Voice + Visibility
BY GAYLE GUYNUP/ JUNE 3, 2020
Thank you to Shannon Rohrer-Phillips and Ashley Salmons for introducing us to Voice + Visibility, an organization dedicated to empowering women.
Tell us about Voice + Visibility.
We launched the Voice + Visibility events two years ago with the very specific mission of empowering women, expanding networks and opportunities and elevating the voices of diverse women. The vision is to accelerate professional women and leaders towards closing the opportunity and pay gap that exists for women, especially women of color. Since our launch, we have produced 16 Voice + Visibility events and have convened more than 1,000 diverse, cross-sector professional women in SW Florida and beyond. Our largest accomplishments are in the emails and calls we receive from women who have found employment, board members, artists, new business partners and funders as a result of our multicultural networking events. Voice + Visibility is an open network, and our events are open to everyone. We partner well with other networking groups, companies and initiatives that focus on women’s empowerment and diversity, both regionally and across the country. We are proud of our new Voice + Visibility Women’s Fund established at the Community Foundation of Sarasota. A portion of our event proceeds will be donated to nonprofits that are committed to diversity and inclusion.
Shannon, you were and are so associated with VMA. What went into your decision to start Voice + Visibility?
As you know I co-founded Visible Men Academy with my husband and two other great leaders over seven years ago, so VMA is and always will be in my heart and soul. I transitioned off as a staff member in 2018 to start this new initiative, but I still serve as a voluntary VMA Senior Advisor on select advancement initiatives. Not many folks know this, but Neil and I started Visible Men 1.0 as an after-school pilot program in Metro DC back in 2007 before we moved to Florida to pursue creating a school. Truthfully, I left VMA for two reasons. I thought I could have more impact in the private sector leading diversity and inclusion work, and my husband and I agreed that 11 years working together in a pressure cooker environment was just plenty! We now can support one another’s work and go back to parenting and date nights that don’t turn into work sessions!
Tell me about your first Summit.
We are still so proud of our Inaugural Voice + Visibility Women’s Summit which took place on 2.4.20 at the Hyatt Regency in Sarasota! As a first-year event, we sold out with 400 attendees. Our program featured keynote speakers Abby Wambach, Nely Galán, Natasha Chen, Aisha Nyandoro and Ingrid Harb, and local voices like Christina Unkel and John Annis. The day also showcased performances by Sarasota Contemporary Dance, and Ariel Blue from Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe. Lipstick Lex was our featured artist, and more than 15 local vendors in the nonprofit, business and corporate community participated, as well. Our events are diverse by design, high-energy and fun!
Shortly after the Summit, we were faced with the Coronavirus pandemic. How did you pivot your programming so as not to lose momentum?
Like so many small businesses and startups, COVID-19 stopped us in our tracks. It was a very overwhelming and scary feeling as a live event production company to imagine no events for 6-10 months, with no ticket sales, and a drop in revenue. We did an immediate pivot and offered four speaking events online for free and recommitted to our mission. I probably sat on at least 10 free Webinars for CEOs leading through COVID-19. The solution for us was very clear: We had to transition our work to online offerings and innovate. Now, in addition to offering VV speaking events online, we just launched our first Diversity Course called Bridge Builders: White Racial Identity & Responsibility, Together Towards Anti-Racism. This work is more relevant than ever before.
Tell me about the organization’s plans for next year.
Our goal is to expand our online diversity courses and trainings, continue to build our network of multicultural women, and partner with those in the solutions and investment space. We are also deeply committed to the second Voice + Visibility Women’s Summit currently scheduled for 2.9.21. We will follow all health and safety guidelines, and hope to make announcements about our speakers and opportunities later this summer.
Why is it so important for women to support women in today’s society?
I believe Melinda Gates said it best, “When we invest in women and girls, we are investing in the people who invest in everyone else.” In my experience, when women are deeply valued and supported, families, communities, companies and the world are more compassionate and successful. I also love helping women find and trust their voice.