Tag Archives: Antoaneta Tileva

Kogod’s Race in the Marketplace Course Is Invaluable for All AU Students

My article for the Kogod School of Business

Marketing and culture influence each other in highly sophisticated ways: marketing is shaped and, in turn, shapes culture. Companies court specific customer groups, and often, progressive ideas take a backseat to profit.  While it is no secret that the advertising industry has a sticky (or sticker!) problem with race, it is the marketplace writ large that is the topic of conversation in Professor Sonya Grier’s Race in the Marketplace course at the Kogod School of Business.

The class is centered on the theme that race plays a key role in the functioning of consumption markets worldwide. The course also closely examines how institutionalized racism and structural inequalities shape marketing practice, consumer behavior, and marketplace outcomes. Finally, the course content asks students to reflect on how marketing can be used to support more racially equitable marketplaces.

The class is a first of its kind nationally and a great draw in Kogod because of its very salient, real-world orientation. “This is one of the only classes where I felt that we applied realistic concepts every week. I came out of each class with a new concrete way to look at race in the marketplace,” said Kogod senior Yves-Myriam Millien. Kogod student Paige Kaiser remarked similarly on the uniqueness of Professor Grier’s class.

“This class has been eye-opening. There’s no other class like it at AU. Learning about my marketing specialization through the lens of critical race issues widened my perspective on the intersection of race and the marketplace today. It taught me skills about navigating these relations that will be valuable in my future career.”

Students in the class were surprised that they had never been exposed to the issues before. “Race is such a critical part of marketing, and I was shocked when I didn’t encounter it more in my earlier marketing coursework. It felt natural to have a class on it,” remarked Millien.

Grier has coedited a free textbook for the class titled Race in the Marketplace: Crossing Critical Boundaries, which is the first of its kind to explore the topic. Students come away learning how group-level targeting can exploit marginalized communities. They learn about the impact of racial disparities in labor markets, wealth accumulation, economic mobility, and public health. For example, a case study entitled Alisha in Obesity Land explores ways of encouraging elementary school students to consume healthier foods.

The class also teaches students to recognize racially-targeted ads more often in the world and to be more critical of the messages they promote and how they may perpetuate racial or cultural stereotypes.

“I learned how to critique business practices and be confident in that critique—how to have the vocabulary and understand the reality of what kind of change we could ask for from businesses.”

“The Race in the Marketplace course taught students about marketers’ role in combating inequitable effects in the marketplace on marginalized groups,” said Kaiser.

“This class has taught me about the reality of how companies can be incentivized to change, as well as different strategies to make businesses more inclusive,” added Hayes.

“Now more than ever, the industry is moving towards increased corporate social responsibility and recognizing the role marketers play in promoting equity in the marketplace. This class prepares students for just that,” said Kaiser. “By providing a foundation of racialization implications in the marketplace and discussing tools and tactics to combat them, students will leave Professor Grier’s class with a better understanding of how to promote equitable business practices and why it is their responsibility to do so.”

At the Kogod School of Business, our students use their education to create meaningful change in the world. Professor Grier’s Race in the Marketplace course is an absolute must-take for all looking to contribute to a more equitable market.

Leverage Your Career—Stay Grounded—Read the Tea Leaves

My article for the Kogod School of Business

Kogod alumna Hilda Mwangi’s (JD/MBA) work lies at the intersection of public policy, government affairs, and the international trade and development industry. We chatted with her to learn more about the importance of flexibility and curiosity throughout one’s career. These two skills have proven beneficial for Mwangi as she holds the title of one of San Diego’s NEXT Top 40 Under 40 Business Leaders from 2018.

Can you tell us about your time at the Kogod School of Business? How did you choose the MBA program, what lessons did you learn that continue to stick with you, and how did Kogod prepare you for your career?

“Growing up around a family business, I knew a lot about how things in a small business worked but didn’t understand the theory behind it. I didn’t know the concepts—all of that knowledge was siloed—marketing, customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, finance—how did it all relate? That is what I wanted to find out.

 A lot of companies did not trust my experience without education credentials. In 2008, at the height of the recession, I graduated with my undergraduate degree from Towson University, and my future concerned me. I was about to begin law school, and I was afraid that I would have difficulty finding a legal job when I graduated with my JD. Looking ahead, I knew that at that time, I had better prospects of securing employment in the business arena,” explained Mwangi.

