GET EMPOWERED WITH "I RESOLVE" AND THE BROAD EXCHANGE
Interview with Broad Exchange Co-Founder, Jen Hays
By Emma Banks.
Originally published on Milk.xyz
Last month, we spent an evening surrounded by a community of creative women known as The Broad Exchange for their “I RESOLVE” event—a one-night gathering of female leaders that empowered its participants to take hold of their frustrations and turn them into tangible action. Each woman left with a resolution of change (hence the name, “I RESOLVE”), and a decided first step in order to achieve whatever goal they set for themselves. We’re taught not to despise the day of small beginnings; that rang especially true here, where the emphasis was on compassion, understanding, empathy, and action—no matter how small
More talk. More listening. More action. Unsure of where to start? We got you. Watch the video above and then hear straight from The Broad Exchange Co-Founder and Creative Director Jen Hays below.
I’m so curious—before you helped start The Broad Exchange, were you political or active in a huge sense? What was the catalyst from being a normal voter to somebody that’s like bringing together actual change?
Politically active, not really. I’ve always had a passion for people, helping humanity and building community. I also personally benefited from the support of women in my career. When I found my first job in Advertising I also found a tremendous female mentor who helped me get my bearings and plant me in positions to learn. The value of that relationship has always stuck with me and I’ve looked for ways to give back.
Eventually, I found myself in NYC, surrounded by a few amazing women, sitting on a network of talented women we had grown within the walls of a closed Facebook Group for a different initiative, and realized the potential of it to become The Broad Exchange.
So we built on what we had grown with the previous initiative and started The Broad Exchange with one major focus: to make our group about the multi-dimensional dialog and “exchange” that would take place within the group, and how that would turn into public facing action. It’s been a calculated journey to get to a place where we have group of over 2,000 women (in body and presentation) in creative and communications fields with all kinds of complementary skills—we basically have everyone we’d need to staff a giant agency.
Ok, wow! [Laughs] So from that, how were you able to build The Broad Exchange as a place of community?
The board—Tamara Rothschild (Sr. Broadcast Consultant), Ashley Davidson (Creative Director), and myself (Creative Director)—all agree that having an exchange is the most important part. We never wanted it to be a one-way dialogue, we never wanted it to be a preaching platform. Even our events, while we’re offering them as The Broad Exchange, they are a collective effort of people from the network, who were shaping it, but also giving us feedback to help evolve it to better serve the participants and the contributors.
That’s how we like to approach all the projects we do. It’s not one and done, it’s one and learn, and then do over. And keep doing, and keep building, so that you’re stronger as a community surrounded by an idea that starts from one place, but can grow to a place that a lot more people can own it than just one person.
I think the beauty of having it be an exchange like you said, is that even if you start with an idea that you love, the fruit that comes from that idea can be so different depending on the people involved. Adding one person changes the dynamic of the whole group.
Yeah. I do a lot of thinking about the benefits of diversity, in perspective and backgrounds and all senses of the word, and how that can solve problems in such interesting and unexpected ways. We want to use our network, and all the different types of leaders and personalities and backgrounds to demonstrate that there’s actual strength in bringing in diverse problem-solving. Diversity doesn’t have to mean “hire ethnic people”, or “hire women”. There’s a really strange kind of pressure right now, to hit quotas, because people think diversity means a very physical thing, and they’re not really appreciating the benefit of what diverse perspectives offer. If they did, I think they would be working much harder to get out of the ruts of same thinking.
Yeah, I feel like for a lot of companies, it’s checking a box, but they don’t really tap into everything that’s at their fingertips with so many different people. Do you guys host events all the time? With “I RESOLVE”, that felt like a big thing. Do you guys do that often?
That was the first big thing we have done under The Broad Exchange. As a new brand, we wanted to be really certain that our first foot forward was the best foot forward and be sure everything we were doing was coming from an authentic place. And finding our footing in wake of the election was a challenge for I think all of us last year.
But from challenges come change. And many of us realized that we could turn our anger or frustration into fuel to get action going, and that it can be carried out with a very compassionate methodology as opposed to using it to polarize people.
This was the starting point for our I RESOLVE project, and we realized the network that we had through The Broad Exchange could help execute it. Momentum immediately came from it. So that’s when we all kind of knew, this was the moment, this was the idea, this was a great place to start.
