In this episode of the Impostor Syndrome Files, we talk about the unfortunate prevalence of inappropriate behavior in the workplace. When this happens to us, we’re often blindsided and unprepared for how to best respond. It can lead us to doubt ourselves and second-guess our own behavior. And even our organizations may not be prepared to adequately address the problem. My guests this week, Wesley Ellison Stewart and Jamie Hays Szelc, founders of JWS Empowerment Solutions, share their personal stories of sexual harassment in the workplace and how their experiences led them to start a consulting business focused on empowering individuals and organizations to more effectively address inappropriate behavior in higher education fundraising and beyond.
About My Guest
Wesley Ellison Stewart
Wesley E. Stewart is the Associate Vice President for Major Giving & Athletics Advancement at Boston College. In her tenure, she has led the regional, parent, and athletics advancement teams to breakout years, envisioning and executing on complex organizational change that implements best practices and positions BC to be ambitious in its next campaign. Her leadership in this role has had a direct impact on the past three record-breaking years at BC. She also serves as the University Advancement liaison to the Office of Student Affairs & Capital Planning. She was promoted into this role from previously serving as Associate Vice President for Major Giving and Senior Associate Athletics Director for Development.
She came to Boston College from the University of Texas, where she served as the assistant athletics director for leadership giving within the Longhorn Foundation. In this role, she was responsible for leading the overall strategy for key fundraising initiatives within Texas Athletics. From developing and executing capital campaign strategies to helping to transition the culture from one of transactional fundraising to one focused on philanthropy, Stewart played a key role as an individual fundraiser and team leader. Prior to her time in Austin, Stewart worked in Athletics Development at the University of Michigan, elevating to the role of Director of Development.
Wesley began her career at the University of Virginia as an academic advisor for student-athletes before moving to the academic side to serve as the assistant director for marketing and recruiting for UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce.
A national leader in the development field, Wesley also consults with university advancement & collegiate athletics departments to create customized training programs that empower fundraisers and engagement officers with tactical communication and management tools to promote an inclusive and supportive working environment.
She graduated summa cum laude in 2008 with a degree in fine arts from Michigan while earning Big Ten All-Academic honors as a member of the Wolverines’ water polo team. She completed her master’s degree in intercollegiate athletic leadership from the University of Washington in 2009.
She resides in Boston, Massachusetts with her husband and two children, Austin and Ava.
Jamie Hays Szelc
Jamie Hays Szelc is co-founder of JWS Empowerment Solutions, alongside her business partner, Wesley Ellison Stewart. Jamie also works for PILYTIX, an Austin-based AI Tech company dedicated to implementing technological solutions designed to generate revenue, save time, and reduce costs for universities, and sports & entertainment organizations. There, Jamie serves as Director of Business Development for their fundraising unit.
Jamie has vast development experience and leadership roles in Higher Ed that spans nearly 20 years. Prior to her role at PILYTIX, Jamie served as Associate Athletics Director for Development at the University of Kansas. There, she led the Major Gift team and oversaw major gift and philanthropic initiatives. While at Colorado State University, as Assistant Athletic Director for Development, she led their Denver Development efforts and was part of a team that focused on philanthropic capital gifts to build their new on-campus football stadium, Canvas Stadium. During her time at the University of Texas, Jamie was part of the Leadership Giving team that increased emphasis on major giving, in which they tripled gift production to $17 million, in just two years and also brought in the largest estate gift to Texas Athletics. Jamie got her start at Marquette University where she oversaw the annual fund, basketball reseating and carried a major gift portfolio.
Jamie graduated from the University of Kansas and earned her master’s degree at Southern Miss. In her free time, Hays Szelc and her husband enjoy traveling, wine, golf, and spending time with friends and family and their two doodles, Cali & Brandi.
Connect with Wesley & Jamie:
Website: www.jwsempowerment.com LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/jws-empowerment-solutions/ Twitter: @JWSEmpowerment
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Kim Meninger Welcome Wesley and Jamie, I could not be more excited for this conversation. I have been looking forward to it since we met Wesley. And I would love to start by inviting you to introduce yourself. So Wesley, want to kick us off?