 “I decided to apply to the joint JD/MBA program at American University’s Kogod School of Business and the Washington College of Law. The MBA program provided me with exactly what I needed. Not only did I connect my previous exposure to my family’s small business with the concepts and overarching theories from class, but I was also able to utilize my past experiences in the classroom. I was even fortunate enough to enroll my father’s business in the MBA capstone experiential learning course taught by Professor Parthiban David. Both the students and my family’s business benefited from the experience, and I got to serve as a project manager and liaison.

I loved my time at Kogod—juggling two programs simultaneously was demanding, but I had a great support system with my friends and professors. I was also working part-time in Annapolis, Maryland and juggling other responsibilities in my personal life.”

The MBA program not only sharpened my critical thinking skills but provided me with a global perspective of business.”

“The courses I took combined with my previous experience helped me prepare for, and succeed in my role as a business development specialist—I was able to anticipate my client’s concerns and help them set investment strategies. 

Today, I work for Takeda, a global pharmaceutical company, where I have held multiple roles. I have enjoyed liaising between policymakers, researchers, scientists, and external and internal stakeholders. In my current role as an associate director of research communications, clear and concise writing is key. Kogod’s emphasis on writing for business and understanding the importance of cultural competency in international business continues to help me each day as I work in a role that allows me to interact with colleagues from around the world.”

 What are some of the most important and formative moments from your career journey?

“I’ve had many pivotal moments in my career—my first year of law school was eye-opening. It reinforced that policy and legislation were where I wanted to be—not in a courtroom. The recession taught me how to be resilient and look ahead—read the tea leaves, so to speak—make plans and be agile. A move to Los Angeles in 2014 taught me that I am more capable and stronger than I previously thought. I proved to myself that I could make big changes and be okay. Mentors along the way taught me how to articulate my value, know when to move on, and how to stay true to my passions.”

I got to where I am today by being the best at what I do, articulating my skills to others, cultivating and maintaining relationships genuinely and authentically, and taking manageable risks.”

“I’ve always followed my curiosity and love for learning and pursuing challenges. Patience and planning have served me very well.”

What advice would you like to share with other women pursuing careers in business?

“Being a woman—a Black woman—in business, in the life sciences industry, is not easy. I have experienced my fair share of biases, prejudices, and incidents of discrimination—some subtle, some quite overt. My advice is to let your passions lead. Be aligned with who you are, your values, and go after your dreams. Make and maintain relationships with people­—real relationships, not transactional ones. Have hobbies—you never know who you’ll meet along the way. Give back to those less fortunate, underrepresented, and who helped you along the way.”

Make time for your support network—your family and friends—those who care most about you and fill up your tank.”

“Find your ‘personal board’—this is advice I got from a career coach—find the small group of people who can help you strategize, tell you the truth, challenge you, push you, slow you down when you need to, people who have your best interest in mind and people whose advice you know you can trust. Lastly and most importantly, choose yourself—take breaks, you deserve them. Go after opportunities that scare but excite you in equal measure. Be loyal to your growth—do not sacrifice your opportunities to learn and grow. We live in an age where hobbies can become business opportunities, gifted orators can earn a handsome living motivating and inspiring others, TikTok can change lives in 30-second increments, and personal brands are a common term now. Whatever your dream, whatever your idea, go for it.”

Live boldly. Others do—why not you?”

Mwangi highlights the significance of being mindful and cultivating relationships as a method of serving your mind and your career. Don’t forget who and what is most important to you along the way, and remember to stay open to possibility—obstacles are opportunities in disguise! 

Lady Octopus Tattoo Shop

My article for District Fray magazine

Jonathan Reed, the co-owner of Lady Octopus Tattoos, is a proud third generation Arlingtonian. In 2016, he was looking for a female tattoo artist to create an homage to South Ivy Street, the street he grew up on.

The first hit on a Google search of “female, tattoo artist, DC” pulled up a picture of Gilda Acosta, standing in front of a shark mural, blowing it a kiss. I guess you could say it was love at first bite because this was the start of a professional and personal relationship that would weather the turbulent ocean of tattooing.

Gilda Acosta graduated from art school in 2003 and went right into tattooing. “Jonathan was looking for new creative outlets and an ivy sleeve tattoo, and I was looking for a partner to help establish a presence in Arlington, VA. An easy friendship ensued, and we became life and business partners over fish tacos and tattoo sessions.”

Gilda is well-known for her delicate, precise line work and colorful, illustrative natural themes. “I love doing botanical designs, birds, and creatures of all types. A love of biology and art marry perfectly in tattooing.” Originally from Panama, she is a rarity as a Latina who co-owns a business in an industry dominated by men.

Lady Octopus Tattoos’ intentional inclusivity draws customers in. “Being a woman in the tattoo industry and seeing how some shops operate and treat vulnerable clients impacted our original vision and commitment to providing safe, inclusive spaces for all.”

