As Women’s History Month ends, the conversation around women’s experiences and need for support continues. IU student leaders in Women and Co. and Women in Media believe in the importance of using women-focused groups to do this, they said.
Women and Co. is a group in the Kelley School of Business. Riley Helms, chief officer of global awareness, said that the group provides female students pursuing a career in business a supportive community and resources for professional development, cultural awareness and mental health.
“Rather than just empowering women, it’s about empowering people as a whole,” President Akshita Boddapu said.
Helms, Boddapu and Chief Marketing Officer Christina Ruterschmidt said Women and Co. is a supportive safe space to talk about broader issues affecting a diverse group of women. The group regularly invites members of various cultural groups to speak about their experiences related to sexism in the workplace.
“We are aware as women in Kelley that we are entering a field that is male-dominated,” Boddapu said. “We can’t change everyone’s mindset, but if we can change how our women or our members carry themselves in the workplace, then we can give them that sense of empowerment and sense of strength.”
The group leaders note the importance of normalizing conversations about mental health in the business field. Ruterschmidt said she often feels the need to ignore her mental health in favor of advancing her career. Helms said she feels the conversation of mental health being led by women is less likely to be taken seriously.
“I think that women are more willing to express their emotions and that can be looked upon badly,” Helms said. “The more you share your emotions, the more you share how you’re feeling, you’re going to be able to come up with new ways to address problems that are more effective in general.”
Women in Media is a group that serves a similar purpose for students pursuing a career in a media- or arts-related fields.
“We do think that it’s important to talk about struggles that women face in the workplace, but we never want to spend a whole meeting focusing on the negatives,” President Amy Gallagher said. “We want to try to counter that with, if you’re feeling discouraged, how can you find support.”
Gallagher and Vice President Annie Carmody said those who don’t identify as female should be a part of the conversation and join their group to hear about the experiences of sexism brought up.
Gallagher said speaking about sexism and inequality with exclusively women quickly reaches the point that they are preaching to the choir.
“So many of the men that I know that would want to be a part of the conversation feel like ‘I want you to feel comfortable about your issues and I don’t want to be part of it,’ but you should hear it too,” Gallagher said.
Carmody said she wants to remind allies that women have varying preferences on how to be supported. She said some may not necessarily want others to speak out for them, but rather for others to amplify their voices.
“Not everyone wants to be supported in the same way,” Carmody said. “It’s like love languages.”
Members of both groups said they feel having women-focused groups is essential to empowering women throughout the year.
“I think that all women definitely carry an empathetic side where they are supportive, they’ll be there for you and they’re going to be there for you when you fall down,” Ruterschmidt said. “As women, I know we can go through a lot but at the end of it all we’ll get back up, and that’s what makes us kind of amazing.”