Wesley Ellison Stewart Well, thank you so much, Kim. And it’s such a pleasure to be with two fabulous women this morning. So I am Wesley Ellison Stewart, I currently serve as one of Boston College’s Associate Vice Presidents for major gaming and athletic advancement. My career has been grounded primarily in higher education, with a, you know, a focus in college athletics, which, as many of you may be aware, is a predominantly male-dominated industry. And I came up through the fundraising side of the house, and just had a lot of experiences throughout my career where I experienced, you know, gender bias, in some cases, sexual harassment, and I found there was really no forum to advocate for yourself. And So lo and behold, as I progressed, in my career, I got to meet my wonderful now business partner, Jamie, who sells while working at the same institution. And, you know, we had an experience with, you know, during a donor meeting, that really just gave us an opportunity to start sharing these personal experiences. And that really led to us creating this consulting business. And we’ll share a little bit more about that, when we get into the meat of it. But, you know, this is, you know, how I’ve, you know, had a lot of these experiences. And now I’m here to hopefully help the next generation of women and not just women, men as well, you know, advocate for themselves and navigate some of these difficult situations that we find ourselves when we’re in kind of these interesting fundraising relationships that are really dependent on us, right, securing money from these people that are in very powerful positions. So it’s a little bit of my story. And I know my colleague, Jamie is going to show about who she is.
Jamie Hays Szlec Yes, thank you, Wes. Good morning, Kim. We’re so thrilled to be here. So my background, very similar to Wesley, I’ve spent, you know, most of my life in higher education in college athletics in the fundraising world. With multiple stops along the way, my husband and I are now professional movers kidding. We met in Milwaukee, I was working in Marquette University, we moved to Colorado State, in athletics in higher ed kind of a joint, you’re a venture there, moved down to Texas, in Austin, and then back to Colorado State. And then my last job in Higher Ed was at University of Kansas. And a lot of those roles were leadership roles within athletics with, you know, a dotted line to University Advancement. I actually just left that world about a year ago, and I’m now working for PILYTIX and we’re an AI tech company. We work with university fundraising teams. So definitely check me out on LinkedIn, because it’s really amazing stuff. But we’re not here to talk about politics. We’re here to talk about AWS, empowerment solutions. And we are thrilled to kind of tell our story and how we got to where we are and this great partnership with Wesleyan today.
Kim Meninger I can’t wait to dig in, because I think that you have a really important stories to share. And obviously, you’re coming from the higher ed world. But I think that there are parallels in lots of different especially traditionally male-dominated industries. And you alluded to this a bit Wesley, when you were giving your introduction about the different power dynamics that are at play. And so I’d love to hear your origin story. How did you get to where you are today?
Jamie Hays Szlec We love this question. Let’s see, I’ll jump in and you start or you can jump in at any time, of course, but Okay, so how we got to JWS, how do we get here? So Wesley, and I, you know, we’re working at the same institution, um, you know, really a good old boy place. We immediately bonded as friends, which I’m sure is a shock to no one. She just started and I was onboarding her on one of our major markets. And so we had just scheduled a lunch with one of our principal gift donors. And a couple was a principal gift couple. And they had been donating at a very high level, you know, they were suite holders. They’re very, very generous to the university. So we had met, we were supposed to meet with both of them. When we got there. It was just him and you know, that’s okay. No big deal. schedules change. They shift all the time. So we didn’t really think too much of it, Kim. So we get to the lunch we sit, we were sitting down, and he suggests that we sit on either side of them that again, we weren’t really thinking of that was weird in any way. And at some point during the lunch, she began physically groping me under the table. Now I didn’t know if this was happening to Wesley. She didn’t know if it was happening to me. It was indeed both happening to us both. And not only that he started. He made it he made subtle comments about our appearance. He started talking about our university administration using really explicit racial slur refers to describe our leadership, which was just so inappropriate. And I think in that moment, you know, we kind of again, going back to that position of power, right? We were frustrated by his behavior, we were uncomfortable. But in that moment, we did nothing. We said nothing. We acted agreeably and just, you know, acted like nothing was wrong. Right. And I really would say that our friendship probably deep in that day, right, Wes? You would say.
Wesley Ellison Stewart Yeah, I mean, I think that was, you know, we got into the rental car after that lunch, and just like, completely vented, right, we started sharing this experience that happened to me at this point in my career, I had that happen.
Jamie Hays Szlec And are all very similar, by the way, all the experiences, and we never opened up to anybody before.