We shaped it into activation-based event, that used a workshop to help our members understand how they could use their skills and influence to create the change they most want to see in their worlds – through compassion, strength and resolve—and a content studio to capture those statements of resolve to share the effectiveness of the approach with others.
It’s been the first articulation of what this could be, and it’s built a platform for us to do more. It’s also giving us a chance to work with the talent in our network. We get to feature their work as part of our project, but also tell their story so they get more exposure, and shine a spotlights on people with varying lives, approaches and perspectives. And in doing so hopefully we start changing the face of what we call leaders. So many of the leaders in the spotlight right now look the same and act the same, and attract followers who are the same. And unfortunately that means fewer women and fewer diverse people have champions in those leadership roles encouraging them to stay in the game.
It’s interesting, I mean the people you surround yourself with really shape who you are as a person.
Yeah, that’s true. I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by some really driven women right now, who are keeping me really motivated. We’re mutually bound through accountability to see through what we started with The Broad Exchange. Now that we’ve done something publicly, there are expectations for more, and it’s a really good pressure to have on us. We had a choice to do a one-off project and then take a break or to keep going. And our choice was keep going. We’re even expanding the team to include at least two new people, Sarah Farrand (Executive Producer) and Leah Bradley (Experience Producer).
You’ll probably have women depending on this for community, and they need you guys to keep hosting these and having it.
Yeah, it’s exciting. It’s nice to see what started as a very active private Facebook group grow and branch out into the real world and offer more opportunities for women to take action. It was always hard to share what we offered because much of it happened within the protected space of our private Facebook group. Being able to add this public face is invaluable.
Have you spoken to a lot of women that went to “I RESOLVE”? What have their reactions been?
Yes! We received a number of comments thanking us for the event, and stating that they were still focussed on the RESOLVE they committed to. What was really rewarding was speaking to a couple women who ran the smaller break out groups at the event. One leader we talked to said she was so empowered by the experience that she began to shape her business based on what she took away from the event. Another group leader observed that everyone in her group was open to sharing some very vulnerable and difficult experiences that led them to things they wanted to see changed, and they helped each other get to an actionable step they could take to get there.
I was also blown away by some of the RESOLVES people left with. Tasha Cronin, who was also a group leader resolved “to organize a team of volunteers to assist the International Rescue Committee so that we can make the US a safe haven for refugees.” When we talked she said that she only arrived with a broad sense of what she wanted to respond was able to hone in on a specific action through the event.
We’re also hearing that there is a desire for a way that people can continue to connect and support each other as they carry out their RESOLVES after the event. One of the break out groups is organizing a lunch for them all to get back together and reconnect. But beyond members having to organize things on their own, we want to offer a space online that allows the women to access their support network more regularly.
Yeah, I really like just talking about what the specific next steps will be. What are you going to do tomorrow, to make this a tangible reality, not just talk. I think that’s so important—we’re all frustrated, and the first thing is articulating how we’re going to fix that, but the next step is actually doing something about it. Looking at The Broad Exchange in the next year or the next five years, what is your vision for providing that space for women?
What we know for sure is we will continue to build on our positioning of More talk. More Action. We’ll expand that into more programming and campaigns so that it’s a resounding theme of whatever happens in the next year, or the next five years. And we will build on the momentum that we are seeing coming out of this last I RESOLVE event.
I think we may have surprised ourselves a little with how big this can be. And it’s really attributed to the power of the exchange and our collective skills. I RESOLVE, for instance, turned into something much bigger than I, or any one person could have done on their own. Engaging the group to help shape and execute the idea was the best thing I could have seen happen to it. Our team was incredible.
It made me realize I really want to make use of my skills and those of the network to create content and activations for people to engage with that will help them take action and communicate our collective message.
We want people to be aware that there is a methodology available to them to change issues that are bothersome to them and it doesn’t have to look like the approaches that they see others taking. We have the power and resources to come together to form honest and constructive conversations and ultimately create a positive impact. Ashley, who ran the workshop for our last event, would add that it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Part of our goal is to come together to envision small steps that are immediately manageable for individuals, but that can add up to big change.
And we have all the talent in our network to make it happen. When I realized that, and that we were solving problems much like I do an advertising brief, step by step, I thought, it’s not as daunting as it I thought it would be. There’s a process in place, and there are people who understand the process. It doesn’t have to be this daunting thing, it’s just about having a clear goal and the right people with you to get it moving.