Effecting Change to Eradicate Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Holly Moore, Marketing Intern

In light of the multitude of recent reports regarding sexual harassment, we need more than conversations on the topic. We need actions that can eradicate comments and activities of this nature from the workplace. With so many of these scandals in the news, we know the problem is pervasive and transcends industry, age, race, religion, geography, and economic class . Recently there has been a reaction on Twitter regarding these events with the #metoo movement. Many individuals had the courage to share their personal experiences of sexual abuse, harassment, and impropriety, which has encouraged others to follow suit in coming forward. Now we need to turn talk into action to make the workplace a safe environment where everyone can bring their “best selves” to work.

According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW) sexual harrassment generally “describes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature,” but it is not limited to that. It is also a pattern of improper belittling tones, sexist comments, subtle actions, or a hostile, sexualized work environment. Part of this definition comes from a recent article, which also includes the following tips for victims.

Credit Image: © Frank May

For the individual dealing with sexual harassment in a work environment:

In the wake of much criticism of the women coming forward– “why now?” and ” how can she prove it?”– we need more conversation about why it’s so hard for victims to come forward. Many victims fear career suicide; they cannot afford losing their jobs or the retaliation that they may receive while fighting for their rights. According to Kathy Caprino, CEO of Fairygoddess, on top of retaliation, there is also the bystander effect (meaning others were watching and did not take action therefore the victim does not feel that their experience will be heard) as well as the influence and pressure of a male-dominated culture.
Here are a few tips for the individual who is the target of sexual harassment:

1. Record every incident (even if the actions on their own seem small and seemingly unimportant) and all the details of who was involved, when and what occurred. Make sure to write them down in a non-work device, so that you will have them in case you are let go without warning.
2. Follow your company’s formal complaint channel, but act quickly. Many lawyers say that victims wait too long to come forward and their cases become time-barred.
3. The complaint channel activates “the company’s legal obligation to do a prompt, thorough investigation, make findings, protect the victim and punish the perpetrator. If that does not solve the problem and there’s more sexual harassment and if there is retaliation, which is illegal, then she [or he] needs to reach out to a lawyer,” says Caprino. Most lawyers provide a free initial (confidential) consultation that will inform the victim of their rights.
For the bystander
“Everyone knew. But no one said anything,” is how John Baldoni, an executive coach and educator, began his article on the subject, which seems to be a theme in most workplaces. According to Baldoni “silence equals complicity” because in most cases the harasser is not the only one aware of what is occurring. This is not simply a corporate level issue; individuals also have responsibility in these situations. Baldoni explains how currently there are few prevention answers. Either the victim can complain to HR (where the complaint will most likely never be addressed) or they can talk and engage in conversations about it, but neither of these actions are a sufficient response. Neither of them affect any kind of change. So Baldoni shares helpful tips for the individual seeking change.
1. Hold each other accountable as individuals to stand up and protect one another.
2. Believe the victim and take the complaints seriously, whether you have the power to do anything about it or not according to this article about how to navigate sexual harassment in the work place.
3. Don’t engage in sexist jokes. Draw the line; show your coworkers you don’t put up with those ideals and attitudes.
For companies that want to be better about sexual harassment policies:
Victor Lipman, executive coach and author, wrote in an article  saying that “companies should be preventers, not enablers” of these kinds of behaviors. While there are many discussions regarding whether or not non-disclosure agreements regarding this topic should be legal, there are actions that companies need to take to mitigate the problem.
1. Make a policy regarding the issue and publish it for all employees to see. Baldoni says to make it as clear as possible during new hire training so that they know without a doubt what the policy is.
2. Make it a zero-tolerance policy. One-strike, you’re out.
3. For the HR department and management, do more than simply create a new policy in a rule book. Discuss these policies so employees know that they carry weight.
4. While anti-retaliation policies are illegal, ensure that everyone at your company explicitly knows this.
5. Remove mandatory employee arbitration clauses (they are illegal and forbid lawsuits) but they also silence victims and they protect sexual offenders.
In order for the culture to change, adjustments have to be made on every level of a company from every policy that is made to every employee’s actions to the CEO’s actions and opinions to a company’s newest hire. While there are many different ways to accomplish this, Dana Walden, chairman and CEO of Fox Television Group, said that “There must be women in the highest ranks on every corporate board. Our recruiting and our training has to be oriented to ensure that we’re identifying and nurturing future generations of female leaders.”