Wesley Ellison Stewart And both of us have been attending national conferences on a regular basis. And again, I think being you know, at least in this case, we had each other but we are on a team of predominantly other men. And so it just wasn’t a conversation that ever came up. And so we actually decided to submit a proposal to speak at the National Association of collegiate athletic director conference, on this very topic, right, navigating inappropriate behavior from, you know, donors. And Jamie, you can call but we literally had to have, I don’t know, 10, phone conversations with the conference Review Committee, in fear that we were going to be out there male bashing, and they just wanted to make sure that what we were talking about was, you know, relevant and positive. And eventually, we got it approved. And I can’t tell you how many men and women after our session came up to us, and started sharing similar stories. And it really was the catalyst for us to then create our women-owned women-run consulting, business and 2016. And we’d like to note that it was prior to the me to movement. And really, you know, since then we’ve hosted over 50 workshops and trainings with organizations and higher education, healthcare, sports, and then recently technology, because came, as you pointed out, this is not just, you know, a fundraising sector issue, this is happening across the board. And we really, you know, we partner with these organizations to really think about, you know, how do you create a space to have dialogue and share these personal stories, which then ultimately builds like a community? And then the most important piece of the work is then we figure out how do we empower action? What are the communication tools that you need to address that, you know, inappropriate behavior? And then what is the institution, the organization’s responsibility to, you know, review these incidences, have a communication plan back to that individual and determine is this person worth having in our community? Right? What’s the accountability on the end of the person behaving that way? So that’s how we started and, you know, whatever, seven years later, here, we are still doing this really important work.
Kim Meninger Yeah. What would you add…
Jamie Hays Szlec One little note, nugget, I’m gonna add, Kim is when we were sitting there in that rental car, we were both, I think we felt empowered, because you know, we hadn’t had a conversation with anybody really, in this line of work. And we were sharing opening up to each other. And I think I remember saying, let’s be change makers, Western, it’s changed the world. And I really feel like a little bit. That’s how we are we are having these important discussions. It’s so key.
Kim Meninger And that’s how change happens, right? It’s individual people making the decision that the status quo is not acceptable and doing our part. And there are definitely days when I think, oh, my gosh, there’s so much to this, these problems, like how are we ever going to address them, but there are other days when I’m inspired because these individual efforts all add up to a cumulative effect. And I’m curious, what’s different today, in 2023, then back in 2016, especially you mentioned pre me-too write a lot has happened in the world since then, like, what would you say has changed? That’s a good question.
Wesley Ellison Stewart So I think, first of all, there’s more data out there. So the Ohio State University came out this past year and shared that about 75% of Fundraising Professionals have experienced sexual harassment during some point in their career. That’s three in four individuals who work in our industry. So in that way, and then I will also know right, you know, Jamie and I come from this as to white straight women. That data highlights that women of color and women who identify LGBTQ experience and at a significantly greater rate than their white straight counterparts. So this is now public, right. And so I think what you’re seeing is that organizations are now taking ownership to protect their employees and think about what are you know, ways that we can implement a you know, a safety You oriented process so that when, you know alumni parent friend of the institution is behaving inappropriately by making it what, you know, a bias statement harassing aggressive behavior? Well, you know, you name it, there’s a clear review system and process in place to, you know, determine is this person’s money worth it right? Can we, are we willing to compromise the safety of our staff for $1,000,000 – 10 million dollars, whatever, you know, gift amount? And so I think you see, what I have noticed, because the data is out there, there is more of an industry commitment and an institutional commitment. And partly, you know, it’s reputational risk, right? You know, these organizations don’t want to put their staff in danger, or the reputation of the institution in danger. So you just see more willingness to hold people accountable. And that’s the shift I’ve seen. And they’re, you know, the other piece of it, like, we’re our work, we’re part of a collective, at least in the higher education space, that there’s about 30 Different institutions that are now part of it, that are trying to really, you know, set a national standard of, you know, what we do when these situations happen, because we know some of these philanthropists, right, they give to multiple organizations are involved. And if they’re behaving inappropriately to, you know, my team members at Boston College, and they’re also active at Harvard, I’m sure their behavior is happening to the, to my counterparts at institution across the street, for example.
Jamie Hays Szelc Yeah. And I would just add on to that, I think Wesley did a great job explaining but and I would agree with everything, I just the bottom line, I feel like people are more willing to discuss it and talk about it and bring it up, you know, and I think that’s so key because, you know, for so long, like she and I had these experiences, but we didn’t really share because we always think it was our fault. Right? And, and realizing that that’s not the case at all, understanding that, you know, everybody comes to the table with different experiences, life experiences, but nothing that we can’t blame ourselves from the actions of someone else, right? And I think the data is so key. And so it’s been so refreshing for us to have people want to start the conversations. And then once we start and like work with these institutions, we are kind of, we go back and we continue the discussion. It’s just not a one-and-done thing, you know. So I think that’s been really amazing.