Body positivity and professionalism, combined with treating clients like family are another thing that makes Lady Octopus so special.

“I learned early on that an open, friendly approach goes a long way in tattooing. I sincerely enjoy getting to know all my clients, truly enjoy our conversations, and cherish their trust. We can’t help but to have forged life-long friendships, and the shop becomes a place where friends catch up, crack jokes, and vent,” says Gilda.

Despite the fact that the artists at Lady Octopus often book more than 6 months in advance, they respond to customers with great care. “We put care and expense into our shop’s safety–from controlled bio disposables, tattoo before and aftercare education, and over all follow-up on our work. It’s extremely important for us to produce the utmost highest quality of tattoos,” says Jonathan.

Lady Octopus Tattoos recently moved to a location in Clarendon Crossing, right across the street from the very famous/infamous (for dudes with brown flip-flops) Whole Foods in Arlington, VA. In addition to Gilda, James Haun, who has been tattooing since 1996, is another part of the family. James is so beloved that he often books not months but a year in advance. His son, Lance Haun, is currently also an apprentice. Gia Catauro is a resident guest artist from RI.

 

Jonathan is a filmmaker whose documentary,The DC Eagle, Bound by Leather, 40 Years of LGBTQ History in the Nation’s Capital won the NJ LGBTQ QFest Film Festival award in 2017 as Most Original New Subject.  In the coming months, he will film and post video vignettes with the theme of “My tattoo, my story.” These vignettes will offer a unique look at the special friendships that form between the artists and their supporters and the meaning-making behind the process.

 

Lady Octopus Tattoos is a hidden gem in the ocean of tattoo shops in its professionalism, experience, and genuinely positive approach. And their new location in the heart of Clarendon is sure to further their reach.

Texture + Textiles with Tulusa’s Sue Henry

My article for District Fray Magazine

Sue Henry, an Alexandria, Virginia-based artist, started Tulusa six years ago. As a lifelong artist and sculptor, she took the plunge into the textile world by hosting a pop-up shop out of her home studio with hand embroidered block prints that were sewn into pouches and pillows. Her block-printed designs sold out in two days, and she decided to move things online, too. Step by step, Henry has grown Tulusa into a retail and wholesale brand of table linens, home decor, and personal accessories. Locally, you can find Tulusa’s textiles in Old Town at Boxwood and Red Barn Mercantile. In D.C., you’ll find table linens at Shop Made in DC and at other pop-ups around the metro area.

Tulusa’s studio in Del Ray is what Henry calls a “stem to stern studio.” They carve the blocks, mix their own inks and dyes, and stamp the designs on yards and yards of linen. They then cut, hem, and sew the cloth. While printing designs onto fabric most likely originated in China about 4,500 years ago, it was on the Indian subcontinent where hand-blocked fabric really blossomed into an art form with a variety of intricate pattern motifs. Indians had extensive knowledge of natural plant dyes, particularly with mordants (metallic salts that both create color and allow it to adhere to fabric).

In Tulusa’s studio, Henry and two other employees carve and stamp yards of linen, using non-toxic ink and organic heirloom-quality linen. Because of the techniques they use, each one of the pieces has its own character and uniqueness.

For Valentine’s Day, Tulusa has some heart-full designs, including heart sweatshirts with rays emanating from the heart. The ink in the rays has a metallic sheen that makes them shine in the sunlight.

“I want people to buy something that brings them a little bit of joy,” Henry says.

Tulusa crafts her products with materials that can be passed down from one generation to the next, and she wants her pieces to add a little something special to someone’s life. Henry particularly values this aspect of her art.

“Even with our two rowdy boys, we’ve always set the table with linen or cotton napkins,” Henry says. “Linen in particular will last a lifetime or two if it’s taken care of. It’s a little something that we can do to help save natural resources. Plus, when a table is set, it makes every meal feel a little more special.”

This year, Tulusa is also adding table linens and accessories made using a technique called shibori, a Japanese tie-dyeing technique, which produces different patterns on the fabric.

“We have gotten rave reviews on our shibori — it’s bright and colorful, and many of the styles have several layers of color which gives them depth and brilliance.”

Find Tulusa’s work and sign up for her newsletter to find out where she is popping up next by visiting tulusa.com and follow them on Instagram @tulusa.goods.

