In our last profile of Women & Hi Tech Treasurer Ben Phillips, we introduced you to his professional background, his role as a Director in the Audit & Assurance Practice at Katz, Sapper & Miller (KSM) specializing in audits related to IT Security and Internal Controls, and his perspective on the importance of male allyship. This year, we were excited to catch up with him about how his continuing experiences with Women & Hi Tech have benefitted him, especially in the context of major events that have transpired in between these conversations.
“In this world where most continue to work remotely or in a hybrid-environment for the time being, it is more important than ever to take steps and intentionally connect with coworkers outside of just talking about work,” Phillips observed. “Those connections used to manifest normally. You might end up in the break room getting coffee at the same time as someone from a different department and find a chance to check in and catch up. Now, work is more like getting on a Zoom for 30 minutes with the same groups of people.”
He described one innovation taking place at KSM, a practice called Coffee Chats where random groups of four are periodically organized into virtual breakout meetings to meet, share what’s going on in life, and talk about whatever comes up. “It’s a way we can still celebrate everything from someone getting a new puppy, to someone achieving a career or life milestone we might otherwise have never learned about since we’re all working at a distance.”
Ben shared that he has been happy to see the same intentionality in the events hosted by Women & Hi Tech. “From one-on-one meetings to big Executive Women’s Forums that are great for learning and networking, one of our focus areas right now is to be a place where members can find human connection on any given day.” One new event he especially celebrated is the organization’s innovation of Clickside Chats. “These more relaxed events are great because they don’t have to be explicitly focused on our mission of changing the landscape of women represented in STEM,” he said. “They are free to be conversations about topics like job interviews, professional development, or self-care, that are hosted and attended by people who are representative of and in support of our mission.”
“I remain committed to volunteering with Women & Hi Tech because the organization takes steps like these to live its truth as an advocate, rather than just hold itself up as an example without doing the real work,” Phillips shared.
He says the same principle is true of the organization’s commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, now fully-established in its mission statement and permanently integrated in the infrastructure with the addition of the Engagement, Diversity, and Inclusion Director board position. “It’s like finance—unless you have a treasurer and finance committee, who is holding the organization accountable to the targets? The Engagement, Diversity, and Inclusion mindset used to be embedded across a few roles on the Board and it will remain a focus for the entire Board. Now we will have one committed Director keeping us accountable and tracking our growth with even more tangible metrics.”
Overall, Ben observed that the pandemic and resulting cultural changes served to escalate intentionality across many sectors, including male allyship and allyship to diverse people. “To have any sort of intentional ally relationship, you have to have a willing recipient on the other side, and that takes a lot of trust, humility, and vulnerability, first and foremost from the person in the position of privilege. You can’t just sit someone down in a Zoom meeting, or even an in-person meeting, and say, ‘I want to be your ally,’” he said with a candid laugh. “All you can do is show up as a steward and advocate as a matter of habit, and express that you are trying to live and behave with more intentional inclusion. Then, you have to hope that intention resonates, and it may resonate differently with each individual. Becoming a person’s ally is as simple, and as complex, as becoming a friend.” He added that being an ally for just one female, or one diverse person, doesn’t make you an ally to all. “Wherever we each are in the world, city, or state, our experiences are our own and we may or may not choose to share them depending on each relationship we develop.”
Ben says one key for every member of Women & Hi Tech to meet and forge relationships with the right allies and peers to support their growth is for sponsors and even non-members to continue maximizing the value of the organization. “Every sponsorship comes with a certain number of memberships that are available to all employees of those companies, and the more robust your sponsorship, the better value you are getting on each individual membership from a cost perspective.” He encourages every sponsor to communicate and check in with Women & Hi Tech about how their employees are finding value in the organization. But at the same time, he acknowledges that employees are just as busy now as they ever were.
“That’s one reason that right now, so many of our events are free to the public. Even if someone never intends to become a member, individually or through a corporate sponsorship, we still want to be available to them as a resource they can use to learn, grow, and connect with others.” To Phillips, this is just about paying the value forward. “My involvement with this organization means I am learning quicker than I usually would in my own silo. And that is our goal for every person who is interested in the programming we deliver and the mission we are advancing to make STEM equally inclusive to all.”