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Janes of Digital tackles tough conversation on workplace safety and inclusion

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There was a buzz in the salty, Seattle air last night as over 150 of the world’s top digital marketers gathered at the SMX Advanced Janes of Digital event. Each year, experts from around the globe come together to open the SMX Advanced conference with an evening of yummy food, good drinks and great conversation. We were blessed with beautiful weather and a stunning sunset at the Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park, but it was the heart-felt panelists that stole the show last night and not exactly in the way you might expect at one of the most advanced, technical conferences in the field of search. It wasn’t their highly acute knowledge within their complex fields that stole the show. Or their prestigious roles at leading companies. What made the night special, was the stripped down honesty each panelist showed as they tackled some of the most personal and meaningful topics in today’s workplace centering around safety and inclusion.

We’ve all had hurtful, non-inclusive experiences and yesterday’s panel helped call out the ignorant, nescient behaviors that can hold us back from self-actualization in our work and across our lives. Panelist stories touched upon discrimination of all forms – racial, gender, sexual – and hit home to an audience of accomplished professionals who are living the challenges of creating safe, inclusive environments that propel everyone forward. While companies continue to move in the right direction with policy and education, yesterday was a nice reminder of the role that we all play to live the values of safety and inclusion. Panelist Sarah Bird spoke to the power of language. “You look nice” which places disparate emphasis on external looks is a different compliment from “I like your shirt.” Subtle word choice plays big roles in our daily lives. Bird is very articulate – and passionate - in her pursuit to make the tech community more diverse and inclusive, starting at her company Moz, known for both innovative search products and enlightened thinking such as gender neutral bathrooms at MozCon and charity matches.

Panelist Jason Walkerden shared his story which started in Australia and led him all the way to the position of Sr. Manager of Diversity and Inclusion at Microsoft. “I never thought an employee resource group was important, until I needed it,” Walkerden said who supports the importance of an employee resource group separate from HR “to create a safe space for your teams to work in.” Other important examples included General Mills, Nissan and Bank of America - all incorporating diversity and inclusion into their success metrics.  Bank of America includes “inclusion questions” on their customer surveys, asking customers how included they feel at Bank of America banks.

The discussion of the evening really culminated with the lifelong journey of one brave woman, panelist Karen DeJarnette. DeJarnette shared her very personal story and decision to change genders amidst a successful search career. Currently a senior SEO strategist at Expedia, DeJarnette prefers to keep a low-key profile which can be hard to do when you single-handedly change the healthcare policy at one of the largest companies in the world. Thanks to Karen, Expedia now offers transgender health insurance. Christi Olson of Bing shared a personal statement, “I am so proud of Karen overcoming her fears and speaking so publicly tonight to take an important stand on transgenders and inclusivity which benefits us all.”

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The truth is, an inclusive future really starts within each of us - our ability to remain cognizant of our assumed privileges, to be aware of others’ personal physical and emotional spaces and even how we are perceived in our anonymity, before we even speak a word. Men in particular, as the physically larger sex, share an innate responsibility. Panelist Amy Bishop prepares for an exciting year. The search strategist for Clix Marketing - and expectant mother - stressed, “It’s not just about taking action in full-blown critical moments, but our responsibility in the thought process leading up to those moments. We need to change mentality first.”

Janes of Digital is a growing and important event in the search and digital community. Catch up on previous events over at the Janes of Digital site, reach out to us at or take it social with #JanesofDigital.