How to Douse Chronic Workplace Stress Before It Explodes into Full Burnout

My article for the Society of Human Resources Management
By Antoaneta Tileva June 1, 2021

If it’s true, according to a recent Gallup study, that nearly 8 in 10 workers experience burnout on the job at least sometimes—and more than 1 in 4 experience it “very often” or “always”—then it’s clear that “chronic workplace stress has not been successfully managed,” as the World Health Organization has said.

“Burnout is when people have been highly engaged for a long time, without the personal skills and organizational support to maintain their well-being,” said Lindsay Lagreid, senior advisor at the Limeade Institute, a Bellevue, Wash.-based institute that conducts research on employee well-being.

Unsurprisingly, employee burnout levels in 2020—the year of the pandemic—were high, with one major shift from previous years: Fully remote workers are now experiencing more burnout than onsite workers. Before the pandemic, the perks of working remotely—either part- or full-time—led to lower levels of burnout compared with employees who were onsite all the time.

Burnout has effects on the micro and macro levels. If employees’ well-being suffers, they may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms. They may also become less productive and unfocused.

Managers play a significant role in employees’ mental health and can take several approaches to ease the effects of burnout:

Conduct regular and varied check-ins. Brandon Greiner is vice president of operations for MedExpress, a Morgantown, W.Va.-based urgent care provider. He emphasized the need for honesty and transparency from both managers and employees: “An important first step in keeping stress in check is for managers to regularly check in with employees and encourage them to provide honest feedback regarding their workload, work environment and responsibilities.” These discussions can take a variety of forms, including hosting group or individual talks, creating employee surveys, and reviewing employment data.

Lagreid advises managers to “start asking better questions.”

“Asking ‘How ya doing?’ and accepting answers like ‘I’m fine’ or ‘hanging in there’ aren’t going to cut it anymore.” Instead, try more specific questions like:
*Have you been able to complete your projects on time? If not, why do you think that is?

*Do you have the resources you need to get your work done? If not, what else would you need?

*What can I do to make your job easier?

Educate employees on what burnout is. Educate your team on what burnout is and how it shows up, so they have the right language to describe their experience to you.

Workplace burnout is not a medical condition. Rather, it is a sense of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a feeling of reduced accomplishment, Greiner said. He defines workplace burnout as “often characterized by feelings of exhaustion, depersonalization and inefficacy. Workplace stress can cause mental and physical reactions that make employees less effective. Prolonged stress, which results in severe mental, emotional and physical fatigue, can lead to burnout.”

Said Lagreid: “First is a deep feeling of exhaustion—almost a soul-level feeling of depletion, not just needing a good night of sleep. The second step is cynicism—being ‘fed up’ or negative. This cynicism is how the brain protects itself from the source of exhaustion. The final stage of burnout is inefficacy—feeling like there’s no point and having a loss of hope, optimism and purpose, [and asking] ‘Why do I even try.’ ”

Some potential signs of workplace burnout include:

*An increase in irritability or conflict.

*A pessimistic outlook or marked lack of interest.

*Decreased productivity or quality of work.

*Fatigue or exhaustion.

*Restlessness or insomnia.

*Increase in physical illness or discomfort.

*Mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression.

*Isolation or avoidance in the workplace.

*Decision fatigue.

*Concentration or memory issues.

Identifying the root causes of employee stress is the hard part, as is making successful organizational adjustments. “For instance, if employees find that long work hours contribute to stress, managers could consider accordingly adjusting work schedules,” Greiner advised.

“Evaluate workload, turnaround time expectations and support. Find things you can take off employees’ plates or find more efficient ways to get things done. All the burnout recovery in the world isn’t going to last long if an employee comes back to the exact same reality that caused the burnout in the first place,” Lagreid said.

Reflect on your management style. Managers should self-reflect. Are too many mandatory meetings getting in the way of completing work? Are assignments aligned with employees’ strengths? Managers can also do simple things that can make a big difference, such as not scheduling meetings during the lunch hour or late on a Friday.

“If you haven’t fostered that level of vulnerability and trust within your team, start by answering those check-in questions yourself,” Lagreid said. “Be honest with your team about your own challenges and stressors, so they feel safe doing the same with you.”

Encourage downtime and unplugging. People need time to recharge. Managers should encourage their employees to take time off. Lagreid advises managers to “model healthy boundaries for employees. Take walking meetings, don’t respond to e-mails outside of working hours, and take time away from work. Share the things you do to take care of your well-being, and ask them to share what works for them.”

Other tips include starting meetings by sharing fun trivia, holding a moment of mindful breathing or having workers share the things they’re grateful for.

Identify and encourage employee strengths. “Share specific and thoughtfully-worded gratitude often: Tell your people the specific skills and strengths they have and the value that brings to the team and the organization. Recognize contributions and celebrate wins,” Lagreid said.