Kim Meninger And you’re making me think about well, first of all, I’m thinking of Jeffrey Epstein, when you talk about [Yeah, absolutely.] One that certainly probably brought a lot of this to the forefront. But the other thing I’m really thinking about too, as you said that Jamie about it’s not your fault is a really important piece of this conversation. Because I think for so long in so many different domains, women have blamed themselves or had so much shame when they’ve been subjected to this kind of behavior. And when we add into that, the different dynamics and we’ve all seen stories over the years of whistleblowers or you know, people who have tried to escalate different kinds of inappropriate situations, and then it is ended up backfiring on them and has been damaging to their own careers or to their to their own relationships. And so I’m curious what your perspective on this, obviously, this is not a solved issue, or I don’t expect you to have all the answers but curious if someone’s listening and thinking to themselves, this is my story. But I’m terrified to bring it up to anybody because this person has so much power more power than I do. It’s, I’m going to be the one who suffers, nothing’s going to change, they’re not going to be held accountable. Is it even worth it?
Jamie Hays Szelc I think you’d start by just finding an ally, finding that person who is on your team on your staff who believes in you values you knows you and knows that, you know, like you’re not making stuff up and understanding that like What was he saying earlier? It’s the whole reputational risk of not only an institution, but you have to provide protection, right? That’s where I would start but Wesley, she’s wanting to say jump in.
Wesley Ellison Stewart No, I know, I think your, your point, I think I’ll share a quick story that I think highlights what not to do. If you’re in a supervisory or managerial role. And something that happened to me in my early part of my career. I had been working with this couple, their high profile, I was about to close my first seven-figure gift, which would set me on this track to be promoted to a director level. And, you know, similar to our story that Jamie just shared, I showed up to the dinner with my you know, gift agreement ready to get it signed with a couple the wife didn’t show up. They have four kids, you know, I kind of didn’t think anything of it. But the dinner turned into a very personal conversation. He continued to ask questions about my dating life, what I like to do for fun and while I kept trying to pivot it back to why we’re here and that’s to, you know, secure this wonderful gift to create a scholarship at your alma mater. He at the end of the dinner, he insisted on walking me to my car, at the car, he pushed me against the vehicle grabbed me and tried to kiss me. And I, you know, froze eventually I got the courage to kind of get myself safely into the car and get home to my hotel. And when I call my supervisor to share what had happened, you know, he was very empathetic, and I’m so sorry, this happened to you wisely. But his immediate response was, Well, it seems like you’re not able to handle this family. So I’m going to transition them to male-counterpart on my team. And in that moment, I, you know, I’m this ambitious woman, like you said, I think, you know, in fear of, well, no, I want to get that promotion, I gotta close that gift, I gotta prove my worth. I just, I don’t know, I’ll figure it out. I can, I can deal with him. And so I went on to work with this family for another year. And I kept, you know, every time I saw him, I was nervous, I was, you know, mindful of trying to make sure that we met in public spaces, or that we were at events with other people around. But ultimately, I left that organization, because I felt like you were penalizing me for coming forward. And I, you know, and I basically, in that moment, vowed, you know, when I’m in a leadership position, which the next role I took, I did get to manage a team, I made it very clear to be transparent with my team up front, that if anything, if you’re ever uncomfortable in any situation, please share with me come forward. I think to Jamie’s point earlier, we all come to the table with a different level of what’s comfortable to us, right? And I think no incident is too small. If someone has the courage to say, Hey, this is happening to me, believe them, Listen, let them guide the conversation, offer them resources. And I think we’re really mindful too, if you’re, if you’re not comfortable working with this family, either, we need to make a decision to decide if this person is worth being a part of our community, right, because I tell my team and like their hundreds of 1,000s of BC people who love or whatever school you work for that care deeply about this place that will treat you with respect. And, again, going back to like, no gift or relationship is worth compromising your, you know, self-worth, and your, you know, safety. So I think, you know, I would be more emphasizing like people in leadership roles, like come for, you know, believe your staff, you know, be open, provide that space for people to come forward.
