OHIO: In The Twilight Zone

Last week I spoke at the Women in Leadership Conference at Ohio's Bowling Green University. The theme at this conference was Pathways to Promotion and Leadership. 

I agreed to speak at the event on the condition that it would not be censored and that it “may offend some sensitive ears and sponsors of the event.” I clearly indicated that if the organizers of the event were uncomfortable with this, then I was the wrong person to give this talk.

The reason for my caution is according to the World Economic Forum, Ohio ranks 40th out of the 51 States in gender diversity. Despite billions of dollars being spent across North America on diversity, harassment, sensitivity and performance management programs over the past few decades by organizations and corporations, the results have been beyond dismal. Given that fact, I did not, and will not, give a motivational speech full of human resource gobbledygook that only provides false hope.

During my speech, the event coordinator approached Patrick Mundt, the Executive Director of the Faas Foundation who was monitoring the power point slides, and demanded he hook me from the stage. She indicated that a few of the sponsors had walked out in disgust. 

However, Patrick and I observed an engaged audience, many taking notes and nodding in agreement. Afterwards, I received not one but two warm and enthusiastic ovations and many came up and thanked me for my frankness. One person said that those who came up to speak to me afterward were brave to do so because they were likely being watched by their co-workers or supervisors in attendance, and it could be a career-limiting move for them. This was particularly significant as Ohio is, an “at will” state where employees without a contract can be fired without cause – something that was repeated by a number of people at this event and two others I spoke with in Ohio. 

The event organizers did not come to me to express their displeasure—nor did they thank me for giving the speech. In response to a note we sent thanking the event coordinator for hosting us and allowing me to speak, we also asked her to confirm that sponsors were upset with what I said, which she did. 

Reflecting on this experience, it became obvious to us that Bowling Green University is more concerned about their financial sponsors than changing Ohio's dismal standing in gender diversity. Leaving the state, I felt I was leaving the Twilight Zone!


 Credit: Jessica Vailat/The Red List