Get familiar with resources for your employees. Make sure you, as a manager, are well-acquainted with your company’s employee assistance program or other mental health resources, how to contact them, and what the benefits are so that you can steer your workers to those resources when needed.

“Burnout has become commonplace in the modern workplace, and it doesn’t need to be this way,” Lagreid said. “The best strategy is an ever-present, strategic approach to employee well-being that is supported by the organization … from the top down and is integrated into daily work-life. … Creating a culture where well-being is a priority can provide the safety net needed to prevent and address employee burnout.”

Remember that everyone deals with stress differently, Greiner said. What’s stressful to one person might not affect another. Additionally, factors outside of work, such as taking care of children or elderly parents, health issues, or personal issues like loneliness or depression, can impact people’s ability to manage stress.

“It’s important to recommend resources that are appropriate for the individual employee,” Greiner said. “Promoting a meditation app may not be ideal, for instance, if the worker doesn’t enjoy using technology.”

Antoaneta Tileva, Ph.D., is a freelance writer based in the Washington, D.C. area. 

Shriek-Worthy, Feminist-Friendly Horror Flicks

What exactly is a feminist-friendly horror film? Well, it is no secret the genre has catered to the male gaze for a very long time, with its penchant for big-breasted women who seemingly have never had “The Talk” (you know the one about walking alone in the dark with keys as a makeshift ‘weapon’) and blithely waltz into peril, defying any logic or self-preservation instincts. Then, there are the characters fitting into the promiscuity-hyper-inflated-for-the-male-gaze trope. In other words, girls don’t have sex in the woods because, well, Jason. It seems that the only strong female characters in horror are victims of particularly grisly violence who seek to wreak their revenge.

This low bar notwithstanding, there are plenty of feminist-friendly horror films that eschew these essentialist portrayals to offer much more nuanced imaginary. What fascinates and what horrifies us is very much a social commentary. Feminist-friendly horror films make us question gender, sexual, religious and political givens. They make us wonder who gets to define what is horrific. From the days of the OG Mary Shelley to the present, there are plenty of horror films that tear apart the veil of normalcy to give us a glimpse of something weirdly intriguing. Sometimes, the film between the comical and the serious, between the imagined and the real, is so flimsy as to be imperceptible — this is what makes a good feminist-friendly horror film. Or if not cerebral good, at least entertainment good, like in the original 1978 John Carpenter-helmed “Halloween,” when Laurie Strode uses such staples of domesticity as a knitting needle and a clothing hanger to whip “The Shape” into shape.

The DC Palestinian Film & Arts Festival Returns

Founded in 2011 by three women — Noura Erakat, Huda Asfour, and Nadia Daar — the DC Palestinian Film & Arts Festival showcases Palestinian culture from Palestine and the diaspora.In its eleventh year, this fall’s lineup included a double-feature documentary, play, feature films, shorts and a discussion on the art of tatreez: Palestinian embroidery.

One theme that echoed throughout the films was love and border-crossing, with many works questioning: Can love cross man-made boundaries? Can boundaries prevent people from plying the craft they love? Could we come to take boundaries as so omnipresent that they are a part of our emotional milieu like love is?

In “200 Meters,” the opening feature film, a father is separated from his family by 200 meters and an unscalable wall. In a strange riff on “The Great Gatsby,” he says goodnight to his kids with a light show from his balcony. The film sets a somber tone for the slate of features to follow.

The “Fishless Sea” documents the challenge fishermen in Gaza face in sustaining this age-old tradition in the face of the borders erected during the occupation. It leaves us wondering, How can there be borders in something as boundless as Earth’s waters?

Under the Oslo Agreements, the fishing range for Palestinian fishermen was 20 nautical miles. Over the years, however, the Israeli military dramatically reduced this range simply by harassing and jailing anyone who dared to go past the seemingly arbitrary limit. For a brief period, Israel expanded the range to six miles, only to once again reduce it, ostensibly in response to missile fire coming from the strip.

The fishermen are not allowed to go further than 3-4 nautical miles and that very limited perimeter has them mired in depleted waters, where few sardines remain. Abu Alaa’, the patriarch, poignantly talks about taking out a bank loan so his oldest son can get married. Despite what is clearly economic violence, he and his family remain stoic in the face of it, with the past continuing to live in their hearts, albeit spoken of wistfully. “The sea is all they know,” he says, and he remains anchored there, despite the invisible but stark chains the state has placed in his path.