Jamie Hays Szelc So I’ll set that expectation as a manager to come forward. And, you know, let’s talk things through. There’s difficult conversations are difficult, the difficult experiences happening.
Kim Meninger Well, and you mentioned this to Wesley, when you were talking about the network of different schools, right, because I think it’s relatively safe to assume that if one person is experiencing this, they’re not the only ones who’ve experienced it. And oftentimes, we feel like we’re the only ones like you both said, right, until you opened up with each other. You hadn’t you didn’t have the visibility into the fact that other people were experiencing this and so I think there’s something really powerful about sharing it too. And I wonder what your thoughts are on how do you know who to trust if you’re going to take that first step of saying this happened to me?
Jamie Hays Szelc That’s a really good question. Um, I think you know, I would go back to the whole piece of you know, things like I did experience something crazy Well, a handful of times but this specific incident I was at a institution Wesley wasn’t there we were at different places at that time but you know, I did I went to my boss because I was like, you know, you need to know this because I think what you had mentioned Kim a lot especially in an institution you know, say we were working in athletics but there’s oftentimes our donors and friends are working really closely with other units on campus right and so we you said it to we if he if this person and I are having a you know, conversation relationship about a gift, there’s likely more relationships on campus that are having the same kind of conversations. And so I had one experience that was just out of them crazy that I won’t get into today, but I did tell my boss and my boss said Believe me, but you know, we didn’t have we weren’t equipped for it like you know, what, what’s next? You know, do you still want to go on this visit? Well, yes, I do. Because like Wesley, I don’t want to lose that chance to close this you know, seven-figure dollar gift and you know, we’ll we can send somebody with you. So I think you do you just have I don’t know Wesley jump in, but I think you have to find somebody you have to come forward because if you don’t come forward, it’s going to continue to happen. So come be brave. Go forward and just share, you know, find that person that you trust, it has to be somebody that you trust. And then if you’re that person who somebody comes to and says, Oh my gosh, Wesley just shared this, you know, go to your leadership or whatnot, you can’t go blab it to everybody else, right? You, you really need to take that to heart and not gossip about it because I think that just makes that person feel even worse if it gets back to them.
Wesley Ellison Stewart Yeah, I mean, I think the one thing it’s interesting, Kim, when we do these workshops, we actually start with a silent exercise called stand up. And it’s something that I’m sure other organizations have used to sort of create a sense of community by reading statements. And we’ll you know, we’ll start with kind of easier statements, maybe like, you know, I’m the only woman on my team, I’m the only man on my team and people stand up. But then we’ll work our way through to things like I’ve been verbally accosted in the work environment, I’ve been sexually harassed in my work environment. I’ve been, you know, a donor has made comments about my physical appearance. And that exercise is so powerful, because you, you’re not, you don’t have to actually share, right, you’re physically showing your team. I’ve had that experience, and you’re not alone. Right? And we come back to that sort of, how do you as you know, how do you create a culture within your organization that people are safe to stand up and have the courage to, to show? Hey, this has happened to me, and then I think that sort of helps set the tone that we’re in a space to have that dialogue.
Kim Meninger Yeah, and I think that’s really important, like you said, that, I hate to use this word because I hate the thought of this being true. But the normalizing effect, right, you know, that there, this is happening to so many people, even though we don’t talk about it, or don’t feel like, you know, we feel like we’re the only one. So having that opportunity to share. And I think that was the power of the me-too movement, right? As we could all say, hashtag me too, without sharing any of the details and recognize, oh, wow, this is, this is happening all around. [Yeah.] Yeah. So do you have anything that you can share with the audience about like, in the moment, strategies for this… happen…
Jamie Hays Szelc So Many? I know what Wesley going to go to. Are you going to CBIN?
Wesley Ellison Stewart I was going to, but…
Jamie Hays Szelc Okay, let’s she’s gonna do this. And it’s amazing tool. We use it in real life, like, professional ways. But we’ve also had clients who say, Oh, my gosh, I use this at home with my partner or spouse to take the trash out. So it’s kind of like all the stuff. But also, when we do trainings, we know that not everybody was leaner or pretty outspoken. I don’t know if you can tell. But we not everybody is. And so we go through tools, indirect ways, direct ways. So everybody feels comfort in how to navigate these inappropriate behaviors and discussions. But the CBIN is really, really good. And Wesley take it away.
