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A Seat at the Round Table: Meet the GPJ Women Employee Resource Group

By Elizabeth Del Forn

Throughout history, we have seen and heard bold and powerful women working to create positive change. In the last decade, movements and activism including #metoo, Time’s Up, body positivity, canceling diet culture, equal pay, sexual violence, women’s reproductive rights, and plenty more, have demonstrated the continued resilience of women and the strength of their voices. Women’s rights are human rights, and change is possible. 

GPJ Women is one of four employee resource groups at GPJ, and it was the first to be founded by employees at the agency. It is a safe environment for women and allies of women to share their experiences so that we can learn and work together for continued change as a collective. The platform is an open forum for all GPJ employees. 

The group’s mission is to create a community focused on women’s opportunities and challenges, featuring stories and strategies that illustrate a path to personal and professional wellness, success, and leadership.

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’ve shared a few links to show how far we have come and what we can continue to do as allies. In addition, we’re sharing here a recent interview with some our very own GPJ Women representatives. Thank you for being a part of change. 

A Q&A with Project Worldwide Marketing Manager, Alexa Abdalla on the mission and future of GPJ Women

From Left to Right and Top to Bottom: Yen Tsutsumi, Fiona Bruder, Erica Wiggins, Siarra Duffy and Samantha Wolf

Can you all share a bit about your roles at GPJ and within GPJ Women?

Fiona Bruder: I’m the President of the agency, and the executive sponsor for GPJ Women. I also like to consider myself an active member and an accomplice.

Siarra Duffy: I’m a Senior Account Director based in LA. I’ve been at GPJ for a year and a half, so I still feel like a bit of a newbie. It’s been helpful to be a part of GPJ Women — I love participating, learning, and supporting the other women I work with to guide their paths forward.

Erica Wiggins: I’m the Director of Marketing, and was an early member of GPJ Women. For the past year or so, I’ve been leading the group together with a small group of others. But we took a bit of a hiatus last year as we wanted to give some of our other ERGs space in a time that was so important for their voices to be heard. Especially EPIC (multicultural ERG) and OPEN (LGBTQ+ ERG), with Black Lives Matter and Project Pride being two big initiatives that needed support. There was also the emergence of PACT (parents and caregivers ERG), with so many caregivers totally swamped with the pandemic. We have been starting to ramp up GPJ Women activity again, though, getting quarterly meetings scheduled and having different regions lead their own meetings.

Yen Tsutsumi: As SVP, Integrated Production, I head up our west coast creative production teams, and I’m one of the GPJ Women representatives for our Bay Area office.

Sammy Wolf: I’m a Global Account Manager, mainly working across Google, and as far as my role within GPJ Women, I’m a member and ally, supporting all of the work that we do.

How did the group come together?

Fiona: There was a growing need from people who wanted to come together as a community of like minded individuals. GPJ Women was our first ERG and foundational to our whole philosophy on ERGs and our mission to provide space for organic community building across the agency. We’ve since expanded to have OPEN (Original Perspectives, Excluding None) and EPIC (Empowered People, Inclusive Cultures) and PACT (Parents and Caregivers Together). GPJ Women provided an opportunity for people to come together and explore the challenges we face as women, as well as share our experiences and opportunities. For me, it’s always been about how we can uplift each other as a community of women and I think that’s been the founding priority of this ERG.

What are some of your biggest goals within the ERG?

Fiona: I want to continue to create a safe place and community for ALL women and our allies. I also want to engage more with clients on the issues important to us, create new business opportunities and broaden our reach.

Sammy: First and foremost, I want us to have a dedicated and safe space to connect with the talented and strong women across GPJ. My goals are to both provide and seek support from others in terms of leadership, professional development, conflict resolution, management, and team camaraderie and motivation.

Erica: I would love to see GPJ Women continue to offer leadership tools and training, create an ally toolkit, and develop a giving back initiative.

How has the focus of the group changed over time?

Erica: Over the last couple of years, we’ve really tried to give the members what they need at any given time. Last year, shortly after lockdown began, we had a call, and we were all saying “it’s just great to see you.” We shared photos of what our lives looked like at the time and it was really soul-filling to have that connection with each other. Going forward, we want to continue uplifting each other both personally and professionally.

