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Seeking Change 

New workshop helps Richmond businesses guard against a culture of workplace harassment.

click to enlarge Chief Executive Ryann Lofchie and lead consultant Liz Grissom from the Frontier Project, a consulting company that offers workshops and leadership training in Scott’s Addition.

Ash Daniel

Chief Executive Ryann Lofchie and lead consultant Liz Grissom from the Frontier Project, a consulting company that offers workshops and leadership training in Scott’s Addition.

On a Thursday morning in Scott's Addition, a light winter rain sprays intermittently on the uneven streets and parking lots. As cars crisscross the intersections and people make their way to work with coffee in hand, a few extra cars fill up the parking lot of the Frontier Project. Each has made a diversion in the morning commute to do some thinking. They're here to talk about a difficult topic: sexual harassment and gender bias in the workplace.

Andrew Town is one of these people. He's taken other professional development workshops and training developed by the Frontier Project, a consulting firm offering workshops, leadership courses and other strategic support to organizations and businesses.

"I was encouraged to find out about their All In effort, even prior to this seminar being scheduled," he says. "I immediately took steps to be part of it."

The goal of the Allies and Advocates workshop is to help participants "spot signs of sexual harassment in the workplace, things that perpetuate it and to help each person understand their role, their company, and their friends a little better," explains Liz Grissom, lead consultant for the Frontier Project.

Why target the workplace? Statistics, Grissom says.

According to the "The 2019 Guide to Workplace Sexual Harassment" by iSight, more than half of women have experienced sexual advances. One in three said that the advances involved a man from work and one in four said they involved a superior. In the wake of high profile scandals from the Me Too and Time's Up movements, surprisingly, more than 80 percent of companies have made no effort to hold training or change policies, according to the same study.

The Frontier Project holds other diversity trainings and a women's leadership series, but neither were borne out of the Me Too movement, says Ryann Lofchie, the Frontier Project's chief executive.

"All In was," she says. "We knew we needed to open even more avenues for companies to have focused, real, tough conversations about gender dynamics in the workplace. Hence, All In."

Men fueled the development of the program, he says.

"When Me Too caught fire, leaders — in particular, male leaders — began reaching out to me, asking how they could be part of making things better," she says. "They wanted to know how their companies needed to change and what they could do differently."

Town, an information technology senior program manager for the Federal Reserve Bank, felt compelled to get involved, too.

"I'm a middle-aged white man with blue eyes, gray hair and a professional job," he says. "I believe that my outward appearance lends itself to a level of respect and presumption of competency out of the gate that not everyone benefits from. I recognize that I cannot ever fully understand what it is like to not be me in this world (obviously), but that should not stop me from seeking to better understand what life is like for others."

He joined other men and women during the first All In workshop. Each one came with their own energy, perspectives and desire to learn.

Grissom led the seminar with Matt Newman, cofounder of Richmond's Coalition Theater.

"There are not a lot of people that look like me in this conversation," Newman said. "People who look like me don't always say the right things either."

The session kicked off with discussion about a Gillette commercial, then powerful data, including a quiz about workplace equality.

"It was critical for us to design a workshop that was grounded in real, powerful data and research, free of bias and finger-pointing," Lofchie says.

As Grisson and Newman went through the correct answers, participants shook their heads and said "Wow" again and again. One statistic from the quiz especially stirred the energy in the room: Men and women prefer male bosses and were willing to accept a salary $3,400 less to work for a man over a woman.

No one scored well on the quiz.

"The most helpful to me was the information regarding disparity in the workplace," says Katelyn Irvine, an office manager. "When people are given the actual numbers about pay inequality, that may encourage them to have those awkward conversations with colleagues, and potentially make changes in their own organizations."

She says she'd like to see a follow-up workshop to help women gain more confidence, communication tools and resources when they are faced with harassment and discomfort at work.

Lofchie says that the All In effort will extend beyond the Allies and Advocates workshop to include a podcast and a number of other workplace solutions for executives, human-resources leaders, managers and employees.

The next Allies and Advocates workshop will be held in April. For information, go to www.allin.community.

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