Wesley Ellison Stewart Yeah. So I think, again, before you respond, I think it’s key to ask yourself a couple questions like, you know, will you regret not saying something? Right? If you don’t say something, does that convey to the individual that, that behavior’s acceptable? Are you in the right setting to say something? Right? I think, yes, in the moment, there’s tools to address the behavior. But I also think people should feel empowered that, you know, you maybe you’re at a big cocktail party, and there’s other people around, and it just isn’t the right setting in fear of maybe a escalation or physical confrontation, that, you know, a day from now, you can take that time and maybe right out, you know, what your response is, or, in fact, you could empower a colleague, a supervisor to have that conversation on your behalf. Because I think, oftentimes, right, well, we’re experiencing that inappropriate behavior. Like the last thing, I want you to think about my experience, the last thing we wanted to do was go back to that, you know, individual and tell him what he did was inappropriate and how it made me feel right. But in the moment, I think this is kind of a basic methodology that we use, and it’s called CBIN context behavior impact next steps. So context right, you know, Kim, I want to talk to you about how you treat it, you know, how you close the meeting with me last week, behavior, describe exactly what that person did right? Focus on the behavior, not the individual. The way that you were, you know, describing my physical appearance was inappropriate, you make comments about my body that made me feel uncomfortable, something like that, right? Focus on the behavior, and then impact right? How did it make you feel I know that wasn’t your it may not have been your intention, but the way you describe my body really minimize, you know, my sense of self, something like that, right? And then next steps, what do you expect from them moving forward, right? The next time we interact To the next time we have an interaction, I expect you to treat me with respect and treat me professionally in order for us to continue this partnership. Or in a case where maybe it’s so egregious, you may say, you know, your the way that you treated me does not align with the values of my organization, and therefore, you’re no longer welcome to be part of this family, this community, etc. So it’s a nice framework. You know, I think the other thing I just we emphasize is the I statements, and this is pretty, you know, straightforward, right? Using the I felt dismissed by what you said, or I felt uncomfortable versus the attacking statements. While we may think, in our head, you know, you sexist pig, right? By saying that, you’re probably going to provoke some kind of physical confrontation or escalation. So really, you know, figuring out how do you focus on like, describing how it impacted you or how it felt and really focusing on the behavior and not the person, right, it’s, it’s what they did and how they treated you that needs to be addressed.
Kim Meninger Yeah, and I think that I can see the applicability to other areas of our lives, right, because it is such a powerful tool or framework to have in your back pocket. And I also love that, if that doesn’t feel like an option for you, to empower somebody else to step in, on your behalf because it is a form of trauma, right? And if you’re, it’s not just the experience itself, but it’s everything that follows and all of the fears and anxieties that you have about your job going forward, not just in working with this particular individual. But if you’ve never experienced this before, it’s gonna be really hard to trust other people and to feel safe being alone in the same space as somebody go, you know, you just, it’s the end of the innocence, right? All of a sudden, you, you see the world in this whole different way. And I think it is really hard to advocate for ourselves independently with somebody who has already disrespected us.
Wesley Ellison Stewart And I think that’s a really important point, at least I know, I know, I make with my team, I don’t again, I think if you and again, it takes practice, like we’ve been doing these trainings, and there are still situations that happen, where I’m like, to that person, really just say that, [yeah] and you And even though I’ve, you know, I’ve done this work, you know, I, you know, it takes me a moment to write, okay, we’re calm to write like, because you’re here, I mean, at least I’m heated, like I’m emotional. And so figuring out whether it’s taking a step, you know, away, I think a lot of sometimes these interactions do happen on the phone or via email because I do find similar to what you see on you know, social media, people can be more aggressive and more inappropriate when they can hide behind, right, a phone and email, etc. And so I always find that that’s, that is such a perfect opportunity to say, you know, excuse me, I’m going to step away until you’re able to calm down, hey, you know, I’ll give you a callback. And you just get yourself out of the situation. And so you’re calm and you’re collected, and you can maybe write outright use, you’re talking to CBIN really draft exactly what you’re going to say. And then either you get back on the phone a couple hours later the next day, or Hey, Jamie, I need you, would you mind calling this person on my behalf, I just don’t feel comfortable being back in that environment. And so we like at the sea, we have a handful of team members that are part of our what we call our safety team. And there’s five of us who are designated to have these conversations, and we kind of assess, you know, depending on the situation, like who’s the appropriate person. In some cases, it may have to be our you know, our Vice President, because the person is in such a position of power. And that is going to go along, you know, that’s going to set that tone. But it goes back to Kim, getting buy-in from your whole organization. For this to be really effective. Your, your organization has to believe that the safety and support of your staff is the most important thing.