Momentum Announces New CEO to Succeed Group’s Founder

After a two-month search, The Momentum Board of Directors has selected Birmingham native and Momentum graduate April Benetollo as the new CEO of the women’s leadership organization. Benetollo succeeds Barbara Royal, Momentum’s founder and CEO from 2002 until her retirement in August.

“April’s professional background, enthusiasm, and first-hand experience at Momentum make her the perfect choice to lead our organization into the next phase of our strategic plan,” said Vickie Saxon, president of Momentum’s board of directors and vice president of enterprise resources at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama. “We have ambitious goals for the next five years and are fortunate to have April’s shared vision to get us there.”

Benetollo is a Momentum alumna from the program’s tenth class and served on the Momentum executive board for two years before joining the organization in October 2016 as director of marketing and development. She has served as interim CEO since September. Prior to joining Momentum, Benetollo was senior vice president of marketing at Daxko, a Birmingham-based software success story. As a member of Daxko’s executive team from its startup in early 2000 until 2016, Benetollo held leadership positions in general management, marketing, sales, product strategy, HR and career development, all reporting to the CEO.

“I am incredibly honored to be selected to carry on this amazing program that Barbara, our board, and our corporate partners have built, as well as expand into new areas,” Benetollo said. “Barbara was very much ahead of her time when she started Momentum 15 years ago.  Since then, the issue of under-representation of women in leadership has moved from a hushed discussion to a national conversation. We now have organizations from New York to the West Coast looking at our Momentum program, stunned at the success we’ve had right here in Alabama. But there is still much work to be done.”

In the coming years, Momentum plans to expand its programs and services to include early-career women, men who support diversity in leadership, and more community involvement.

Benetollo is a board member of TechAlabama, a sister organization of TechBirmingham, as well as an advisory board member of UAB’s Information Engineering Management program and the Marketing and Sales Advisory Board for the UAB Collat School of Business. April is a frequent public speaker on leadership development, employee engagement, healthy teams, diversity, emotional intelligence, public speaking, marketing, positioning, and brand awareness.

Momentum Conference 2018: Save the Date

Mark your calendars for the 2018 Momentum Leadership Conference, to be held February 27th and 28th at the BJCC.

The biennial leadership conference is an opportunity for professionals from across the state to experience Momentum. We expect 800 participants at the 2018 conference, making it the largest event focused on women in leadership in our state. The 2018 conference theme is Better Together: Uniting Leaders. The theme is reflective of Momentum’s work to involve the entire professional community, women and men working together for a common goal: to ensure that top talent is represented in leadership, regardless of gender.

Increasingly research reports support the notion that when leadership reflects the diversity of the community it represents, businesses achieve better outcomes. Many businesses support this idea. So why don’t we see more parity for women in leadership?

Many of the factors that contribute to the under-representation of women in leadership roles are the result of unconscious bias, not overt sexism. In other words, many unconscious micro-decisions, made by men and women alike, can adversely affect a woman’s career opportunities. This year’s conference will focus on increasing universal awareness of how we can work together to achieve more.

Two nationally recognized keynote speakers, nine program sessions to choose from, and lots of networking time will leave you inspired with lots of valuable take-aways.

Online registration is open now, with early bird rates through January 5th and discounts for groups of 8 or more.

Questions? Email our office or call 205.321.6100.

Can Vulnerability Increase Confidence?

Holly Moore, Marketing Intern

Studies show that women struggle more with confidence in the workplace than their male counterparts. We all know the fears of putting yourself out there: fear of rejection, mockery, even retaliation. Many of us internalize these responses until they become part of our identity. We take the fear too far.

Women can be their own worst confidence killer. 

According to one recent article, there are several ways that women undercut their own confidence:

1. Modest women are afraid to speak about their accomplishments and will not be seen or recognized for their work; they secretly hope that their hard work speaks for them .

