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Taking it personally: A year of impact with the SEI Women’s Network

March 7, 2022
clock 6 MIN READ

The SEI Women’s Network (SWN) is composed of teammates from many areas within SEI, all working together to make a difference. Now in its 15th year, SWN continually strives to reach new heights in support of women’s professional growth. The group has a growing impact both inside and outside of SEI’s doors. I am proud to say I am SWN’s Executive Ambassador.

How it started

As we approach International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8, and learn how we can all work better to #breakthebias (the IWD 2022 theme), I wanted to share my journey as the SWN Executive Ambassador. 

About 18 months ago an email came out asking for people to apply to the SWN Board. I applied. As part of the application process, they asked me two questions: Why I wanted to be on the board, and what I could bring to the table. 

I had a lot to say (I often struggle to be brief), but my main message was that I want to make a difference, continue to drive strategy and future direction, work on unifying voice around strategic themes, and try to measure impact, inside and outside of SEI. In terms of what I would bring—I would work hard, get my hands dirty, and be an active participant and voice for our strategy and desired outcomes. 

Ultimately…I was not elected to the board. 

Instead they asked if I would be the Executive Ambassador. What? I was not sure what that meant. I was not sure if I should be disappointed or excited; was this acceptance or rejection? One thing I was sure of though, I believed in their mission, trusted their leadership, and wanted to be a part of this group—so I said yes!

A year of “allyship”

The last 12 months have been quite exciting. I’ve met many wonderful people from all parts of SEI and from across the world. Even better, I got to know them personally and professionally. I got to hear their dreams and their challenges. I got to see work and life from another perspective. 

Throughout it all, I learned, by asking questions, listening, and taking action. I wasn’t trying to save something or provide wisdom; I was trying to be an active supporter. 

I learned later I was developing into an ally, thanks to my new friends David Smith and Brad Johnson, authors of “The Good Guys: How Men Can Be Better Allies to Women in the Workplace” (side note: they led a great session at the SWN Leadership Summit, which can be accessed on the event website).  

At my first SWN meeting I asked what was working, where the group was struggling, and how I could help. I left with three pages of notes and a lot of ideas on areas such as: 

  • Diversifying the talent pipeline and recruiting next gen talent
  • Increasing organizational mobility
  • Building greater sense of community and connection
  • Collaborating with key centers of influences and building allies across the organization who champion our mission

Next, I turned my attention to strategy. What I witnessed was inspiring. The team’s process for strategy development was driven by passion and purpose through constructive debate, not through complete agreement. I facilitated a session on strategic themes and unifying voice around collective actions and desired outcomes. They worked tirelessly, sharing their strategy, executing their activities, and making impact. I watched and supported the action.

I learned that follow though is hard. People will listen, people will care, but they don’t always act. Why not—is it fear, priorities, or something else? 

When frustration drives inspiration 

This was the most inspiring part of my learning. When the team experienced some lack of follow through from others, they did not quit or deflect. They did not complain. They openly discussed what they needed to do to move forward. Their purpose and passion drove them to get through, over, and beyond the obstacle. 

Don’t get me wrong, frustration does impact them. It slows progress, it drains energy, but it does not dilute their purpose. That energy and commitment is inspiring; it’s the definition of passion and grassroots efforts, and fuels our collective ability to build brave futures for each other and the communities we serve.

Taking a cue from how these team members were bringing life interests wholeheartedly into the workplace, I wanted to learn how to become more impactful as a man at work and in life. I realized I could become a better ally and help to build a “culture of allyship.” 

As Executive Ambassador, I got to help plan the annual SWN Leadership Summit, where I would introduce the two authors I mentioned above, Brad and David, authors of “Good Guys.” The book makes a powerful statement right up front: ”creating a culture of allyship is a leadership issue, not a gender issue.” 

This idea resonates with why I got involved in the first place. They say the journey to become an ally starts personally, by practicing in your personal life at home and in your community. This aligns well to my personal belief in the integration of life and leadership, the spirit of this blog community. 

Taking action and making an impact starts with listening empathetically. No one is looking for a knight in shining armor. They are not looking for a wizard to provide solutions and wisdom. They are looking for allies. More importantly, allies who are willing to challenge the status quo and take action. They are looking for relationships, collaboration, a common purpose and commitment to change and improvement. 
There are many ideas in the book about potential actions to take, which is super helpful. But what was most powerful to me was their framework. They break allyship into three distinct pieces: Interpersonal, public, and systemic. I translated these three pieces as follows:

  • Interpersonal: being deliberate about how you show up in life
  • Public: willingness to hold others accountable
  • Systemic: codifying actions so they are adopted and acted upon at an organizational level

How it’s going

So how am I doing? Maybe the rest of the team should answer that one (I invite them to share in the comments). But if I answer this through the lens of the three bullets above, I feel good about number one (interpersonal). I am working on number two (public) with my role as ambassador, but I have work to do. And number three (systemic) is hard, but women already know this and they are looking for allies to help. 

With number three in mind, I committed to an initial, deliberate step—bringing my new friends Brad and David back to SEI. They’ll take my leadership team and I through a group exercise to become better workplace allies. Growth starts through a commitment to learning and I am very excited to go on this journey together. From there, we’ll begin to put actions into everyday practice. 

My first year made me super excited about the years ahead. To my SWN friends: thank you for including me, educating me and working with me. You can count on me to reciprocate the love! 

My advice to my readers? Get involved. You will love it! 

Albert Chiaradonna

Executive Vice President, SEI Global Private Banking

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