Kim Meninger And beyond that, because hopefully, that would be the guiding factor here. But beyond that, as you mentioned before, there are risks, real risks to any business when this kind of behavior happens. And so I wonder if you’re seeing as part of your conversations, adjustments to how businesses manage risk, and how they think about this in the context of overall risk management and like you said, I mean, I can imagine it would be kind of an Oh, no moment when somebody realizes that a big donor is engaging in this kind of behavior is like, right, like, you have to get rid of somebody who’s spending a lot of money to support your organization or in the in a different environment, you know, in my world in the tech space, where it’s like, oh, this is our biggest salesperson, right? They’re bringing in so much money, what are we going to do and So I feel like to your point having everyone on board, but also policies and procedures that take the individual subjectivity out of it. So it’s just nope, it doesn’t matter who it is. This is our system. And these are the rules that we follow our numbers.
Jamie Hays Szelc And we’re helping an institution right now kind of build those policies and procedures out. And that’s something that we can also do with, with our clients where, you know, they might not know exactly how they want to go. And we can kind of say, well, this is what other people are doing across the country and give them some tools and just help them help guide them along that way.
Wesley Elliot Stewart Yeah, and I think to your point, Kim, yeah, it’s thinking about what is your, like, risk review process? Right? How, you know, in something, you know, we really leverage, you know, we have a research team. And so before, we, you know, empower our team members to work with anyone, whether that’s through the Alumni Association, or, you know, advancement, we’re doing background checks, right, we’re making sure, you know, there’s no criminal activity, there’s no history of, you know, inappropriate behavior. And I think the reality and I don’t want to paint this, you know, in butterflies and rainbows, but most of the people we work with are great, wonderful people and are respectful. But unfortunately, right, the, the, you know, the 10, 15% of people that do, you know, not, you know, don’t abide by, you know, these kind of standards of respect, can impact people the most significantly in a negative way. And I think one of the drivers, I also bring forward to two organizations, both tech healthcare higher ed, is this is a retention tool, right? We know the women in the workplace report from McKinsey came out earlier this year and highlighted, right, women are leaving the workforce at the highest rate ever. And one of the big factors is that they are experiencing belittling microaggressions, and they experienced harassment on the job. And so I think framing it to, to leadership, like this isn’t just a reputational risk, this is you’re losing your talent, right. And we know that we need a balanced workforce, diverse workforce, to you know, perform, perform at the highest rate, we also know psychological safety is such a key component to successful teams. So I think tying this also to results, has gotten, at least in my opinion, other leaders to be on board with, okay, we really need to take this seriously and think about what’s the right reporting structure? How do we flag these team members? What, what level of behavior warrants them being removed? Right. And in some cases, if it’s internal, right, they’re being you know, they’re being asked to leave the organization. Right. But that I think is key to is tying it to retention and keeping these people in our industry.
Kim Meninger Absolutely. I think that’s a really good point. And I, I wonder, and maybe I’m taking us down a whole other path, but I just feel like I want to, I want to acknowledge the, the I don’t know what you would call it backlash, maybe that came out of the me-too movement and the fact that especially when you talk about being a woman who has ambition and wants to grow your career, if men suddenly start saying, I don’t feel safe, being with alone with a woman in case, she reports me for behavior, right as, as if they can’t, they have no agency over their own behavior. I just wonder what we can do as women to empower ourselves to not lose out on these opportunities, because of these very real issues and how we can sort of navigate some of the complexities that come out of this whole conversation. So number one is, are there things that I personally can do proactively to maintain my safety and like, the first thing that comes to mind is the buddy system, right? Like, you know, I mean, it’s hard to, to be the only woman in the room or to be it, but at the same time, I also worry about reinforcing a narrative that it’s not appropriate or not safe for a man and a woman to be in a room alone together as professionals because we should, obviously I’ll be able to control our own behavior.
