with economic growth and increased performance — a story for another time.

My first instinct was to figure out if I’m experiencing an isolated case or whether this is a shared experience among my female peers. Within my first days of research, I discovered that while most of my email communication and planning was done with women, the final decision was always taken by a man. Not only that, but these women were rarely seen in meetings. This finding led me to believe the majority of the women I was in contact with were either in admin and secretarial positions, or had little decision making power in their role.

Andreea Magdalina, shot by Yukitaka Amemiya

Fast forward to that evening I mentioned earlier… My then supervisor and I had a meeting with one of the UK’s leading media bodies. We were, as expected, surrounded by middle-aged white men in suits. Needless to say, I had barely any voice in that meeting and left it feeling small and discouraged that I would ever get the chance to grab a seat at the table (hi Solange).

shesaid.so was born that day. Inspired by a similar community of women in tech, I went ahead and put together a Google group that continues to house our international community to this present day. My hypothesis was that change has to start with us, women; with empowering ourselves and each other by coming together as a united front. A short month after that, I organized the first shesaidso event in London where I invited a panel of female industry veterans, women who have seen it all and were willing to share their stories over morning coffee. The chemistry we all had together was so powerful that the 50 women who were in that room with us that day quickly turned into 200 new members in our online group.

Four years later, our international community now counts over 3,000 members and boasts a combined network of 10,000 women across the 15 shesaidso global chapters around the world. We host over 50 events throughout the year, mentor 50+ women around the world, speak at some of the industry’s most influential conferences and, most importantly, support one another as part of a global sisterhood. The gender diversity conversation is now an integral part in the music ecosystem, both in terms of employment practices as well as on a creative level. We are yet a long way from an ideal scenario but we are making real progress.

What would that ideal scenario look like? It’s important to mention the world we envision is not one dominated by women. Our ambition is not world domination, but social equilibrium. We want to shape the world into a more diverse, inclusive and collaborative space, starting with the music community. We see men as our allies if opportunity for conversation is created and nurtured.

The systems that have thrived and ruled Western society were built on old patriarchal frameworks that are no longer relevant or acceptable. History has taught us that these same systems are not only oppressing women but extend to pretty much everyone who isn’t a CIS male, at large, or a white CIS male, more specifically. Does this mean all men are our opponents? No. Does this mean some people (men and women, in the traditional sense) still adhere to that school of thought? Yes, probably.

The greater lesson I chose to take away from this was that our mission is not one of opposition but one of education. Those systems were built upon values that may have been valid or acceptable then but science and modern research have taught us truths that we were previously not cognisant of. For example, discoveries that the human DNA is not much different from that of chimpanzees and bonobos, or that we share 60% of the genetic makeup of a banana, have changed the way in which we perceive ourselves as humans. Further specific studies around gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation etc. are consistently linking diversity with growth and performance, or dismantling myths that deem certain demographic profiles as “better” than others.

Carla Marie Williams & Munroe Bergdorf at the #HeForShe event in 2018 curated by shesaidso for Needs & UN Women

It is our responsibility, then, to continue elevating and spreading this knowledge and to make it an integral part of our education for future generations. Not only that, we are also accountable to rethink old systems that continue to govern our lives so that these findings become an integral part of their makeup down to an operational level. We have already started doing that by creating more awareness in the press, on social media, on stage and behind the scenes (and screens). This is only the tip of the iceberg.

Hereon, we are committed to exploring solutions that further our mission and make room for systematic change. Parity is something we want to achieve not only for women, but for all marginalized communities. Our commitment to women’s rights is a commitment to human rights. Some of the initiatives we launched include a mentoring program, an awards campaign that celebrates the industry’s underdogs, as well as countless thought-provoking discussions that placed women and non-binary people in positions of authority and expertise.

We have now created a manifesto that the music industry can commit to without falling trap to two-dimensional quotas. Our belief is that the gender gap can be minimized if a series of improved policies are set in place across the industry to promote gender diversity and inclusion. Not only that, we work hard so that our projects and experiences inspire change at a deep, cultural and systematic level. In the interest of pragmatism and inclusivity, we refrain from proposing 50/50 ratio targets. Our ultimate goal is to create equal opportunity, representation and pay for all.

We love men because we want them in our lives and in our workplaces. We want men who are currently in power to listen to us respectfully, without assuming we will be hysterical. We want future generations of men to grow up looking at gender in a progressive, fluid way, and understand the world through lens of diversity and inclusion. We want to celebrate gender diversity, and apply dualist ways of thinking to concepts that befit it, and not to our own humanity. Achieving that will ultimately establish parity beyond gender and unlock more equal opportunities for all.

Read the shesaid.so Manifesto here.