2. Women are very reluctant to ask for promotions, raises, and award nominations.

3. Women miss out on stand-out opportunities because they put so much effort into blending in.

4. When the fear leads to silence, the really brilliant ideas are suppressed as well.

The article continued on to say that “[they’ve] found in [their] work that career momentum for women is not about adding job skills but about changing everyday thinking and behaviors.”

Is it possible that a key ingredient to building confidence in women could be embracing vulnerability? 

Brene Brown, a researcher and storyteller, claims that “vulnerability is the courage to show up and be seen.” In a Forbes article, David Williams, a serial entrepreneur, wrote about how the best leaders are vulnerable, based on a recent talk by Brene Brown. He outlines the four main ideas of vulnerability.

1. Vulnerability is a strength because, as Brown calls it,: “the most accurate measure of courage.” When has courage ever been seen as a weakness?

Brown writes on her website that “vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

2. Vulnerability cannot be ignored or avoided. By Brown’s definition is it the essence of uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.

3. While many cringe at the idea, vulnerability is not being overly personal and sharing the messy parts of life with co-workers. Brown gives examples for workplace vulnerability as taking responsibility for mistakes, being willing to ask for help, reaching out to a colleague during a loss, and many others. It brings a “human connection back to the workplace” writes Emma Seppala, a Science Director at Stanford University, in her article about the benefits of vulnerability by bosses.

4. Going it alone is not an option. Guidance is necessary and beneficial to almost any process. Brown also writes that “vulnerability is the absolute heartbeat of innovation and creativity. There can be zero innovation without vulnerability.”

If vulnerability leads to trust then the benefits to raise confidence are endless.

Trust in the workplace allows for risks to be taken because there is freedom to own mistakes and potential for forgiveness. There is also room for input, collaboration, and the sharing of ideas because a bad idea does not equate to a poor performance. Trust often changes the game in a workplace. Employees often feel the freedom to be themselves in an atmosphere of trust.

While vulnerability allows for much growth in countless areas of life, it is important for us to think about where in our lives are we confident being vulnerable. As we consider the positive aspects of vulnerability, let’s ask ourselves one of Brene Brown’s questions: “What would you be glad you did–even if you failed?”

Mentoring Success Story

Lots of companies have mentoring programs, but it’s not always easy to find one that works. Momentum’s mentoring program has had great success for four main reasons.

  1. Momentum has a network of over 350 accomplished women graduates to choose from, so finding a good match is  less onerous than in a company setting where the pool of high-ranking women may be smaller.
  2. Most women that come through our program can cite several mentors in their own lives. They are most often men. Of course men make great mentors and those relationships are important. At the same time, having a woman mentor means someone who understands first-hand some of the unique challenges career women face, such as unconscious bias, wage gaps, family planning and extended family care.
  3. Our  network of potential mentors come from many different companies and represent a broad range of industries and roles. This diversity has real advantages over having a mentor from within the same company.
  4. All participants in the mentor program, mentors and mentees alike, receive training on how to set some goals and parameters. This training is very helpful in making sure both parties understand what they are trying to achieve and by when.

Currently we work with organizations like Girls Inc., area colleges, organizations for young professionals, and Momentum corporate partners to pair our graduates with young women seeking mentors. For example, last year we teamed up Momentum graduate and entrepreneur Jennifer Skjellum with a young Executive Property Manager for Davis Management, Molly Shuster.

Molly shared this with Momentum about the experience:

“Simply saying ‘thank you’ to Momentum for pairing me with Jennifer doesn’t feel like enough. Jennifer’s mentorship has developed into a friendship that I know will carry on for years to come; the guidance Jennifer provides both professionally and personally is the best gift I could ask for, and I encourage others to seek the same through this program. As a young woman, having an experienced professional you can look up to and call on with questions, knowing you will receive solid answers, is an advantage I encourage others to find. To be honest, I cannot recommend this program enough – it has been a wonderful experience.”

The benefits of mentoring are reserved for the mentee. There’s a lot in it for the mentor too, according to Jennifer:

“After graduating from Momentum I joined the Momentum Alumna Program (MAP) to continue my relationship with the organization and with the people I met through the program. I also joined so that I could take advantage of the opportunity to be placed as a mentor.  Mentoring, networking, and relationship-building are the benefits of MAP that are most important to me.  As a successful woman, I enjoy motivating and mentoring others. I also feel an obligation to help ensure the next generation of professional women have the opportunity to advance further than I have.

