Guest Blog: I am for women. I am also for men.

Today is International Women’s Day, and in the spirit of today I wanted to take the opportunity to share a different perspective with you. First, let me start by saying, I am proud to be a woman, CEO, friend, wife, and stepmom to an amazing 12 year old boy!

In celebration of today, I would like to post the following guest blog written by my friend and a business woman I admire, Courtney Thomas, CEO of Kansas City’s Central Exchange.

As a woman whose career focuses on advancing gender equality in the workplace, I believe Courtney has done something here that is difficult to do; she has captured the spirit of today, supporting the advancement of women, while also being inclusive of the great men in our worlds!

Amy Leslie, CEO of Perspective Consulting

I am for women. I am also for men.

Guest blog by Courtney Thomas, CEO, Central Exchange

It is an interesting time in our country and in our world. More than ever before in my lifetime, there is an intense energy around equity and equality. And believe me, I support that 150%!

My job is to lead a professional development organization for women – to help women achieve their full potential, to better negotiate for themselves, to connect them with other strong women and new opportunities and to help them achieve the levels of leadership they want to seize. It’s a magical role, really!

Every day, I am exposed to the most extraordinary women and leaders in Kansas City. I’ve developed relationships I would have never had the opportunity to create if it weren’t for Central Exchange. Daily, I am presented with the unique opportunity to help others, while I also have the opportunity to learn from them. For these things and more, I couldn’t be more grateful.

It is a time we are hearing women’s voices louder than ever before as they describe the challenges (lack of equal) and traumatic experiences (harassment) they have faced in the workforce. I am proud of their courage and I admire their strength. My heart goes out to these women. I get it. I am one of you. I wish there was a magic eraser that we could swipe to make those challenges and experiences disappear. Although that’s an impossible wish, what I would say most of us can agree on is we are stronger people because of ALL of the experiences – good and bad – that we have weathered in our lifetime. Despite every second not being “ideal,” there is always something we can glean from our experiences to help us grow and find further success in our journey. I always say, “you’ve achieved 100% rate of survival thus far, so YOU CAN DO IT!” That doesn’t mean the road is easy, but we are strong, resourceful and committed.

A couple of weeks ago, I vulnerably shared with my team that I’m finding myself in a bit of an awkward spot at times. I proudly lead a women’s organization. It’s an honor. I represent all things women. I wholeheartedly support the advancement of women and for us to solve disparities such as the gender wage gap, the lack of gender diversity at the executive or board levels, more female politicians and the list goes on…. But what about the men? What about the boys?

I wholeheartedly support the advancement of women…. But what about the men? What about the boys?

As the mom of three extraordinary children (11, 9, 4), two of whom are boys, and as of the wife of an incredible man, I’ve found myself getting offended (sometimes REALLY offended) with what at times feels like we are clobbering the male species as a whole, when in reality is it’s not ALL men holding a “guilty” card. What is this doing to the “good” men? What message is this sending to our boys? What is this doing to the ways that men and women could and should be working together? Don’t get me wrong, in NO WAY am I discounting what has happened to women. In NO WAY am I minimizing the pain or impact these circumstances have created. I’m simply finding myself concerned that it feels like the pendulum can swing so far in polarizing directions that it shifts us farther away from creating solutions and real opportunities to come together.

Without a doubt, I want my daughter to have every opportunity her brothers do. I want her to center her energy around the confidence she currently possesses to achieve whatever she sets her mind and heart to do. But here’s the deal… I want no less for my sons. I don’t want my sons or my husband cast into some “general” category that “men are bad,” or that “all men….” fill in the blank. That’s not them.

Women and men should be coming together to determine how we solve these challenges – WITH ONE ANOTHER, not AGAINST one another.

Casting a divide or a net of generality will do nothing but further the gap. What does that do for us today? Nothing constructive that I can see. What does that do for the generations of tomorrow? In some ways I ask myself are young boys at a greater disadvantage right now because there is this underlying shadow cast that “men are bad”? I don’t know the real answer to that, but what I do know is I want equity and opportunity for my sons and my daughter and for all women and all men.

…What I do know is I want equity and opportunity for my sons and my daughter and for all women and all men.

Ironically, one week after having the very vulnerable conversation I did with my staff, I attended an event with the Women’s Foundation where Ann Curry was speaking. Much to my (positive) surprise, she spoke the same exact words that I had just shared with my staff. That she, too, was finding herself offended by the generalities being cast around men and the concern she had for what that was going to “the good guys” and our boys.

If we really want to see change, it will take us all coming together – men and women.

As I quoted in a program yesterday, “if we really want progress, we need to come together united as women and men to advance business, teams and the future.”

So with all this said, I am for women. I am also for men. I am for us all working together to correct what isn’t right and celebrating all that is. United is the only way to create progress and drive change. Let’s go do it.

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