At Xero, we have a strong commitment to gender equality. We were thrilled to be included in this year’s Bloomberg Gender Equality Index, but know that championing diversity is much more than achieving gender balance. We strive to create a culture of belonging. Where differences not only exist, but where they are respected, supported, and fully celebrated. To continue this conversation, last week our Denver and Toronto offices celebrated International Women’s Day with panel discussions that explored this year’s theme, #EachforEqual.
In our Denver office, I had the pleasure of moderating our panel featuring Kate Barton, Senior Vice President, Executive Office and Special Projects at Downtown Denver Partnership; Patti Scharf, Co-founder & Chief Accounting Tech Geek at Catching Clouds; Scott Scharf, Co-founder & Chief Ecommerce Geek at Catching Clouds, and Nina Sharma, Managing Director of Project X-ITE and Adjunct Professor at Daniels College of Business.
In Toronto, our panel was moderated by Erin McCannel, Account Manager at Xero and featured Allison Hawkins, partner at Hawkins & Co. Accounting and National Xero Ambassador; Nora Beatty, former Head of Hubdoc Operations, and Alana Nicklin, Chief Operating Officer at Plugged-In CPA.
Fostering innovative and diverse teams
In Denver, our panel touched on the importance of making the case for diversity in their organizations.
Kate discussed how the Downtown Denver Partnership focuses on building a city for everyone. They ensure there’s variety and diversity at every level when hiring and choose words that resonate with everyone. They also set up programs with diversity in mind. With their participation in Denver Startup Week, Kate was proud to see the event had more women than men in 2019. Plus they instituted a no “man-els” rule to promote gender diversity across the panel discussions taking place.
Scott shared his story of growing up with a single mom. It taught him from a young age that women could do anything. While the team at Catching Clouds is predominantly female, he says diversity is a matter of “creating opportunities that are there and making sure there aren’t any road blocks standing in the way for women”.
At the University of Denver, Nina shared that women don’t self-identify as entrepreneurs. “There’s an ingrained humility in women that we need to kick to the curb,” she shared. She’s working with her students to change the definition of what it means to be an entrepreneur. She’s inspired to see students eager to try out their ideas, fail, and get back up again.
Feeling empowered in the workplace
In Toronto, our panelists discussed the factors that helped them feel more empowered to raise their hand in the workplace.
“I don’t worry that much about failing — getting comfortable with that helped me,” Nora shared. She explained that after experiencing failure in the past, she learned you can fix most mistakes. “That helped me learn to take more risks because when you try and fail quickly, you learn you can fix your mistakes and it makes you braver”.
Alana shared the story of how she was determined to advance her career at her firm. She decided she would start doing things the male partners were interested in. This included golf, craft beer and sports to help her become more confident. However, her confidence reached a turning point when a colleague approached her about opening a new firm. While there were many talented employees he could have asked, she was selected for the qualities she brought to the table that would add value to the firm. Alana advised everyone to, “Find value in who you are and the confidence that you have to be your unique self”.
Make your voice is heard
The panelists discussed how inclusion is fostered in workplaces where everyone feels like their voice and talents are valued.
To create an inclusive workplace, Nina’s team made the decision to move their office to a different part of the campus that was more aligned with their culture and values. They took over an old house and are now physically closer to their students. With a new open door policy, the move has helped to break down walls and barriers. This creates a better sense of community and belonging.
Allison echoed a similar message in Toronto when it comes to building out her team. “We’re trying to build an environment that allows our team to be supportive and flexible,” she shared. Allison added, “We recognize that the career trajectory that’s right for someone this year might be different next year. We need to be cognizant of that so we can have ongoing conversations to support our employees. If you have good people, you want to keep them and it’s about being respectful of that”.
The power of advocates
The panels discussed the importance of inspiring male advocates to move things forward and accelerate change.
Patti believes there’s a difference between advocacy and awareness. “Advocacy starts with awareness,” she said. She then explained how women sometimes face a struggle with confidence. While Patti believes, “Confidence is a learned skill that needs to be practiced”. She explained that men should work to give women the opportunity to move forward. Scott added onto this by saying, “Sometimes men need to take a step back and notice if there’s anyone else in the room that can take over”.
To keep diversity and equality initiatives going day to day, Nora acknowledged that “It takes everyone”. She explained, “We need to make sure we’re fostering an environment where we feel okay asking questions about things we don’t know or understand. And on the other hand, we need to be willing to share that information when we have it. The more we learn about what’s needed from a diversity and inclusion perspective, the more likely we are to succeed in accomplishing those goals”.