The Bride Dress,” similarly, is the story of how checkpoints box something as intensely human as marriage in a checkmate. The film captures the journey of two Palestinian brides, Lubna and Sumoud, who share the same wedding dress and the same challenge of having their grooms there for their weddings. A political prisoner, Sumoud’s fiancé watches his engagement party on video from behind bars.

Lubna’s groom, denied an entry permit, has to be smuggled into Nazareth. What could be perhaps shocking to a Western audience is that this situation is not uncommon. Israel currently has a 18-year-old ban on family reunification, known as the Citizenship Law. The family reunification ban was passed in 2003 as a temporary security measure in the wake of the Palestinian uprising known as the second intifada. The law has been renewed every year since. This law keeps some married couples permanently apart. As one of the women in the documentary puts it, “It is easier for me to marry a foreigner than to marry someone from the West Bank or Gaza.” “This is sick, but what can we do?”

In both of these documentaries, we see very little overt pathos or polemics; it is almost as if the characters have internalized these borders and found a way to resist them by holding on to celebrations ever so staunchly and bravely. In a scene where Lubna tries on her wedding dress for the first time, her family invites her fiance Abdallah to take a selfie as it might be the only photo they have from their wedding day if he is not able to come. Lubna’s mother reassures her with “I hope your groom will come, honey,” in a scene so poignant in its banality. Clearly, this is a fate that is felt by others, too.

Both of these documentaries also portray life in occupation in all its surprising normalcy. In The Bride Dress, we are treated to many scenes of the pre-wedding festivities, such as the dolma rolling party and the henna hand-painting, along with the singing of traditional songs. We see the bride and her family going through the same universal trepidations of leaving one’s family and starting on a new chapter of one’s life. The films offer such a rich, engrossing immersion of everyday life behind borders.

Though the festival was October 21-24, you can still stream the films on other platforms, and support the DCPFAF through volunteering and donating.

To learn more about the DC Palestinian Film & Arts Festival, visit dcpfaf.org. Follow the festival on Instagram @dcpfaf.

 

Surviving and Thriving through the Unexpected

My article for Kogod School of Business

How Kogod alum and entrepreneur Michael Bleau successfully pivoted his live events company during COVID-19.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, businesses large and small were faced with a daunting challenge—adapt to the new normal or perish. Some companies changed their operations with only short-term survival in mind. Fashion houses and designers, like Christian Siriano, for example, started making masks. Whiskey producers “brewed” hand sanitizer. To-go cocktails kept the restaurant industry afloat and rose to the surface as a product here to stay. Airlines offered cargo-only flights.

A sector hit especially hard by the pandemic was the events industry. For the first time ever, some of the most famous festivals, tournaments, conventions, and trade shows shut down. While adaptability has long been a key to business survival, the pandemic forced event companies to wrestle with the unthinkable—what if there were no more events?

Michael Bleau (Kogod/BSBA ’07), co-founder and CEO of EventHub, was among the many business owners considering how to pivot their operations in the new locked-down environment. Thanks to the unique solutions EventHub provides and the entrepreneurial mindset of the team behind it, the company not only weathered the pandemic but found new customers, added new capabilities, and solidified its standing as an industry leader.

Bleau traces the spark that ignited his entrepreneurial fire back to his participation in the annual Kogod Case Competition. “That put the bug in me for entrepreneurial initiatives,” he says. “And then throughout my time at Kogod, I was able to do some things that opened my mindset. I did a study abroad program that really started opening me up to a global mindset versus just thinking very locally.”

EventHub was the first company that Bleau started, and while it was positioned to successfully navigate the pandemic that began last March, it didn’t start out that way. “It took a while to develop to the point where it is now,” Bleau explains.

The company began as a consulting and event production firm, but securing funding from investors through the Techstars Anywhere Accelerator allowed Bleau and his team to expand their technological capabilities and shift their focus from managing events to connecting event organizers and potential sponsors through an event management platform—a capability no one else in the events industry had yet developed.

“EventHub does a really nice job matching event sponsors with potential event opportunities,” he says. “There’s not really another platform that does a good job of it. That’s why we decided to start it.”

When the first hints of a full-scale global pandemic began appearing in February 2020, Bleau and his team knew they were going to need to pivot their business model. So how did they do it?

First, the company identified long-term trends created by the pandemic, namely the rise of remote work, social distancing, shorter supply chains, and the need for more robust technology. “We realized that all of our customers are live event organizers, and they were going to need to adapt and want to do some type of virtual version of their events in lieu of a live event,” Bleau says. “There are very few large, public event-type platforms, so that was our focus.”

