Here's Why International Women’s Day NYC at IBM Was Awesome*


Progress, positive results, and personal stories are a powerful antidotes to complacency. All of those were embodied at IBM’s International Women’s Day NYC event. The organizers advanced very real human and business challenges by assembling “positive outliers” – the businesses who make diversity a priority and the gains they get from that, leaders who shine at building and leading diverse teams, diverse exemplars who are thriving at IBM, and our LeaderMom work.

Below are 3 reasons why the whole event struck me as so effective and inspiring.

Leaders living into meaning and legacy is beautiful to see; it motivates them and others to action. The day was animated by stories from leaders working hard on tough issues. They care, and are having local and global impact – and a really good time. That is one of the highest privileges of leadership.

  • IBM’s new menstrual support policy is providing hygiene products in all their locations. To say the executive championing the effort is on a personal mission is an understatement. (Period End of Sentence, IBM is with you.)

  • The relationship between a male leader in their consulting practice and a high performing direct report has celebrated. Why? She made partner soon after returning from maternity leave. He was proud of retaining and developing her. She was proud too, and not just of her career progress. She was proud of knowing her story helped another young woman ward off doubts about her own prospects.

  • One mid-career man, new to IBM, came to the event out of empathy. His single mother’s journey made him want to show up for women facing similar challenges.

The meeting was like time lapsed photography of a stunning cultural evolution, one story at a time. Hearing how each leader is acting in his or her realm of influence and making gains gave everyone a sense of being part of something and of progress. For example:

  • A senior executive talked with passion and insight from their research on the parts of their organization that are making the greatest gains on gender equity, how and why.

  • An HR leader talked about wage equity at IBM and how much it matters and systems in place. She educated people about what it is and isn’t, and about how to enable women to own and earn, not undermine, our value. She encouraged women to go after the higher-revenue roles and encouraged leaders to recruit them.

  • Another HR leader talked about how her team is using innovative technology like Watson to match skills to potential, rather than requiring women to know and pursue a role, thereby reducing the impact of common unconscious biases.

  • Caitlin Weiss – with a power and heart – talked about the young mother’s network she founded, and her team’s dedication to creating community, sharing resources, and to educating and advocating. And she engaged two very cool, highly engaged dads to part of the panel conversation as well. 

Men and women are willing to be uncomfortable to enable growth. Jessica Bishop bravely and skillfully engaged the audience in our segment, and facilitated our dialogue with finesse. One senior executive had to gain comfort with talking about pads and tampons. His self-effacing humor was powerfully engaging. Further, more men showed up. They were curious, listened, inquired about what might work better, and made meaningful contributions. Two men told me they have heard and been moved by stories from women they work with or care about being underestimated, feeling fearful of being perceived as too much, being overlooking, being deemed not enough, or being sexualized. They want to be forces for good.  

In sum, this is what engagement around diversity and inclusion looks like. Discretionary energy. Meaning. Progress. Personal stories. Increased capacity. Better results. Positive energy and gratitude. Having the chance to contribute was amazing; witnessing what it looks like to make a difference together on International Women’s Day was even better. #BeEqual #BalanceForBetter

*The original title was “Here's Why International Women’s Day NYC at IBM Was @#$&ing Awesome” but we realize what is culturally acceptable in New York may not translate worldwide.

Catherine Flavin