Jamie Hays Szelc You would think so. I mean, you know, just a little thing on that, you know, when we when I would have teammates, and we’d go on a one-on-one visit and you know, we say it’s just things like, never meet with somebody at their home, especially at first visit you know, with your at a restaurant or a coffee shop it a little trick that I would always do is you know, it’s all going well, and then you, you get to the end of the meeting and you walk out together and you know, then you like Wesley’s example they sometimes you want to walk you to your car, and so what I would always say is, you don’t have to go to the bathroom. I’m just gonna run in quick and anytime you say that I feel like people are like, Oh, okay, I’ll see you next time, you know, so just little things like to just, you know, don’t put, I once did something the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. This is a whole other podcast, but a donor was out of in, in town from out of town, and he asked me to pick him up at the hotel. And so I was like, she’s older. I mean, I could, I guess I could totally do that. And, you know, just be thoughtful about that, I would say, Never pick somebody up. I mean, a, if you get in a wreck, that could be a whole thing. But just the safety piece, if you know, he becomes very inappropriate, which happened on this meeting, then that’s just awkward. So just little things, keeping in mind, I guess, like, how to navigate yourself and be safe. With, you know, being thoughtful in those ways never meet late at night at a bar, you know, you’re in charge of your schedule. So yeah,
Wesley Ellison Stewart So yeah, I was just gonna build on that, I think so much of us, especially when you’re in service roles, right? Where your customer’s sales, the work that we do, where we’re dependent on cultivating these relationships with these people in positions of power, we tend to just drop everything depending on what their availability is. And I tell my team, like you control when you meet someone where you meet someone, if you’re, you know, you don’t necessarily have to take a meeting at 7 pm at night, if that’s the only time slot they offer, for example, I think the other piece I did want to highlight on this, and I’m no, I’m just completely got my head, oh my gosh, you when you said this, oh, this is what I do, I often am very upfront with what the values of the organization that I represent are like, so in my when I’m trying to secure a first time meeting, or I’m introducing myself, you know, I’ll just, you know, highlight our mission, I’ll say, you know, we’re we, my job is to secure financial resources to advance the mission of Boston College forward. And we are one that we are men and women for others and really believe in mutual respect, you know, whatever, you know, so I think being really transparent at the front end, when you’re beginning of relationship with a new client or partner, like, be explicit, like, this is what I stand for, this is what I expect in working with you. I think that’s also another way you can be proactive is setting those expectations. And you know, how to do it in kind of an, you know, an aggressive way, but I think you can subtly really highlight like, you know, I expect are, you know, looking forward to working with you, you know, I really value respectful discourse. And you know, appreciate you treating me that way as we embark on this partnership.
Kim Meninger Yeah, those are all really great tips. And I mean, I’m thinking a lot about, I met my husband online, right? So I’m like, it’s kind of like the online dating rules. But it makes sense. When you think about how to protect yourself, you just, you just don’t know, unfortunately, like you said Wesley, most people are not going to behave inappropriately, but you never know. And so I really like what you were saying, Jamie about, go to the bathroom. So you don’t walk out with somebody, right? Like these little things that are empowering that don’t create awkwardness, especially if it is somebody who’s you know, acting in good faith, you can still do these things and maintain a good professional relationship. Anybody who is not going to engage in inappropriate behavior should respect whatever you decide to do. And so I think, at the end of the day, what I hope most people take away from this conversation is that we have more power than we think we do. And we have choices that we can make. We have voices that deserve to be heard. And that’s why I’m so grateful for the work that you’re doing. Because I think you’re sort of pulling back the curtain on an experience that has been hidden for so long.
Jamie Hays Szelc Thank you, Kim. It’s something we both really love and are super passionate about. And yeah, so I’m just we’re so appreciative that you took time to visit with us today.
Kim Meninger Yeah, well, where can people find you?
Wesley Ellison Stewart Yeah, well, and I will just close because I think this also comes back to being able to be your authentic self at work. And that is something that I have always, you know, valued. And when I’ve looked for, you know, where I want to work and how I want to be as a leader, I want people to feel like you can show up, you know, as yourself and know that you have the protection and support from people around you to be that person. Right. And I think that’s really what our work is about is kind of maintaining that sense of who you are. You can find us on LinkedIn at JWS Empowerment Solutions. We’re also on Twitter, and our website JWSempoweredsolutions.com.
Kim Meninger So wonderful, and we will put the links into the show notes It’s as well it has been such a pleasure talking with both of you thank you for everything that you’re doing for all of us and I just really really looking forward to staying connected and hearing more of all of your good work
Jamie Hays Szelc Thank you, Kim. We appreciate you.