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Breaking the Silence, Empowering Women

In the #MeToo era, employers have an obligation to foster a safe and inclusive culture

By: Wensdy Von Buskirk

Throughout her career, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (DMI 12) has found herself in a man’s world. From attending school at Georgetown University to her 30-year rise to senior executive with General Motors Co., and now as U.S. representative, Dingell said she was always “one of the few women in the room.”

When she looks back, her sentiments echo many women who talk of being marginalized at meetings, having their ideas dismissed, getting smaller paychecks, and being passed over for promotions. Or worse, suffering from sexual harassment or abuse in the workplace.

Dingell said it used to be more difficult to raise her voice.

“When I was younger, if a woman said anything she would be labeled. If I spoke up, there would be consequences,” she said.

“Now I’m looking forward. How do we change the climate to one of inclusion for everybody?”\

Dingell will share her perspective as part of a panel titled, “The Women’s Wave: Breaking the Silence,” which explores how businesses across all industries can engage in practices that put a premium on inclusion and equality. The panel also features Michigan Women Forward’s Carolyn Cassin, W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s La June Montgomery Tabron, and PwC’s Ray Telang.

The panel is especially relevant in light of #MeToo, a viral social media movement that sprung up last year in the wake of several high-profile sexual harassment scandals. As women around the world continue to share stories of abuse in the workplace using the ubiquitous hashtag, companies and government can no longer fall back on business as usual.

“I think the #MeToo movement has really highlighted how much women have had to put up with in the workplace, and I think we are living in a moment where companies, government, and other institutions have to reckon with how they can improve and level the playing field for women,” said CNN political commentator Patti Solis Doyle, who will moderate the panel.

Ignite Social Media President Deirdre Lambert-Bounds, who was appointed to the Michigan Women’s Commission by Gov. Rick Snyder, said she is eager to see the #MeToo movement grow beyond social media and into the real world.

“It’s a great start but there is a lot of work to be done,” she said.

Dingell agreed, stating, “The #MeToo movement is not real until it’s real for all women — the women on the factory floor, the tip waitress, the woman wanting to make partner or chair of the department. Washington and the media and Hollywood are in a bit of a bubble, and in the real world, women are still afraid to speak up.”

Cassin said it has been her life’s work to fight for women’s equality in the workplace. During her career as a health care executive, Cassin made sure the companies she led were safe and hospitable for women to work and advance.

“For women, there is an increasing realization of the stark reality of how far we are from gender parity in any form. This is why the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have resonated with so many,” she said. “It’s an important step forward that the Chamber has brought this to the Mackinac Policy Conference and I am honored to be a part of this panel. We hope to highlight how critical this is for the future of our region and for the health and viability of the companies that the Chamber represents.”