Then, it extended its already-existing capabilities instead of abandoning what its reputation was built on, preventing confusion among its existing customers and offering valuable services to new ones. “In March, we started developing a virtual platform that could sit on top of our sponsorship platform that was very focused on consumer and public events versus business-to-business conferencing because there’s a ton of B2B conferencing out there,” Bleau explains. “We worked with the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on their virtual event; we worked with food and wine festivals, county and state fairs. It really led us in some ways to get more on the map with these larger events because we were the only real, good-fit solution out there for these consumer-oriented events.”

Finally, EventHub pivoted as rapidly as possible. “One big lesson learned for us is that fast, aggressive pivots are possible as long as you have a clear, strategic vision and a path to getting there,” says Bleau. “Your team should feel like there is an executable plan that everyone can get behind. Think about what your company does differently and what is needed in the market.”

Responding to unforeseen challenges is a part of business, and pivoting may not always be the right strategy. But finding a balance between being reactive and adaptive and determining whether the pivot is an added value rather than a temporary fix may be the difference between a business weathering a storm or shuttering for good.

 

A More Equitable Future

My article for Kogod School of Business

Professor Stacy Merida, Kogod’s new assistant dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion, describes her mission to shape a more inclusive Kogod community.

What do diversity, equity, and inclusion look like in a university setting? Who are the stakeholders of diversity initiatives? These are challenging questions, and the Kogod School of Business’s new assistant dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion, Stacy Merida, is finding answers. Merida, who teaches music entertainment industry classes in Kogod’s business and entertainment program, accepted the position in January 2021. She is leading the school not only in learning what these terms mean to its students, faculty, and staff but also in implementing meaningful changes based on input from the entire Kogod community.

Merida has a broad view of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) that not only comprises demographic characteristics like gender, race, and ethnicity but all dimensions of a person’s identity, such as immigrant and first-generation status, economic background, education, and more. Of course, some of these characteristics are more salient to people’s identities, and some, because they are more visible to society, affect how people are treated more than less readily observable traits.

“One of our strategic goals is to cultivate a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive Kogod culture where every individual, regardless of background, has the full opportunity to flourish and thrive,” says Merida.

The daughter of a civil rights leader, Merida has been passionate about social justice since her childhood in Alabama. And that passion has driven her throughout her career. Her PhD dissertation examined cultural competency and proficiency in higher education administration. She serves as a board liaison for diversity and inclusion at the Music Entertainment Industry Educators Association (MEIEA) and represents American University as a committee member on the GRAMMY Museum’s diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility affiliate committee. Her most recent initiative was reaching out to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic and Tribal Universities to join the MEIEA through free membership.

In her new role as assistant dean, she will implement several initiatives that include creating a DEI task force, DEI fellowships, policy and procedure reviews, ongoing training, and surveying faculty, students, and staff. Her goals include ensuring students and staff reflect the diversity of our global society and transforming the faculty’s makeup to reflect the diversity of the student body. Another major goal is improving the academic outcomes for students from underrepresented, low-income, and other marginalized groups, in addition to securing transparent and more equitable outcomes for staff and faculty.

Diversity, as the word connotes, is about difference. But it is not about eliding or ignoring that difference. Rather, it is about ensuring that difference doesn’t lead to inequitable outcomes.

“There are distinct differences between equality and equity,” Merida explains. “Equity involves giving people what they need to be as successful as non-minoritized groups; conversely, equality is to treat everyone the same.”

Diversity is valuable in all areas but especially important in business. When a company has a diverse culture, it welcomes more viewpoints, allowing it to reach a wider audience. According to a McKinsey & Company report, “Companies in the top-quartile for ethnic/cultural diversity on executive teams were 33 percent more likely to have industry-leading profitability.” Google recently completed a study, Project Aristotle, that identified psychological safety as one of the most important factors of a high-performing team. Employees feeling included and able to be their authentic selves at work frees up their minds and energy to focus on their performance.

“Diversity is extremely important in the business community where different perspectives are and should be highly valued,” says Merida. “Organizations that value diversity and inclusion strive to provide a space where all members are respected. If a system or structure perpetuates inequity and inequality, we should encourage one another to challenge this system or structure.”

Merida is also acutely aware that no one holds just one identity. The term intersectionality, coined by Black feminist legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, describes how individual characteristics like race, class, and gender interact with each other to form how someone sees—and is seen by—the world.

“Our students will find themselves working with employers, coworkers, and clients from diverse backgrounds,” explains Merida. “By experiencing diversity, we are laying the groundwork for all to be comfortable working and interacting with a variety of individuals of all nationalities.

