The Room Where It Happens
The gallery was buzzing with excitement when I walked up to sign in for Collective Strength, one of our many monthly gatherings here at Indy Hall. This particular event is run by Indy Hallers Sara Wachter-Boettcher and Katel LeDû, hosts of the podcast STRONG FEELINGS. The weekly show has featured numerous powerhouse guests over the years, from authors, to lawyers, to radio hosts, all gathering for deep discussions about “work, friendship, and feminism”.
Collective Strength as an in-person event was born out of those online conversations, and now offers a physical, non-male space for women and non-binary/femme folks to come together and talk about the triumphs and tribulations that come with trying to navigate this patriarchal world we live in. Name tags and pronoun stickers awaited attendees at the sign-in desk, and an awesome spread of snacks (provided by their sponsor, Harvest) were at the ready as folks introduced themselves and settled in for what would be a hard-hitting discussion about gender discrimination in the workplace.
The Story of That Night
The evening opened with an activity, lead by podcast host Sara, in which members of the crowd shared what excited them, or made them nervous about coming to an event like this. I for one shared that as a queer, non-binary individual who goes by both she/her, and they/them pronouns, that it felt so refreshing to come into a space that was conscious of acknowledging that part of my identity. Many spaces that brand themselves as being inclusive of women can often draw the line at trans women and non-binary individuals who find themselves still identifying with the femme side of the spectrum. The atmosphere was one of love and acceptance for all.
After others shared their trepidations and reasons for excitement, the evening launched into an educational and affirming discussion with Amal Bass, a staff attorney at the Women’s Law Project. Amal was able to share with the audience what she has learned her years of experience advocating for those seeking legal counsel on workplace gender discrimination, defense of reproductive rights, and a wide variety of other related issues.
Tomorrow There’ll Be More of Us
While the discussion topics were heavy and allowed many attendees to share deeply personal experiences and struggles they have faced, the biggest takeaway was that there is good reason for hope. It made my heart so happy as things wrapped up and I got to watch new friends exchange contact info with one another and excitedly mark their planners for the next Collective Strength event.
I can’t speak more highly of the epic space that Katel and Sara have created, with it’s “fuck yeah” attitude and “smash the patriarchy” spirit, which is why I had a chat with them about how they brought this incredible event series to life. Here’s what they had to say!
Where did the idea for Collective Strength come from?
It came from feedback we kept getting for our podcast, Strong Feelings. Fans would say things like, “We wish we could be in the room with you, having these conversations in real life.” And we realized: we could do that, at least for people in Philly!
Of events you’ve done in the past, what is one of your favorite moments you’ve shared with an attendee?
I think one of my favorite moments was chatting with two attendees at our event on Feminist Leadership. They’d made such a strong connection, they’d decided to get back together the next week to follow up on the activity we were working on and hold each other accountable for progress. I love the people I’ve met and the conversations I’ve had, but seeing attendees have those with each other has been really really wonderful!
With relation to your latest event, what do you think is the greatest challenge women and femme/nonbinary-identifying folks face in the workplace?
There are so many challenges facing women and nonbinary folks at work—particularly for those who are also part of other marginalized groups, such as people of color, immigrants, or people with disabilities. But something that I think is fairly universal and really impacts us all is being minimized at work.
This includes things like being told we’re too sensitive, being talked over in meetings, having needs like family leave or a space to pump deemed “extra” instead of “normal”—just all the day-to-day stuff that tells women and non-binary folks that they aren’t important and keeps them feeling small. I say this because minimization of our needs and experiences affects everything—from whether we’re paid fairly to whether we’re believed when we report harassment to whether we are taken seriously in leadership roles.
What is one piece of advice you’d give to young femme/nonbinary-identifying folks and women who are seeking to carve our own communities?
Creating a professional community is about more than just finding other people with the same job title as you. It’s about building trust with each other—so you can open up and feel seen and understood. That takes time. That’s why I always recommend that people look for events that have opportunities built in to slow down and connect with people over shared challenges and experiences. Because that’s what leads to a deeper conversation. Otherwise, you could go to networking events every night and never get further than shallow small-talk.
What’s the one you hope for this community as it continues to grow?
I hope this community continues to do something that I have been incredibly inspired by so far: build real connections! I have seen lots of attendees share email addresses and start text message chains with each other during Collective Strength, and commit to helping each other stay accountable to goals or move forward on projects. I want this to be a place where people leave feeling less alone, and more tied into a support system. Because when we work together, we build strength and resilience—which is what we need to change our workplaces and our communities to be more just and inclusive.
Don’t Throw Away Your Shot
Want to lend your voice to the conversation and become part of this ever-growing community? Then don’t miss the next Collective Strength event, which will be held right here in the gallery on Wednesday, October 23rd, from 6pm to 8pm!
The next discussion topic is going to be Burnout, and the event promises to, “share our personal challenges and strategies” and “use our newfound perspective to start documenting personal plans for processing our stress and building healthier, more sustainable habits—whatever the world throws at us”.
RSVP to the event on meetup.com here, and we’ll look forward to seeing you there!