Fiona: I don’t think the overall mission has changed. I would like to ensure all employees know this ERG is open to them, including our male colleagues. I also would like to see a shift to more business-driven opportunities to help our members gain exposure in the industry.

Yen: I think there’s a natural alienation men feel when they hear “women’s group” where it’s hard for them to wrap their head around how they participate as an ally, but also be sensitive to the need that women may have to have their own space. It’s something we need to work on because we’ve heard several times that male colleagues aren’t sure whether they should participate in the group.

Fiona: That is one of our goals. There’s a lack of comfort because there’s lack of clarity on the role men play.

I also think there’s a level of intimidation on behalf of men, like, can I join? I think it’s still a question we’re not able to answer.

Erica: One thing I love about our ERGs is that they’re all open and welcoming to everybody, whether you’re a member or an ally. Another thing that I think is really great is we can have difficult conversations and open up some of these subjects that have been taboo in the past in a solution-oriented way. There’s never blaming or shaming going on. It’s about all of us lifting each other up.

What are you doing to help your members succeed as business leaders?

Fiona: The ERGs help build profiles of leaders within the company. Not people with a big titles, but people who show up and lead. We recently featured Bianca Bethel (EPIC’s Board Chair and a Technical Director for GPJ Live Production) speaking to EPIC’s goals for our multicultural employees, as well as promoting the news of that group’s founder, Noelle San Jose, stepping into the role of GPJ’s first-ever Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion program manager.

It’s also about giving women the tools they need to succeed. We did a great session recently about breaking down words that women use instinctively that are subtly undercutting. Like the word, “just,” using that every time you want to ask or say something. We were all on the call like, oh my god. I do that all the time.

Sammy: I was on a call earlier with a client who recently gave birth, and she has all of her kids running around, and at one point she needed to breastfeed, and she wasn’t apologetic about it at all. She was like, I need you to understand that I need to multitask right now. For me, as a woman wanting to have kids in the next few years, it just made me feel so connected to her and grateful to work at a place like GPJ that’s given me the understanding that there is space for women to be women within the workplace.

Yen: I’ve actually been that woman, having to do that with two kids, pregnant, juggling a full time career.

Siarra: I come from a long line of companies that align with traditional corporate guidelines and I have never had ERGs available or offered.  What I love about our ERGs is that they focus on normalizing life beyond the walls of where we work. We’re not just an employee, we are a person.

Do you feel like the fact that you’re literally seeing into each other’s lives in these virtual settings is conducive to seeing people as full versions of themselves?

Sammy: The human aspect is so important, and we talk about empathy so much, but I think really understanding what empathy means and being able to feel that is important. I can see Fiona’s images in the background and I can see her son coming in and out and I can see how much is going on in her life and it just makes me feel so much more connected to her as a person. I respect her, because we all have so much going on and being able to understand that perspective, and understand the amount of incredible work we’re doing while also juggling a husband or boyfriend or newborn or even just getting dressed and doing our hair in the morning — having that outlet and inlet into everyone’s life just because you can see everything going on behind them, it just makes for more empathy.

Yen: It’s so true. You see everything going on in the background, even the cat going by.

Fiona: The other thing for me is there’s always this perception of leadership like, you’re always so put together, you’re always so calm, and it’s like, don’t put that kind of pressure on yourself. I think the backgrounds help take away the perceived hierarchy and allow everyone to interact with each other on an even playing field.

What are some things happening this month that you’re excited about?

Yen: I run our integrated production department on the west coast and every month, I try to bring in a component of our ERG. This month, I really wanted our team to celebrate unsung heroes. Mabel Stark, for example, was one of the first tiger trainers in the early twentieth century, leading in a field traditionally dominated by men. I want us to be talking and learning more about what we don’t read about in the history books and give voices to some of those women.

Siarra: This isn’t specific to GPJ Women, but my son is in first grade. His class has been focusing on women in history and women of color this month, the Katharine Johnsons of the world for example. He’s seven and coming home and talking about female figures. I find it so heartwarming that change and awareness is actually happening.

The original Project Worldwide post can be found HERE.

Thanks to everyone who contributed, and to Alexa Abdalla for the interview.