“However, efforts in this space are nothing new as Kogod is ranked no. 9 by the recent Bloomberg Newsweek Diversity Index for its long-term commitment to diversity. I am exhibit A, as the creation of my position only exemplifies the continuation and broadening of Dean Delaney’s and the DEI committee’s visionary leadership. We are intentional in being the guiding example for our students, faculty, and staff.”

Merida’s new role is a testament to the hard work she and the Kogod community continue to engage in to create a diverse, equitable, and inclusive business school that prepares students not only for successful careers but to be thoughtful, compassionate, and engaged citizens of the world.

Book Review: Still Mad by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar

Literary critics Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, in this follow-up to their The Madwoman in the Attic, offer a comprehensive, sweeping engagement with voices from the tradition of second-wave feminism. Spanning the 1950s to the present, Still Mad contextualizes — historically and personally — the works of singers, poets, essayists, and prose writers while exploring the creativity that started on the page but moved far beyond it.

In their introduction, Gilbert and Gubar outline their intent to feature works which “they consider to be the ongoing second wave of feminism,” as they believe “the debate in which women continue to engage swirls around the issue of how many ‘waves’ of feminism there have been.” While that’s a questionable assertion (perhaps this debate is taking place in the rarefied halls of academia), parsing the conversations surrounding the feminist zeitgeist decades ago is important to understanding the choices the authors make regarding which writers to include here.

Still Mad is striking in its breadth and scope but especially in that selection of authors. Structurally, Gilbert and Gubar write chronologically, which enables them to trace the fluidity of the featured authors’ thinking. For example, the section on Audre Lorde follows her career from “lesbian biomythographer” to one who “dismantles the master’s house.”

Aside from a couple of questionable diversions, such as interludes on the (mis)education of Hillary Clinton and the Trump presidency, Gilbert and Gubar stay the course of weaving together passages from literary pieces, quotes from people in the writers’ lives, and keen sociocultural analysis. And while there is clearly a bias toward poetry, Still Mad impresses with the creativity of its selections (for example, Nina Simone is featured) and the compelling way it makes connections between seemingly disparate currents in the feminist movement.

The book’s deep dive into Adrienne Rich (including her tenuous-at-best link to Judaism) isn’t quite as interesting as the section on Audre Lorde, in which the authors capture the tension between vulnerability and anger that feminists felt and continue to feel. Lorde’s alienation as a “Black in a lesbian world and a lesbian in a Black world” drove her to ever more ardently seek out words that would rupture those boundaries. When she said that the master’s tools won’t dismantle the master’s house, she was referring to the inadequacy of existing language to disrupt this boundary-making.

So, new words and tools — a new vocabulary — must be forged to chip away at these walls. The title of Lorde’s “Sister Outsider,” Gilbert and Gubar write, reflects “her commitment to the sisterhood of the women’s movement as well as her insistence on positioning herself as an outsider questioning its boundaries.”

Still Mad also reveals the way in which activist anger was and is a part of the personal lives of these writers. Lorde, for one, from her position as a poet writing from the underpaid trenches, excoriated the economic injustices that her fellow academics were perhaps sheltered from.

Another especially compelling part of the book focuses on Andrea Dworkin and the sex wars. Few have written about the anti-pornography crusader, whom Gloria Steinem called “an Old Testament prophet.” Gilbert and Gubar capture the separatist movement that Dworkin is credited with starting — one that viewed men’s values as opposed to women’s and which created female-only spaces such as rural communes called “womyn’s lands.”

Still Mad explains the strategy behind Dworkin’s anti-pornography polemics: namely, to legally codify pornography as a civil-rights violation. Regardless of one’s opinion on sex work, there is little doubt that Dworkin was an effective, passionate advocate for elevating the testimony of women actually involved in the sex trade over that of commentary based on purely abstract or philosophical arguments.

A brilliant inclusion is that of Gloria Anzaldua, whose Borderlands/La Frontera (1987) is among the most seminal feminist/intersectional works (and one too often overlooked). Her “mestiza consciousness” is one of the best descriptions of those living in the borderlands of multiple identities. Because this experience is so unmooring and disorienting, Anzaldua uses both linguistic and spiritual-healing practice as a salve to suture the wounds wrought by white patriarchy. She refuses to “accommodate” English speakers, instead code-switching between slang, English, Spanish, Chicano Spanish, and Tex-Mex to build a creole reflective of this unrest and dispossession.

Still Mad is rich and carefully and creatively curated; it is madly in love with words, which remain some of the best tools we have for dismantling the master’s house. The way Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar wield them as weapons of personal and political redemption and healing will leave readers speechless.