I was matched with Molly Shuster. Over the past nine months of getting to know her, I gained a new friend, a better sense of self and have become a better listener.  It has been fulfilling to leverage my experience and networks to benefit another person. “

About Molly: 

Molly Shuster is the Executive Property Manager for Davis Management, Inc. in Birmingham, AL. She graduated from the University of Alabama in 2016 and looks forward to continuing her experience with an emphasis on Birmingham’s growing real estate market.

About Jennifer:

Jennifer Skjellum is an entrepreneur, educator and ecosystem builder.  Her 25 year career includes experience building companies, building educational programs for undergraduates and professionals, and most recently leading a nonprofit organization with the mission of growing and strengthening the technology ecosystem in Birmingham, Alabama region.

Mentorship: a workplace necessity or a necessity for success?

For the community of business professionals, the idea of mentorship is a hot topic, especially when discussing women in the workplace. We are all aware of the “leaky chasm” where more women are graduating from university than ever before and yet the number of executive leaders is slim. Mikki Taylor, a well-known writer and speaker, said that “many women live like it’s a dress rehearsal. Ladies, the curtain is up and you’re on.” In view of mentoring, it is important for women to take their steps with purpose. It is time we become bold and seek out mentors and mentees. Mentoring future women leaders is a necessity for the workplace as well as personal success.

According to Forbes,  only fifty-four percent of women have access to senior leaders who act as mentors or informal sponsors. The lack of mentors for women is believed to be one of the major reasons we don’t see more women in leadership. Increasingly data show that when more women sit at the decision-making tables, better decisions are made. In order to continue fostering growth, women must begin asking for help and sharing their insight. Mentorship is a wonderful path to begin paving better roads for the future of equality in leadership.

There are countless benefits for both parties involved in a mentoring relationship. According to a recent Forbes article, “it is a broader network of relationships and circumstances that shape individual success.” With many decisions that are made, there are discussions that come before them. When making a change in career choice, almost everyone will phone a trusted friend to hear his or her input and discuss options and concerns. Mentoring is important because there is an educated decision to trust someone who has more experience, a different perspective, and wise recommendations. While the responsibility for life decisions ultimately resides within each of us, we are wise to seek counsel from someone with experience in the issues we face.

The value of mentoring is a two way street, with mentors standing to benefit from the relationship as well. According to a Forbes article, the benefits of  mentoring include new insights into the workforce, valuable connections, new perspective, and the personal satisfaction of sharing experiences. In addition to the personal and professional benefits of a mentor relationship, those who mentor are twenty percent more like to receive a raise.

The guidance, honesty, and input of a mentor can help a mentee become their achieve their personal best. Many mentees desire this relationship to gain knowledge and a specific skill set, but this article points out that they also often receive a broadened perspective, gain connections, learn more about business politics, and gain the confidence to stand on their own. For young professionals who may feel inadequate, take the advice of Sara Blakely, the Founder of Spanx: “Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know because it can also be your greatest strength and ensure that you do things differently from everyone else.”

A three-tiered mentoring program is an essential part of Momentum’s mission to advance women in leadership. Each year we pair class participants with senior mentors. Upon graduation, participants receive training on successful mentoring and are paired with a teen, college student, or young professional looking for a mentor. Momentum has fostered over 800 mentoring relationships to date.

If you have experiences, opinions or advice on mentoring, we’d love to see your comments here.

Nominations for Woman of Impact Award

Who do you think of when you think of outstanding women leaders in Alabama? Momentum wants to know! As we prepare for our biennial conference, to be held at the BJCC February 27th and 28th, we have opened the call for nominations for the Woman of Impact awards.

We all know of a woman who meets the criteria. Let us know who you would like to see honored with this prestigious award of achievement! Criteria and nomination forms can be found here.

Raising visibility into the contributions of the many great female leaders in our state is a key part of Momentum’s mission. Most women tend to downplay personal achievement and give credit instead to their mentors, colleagues and teams.

The concept of women promoting themselves defies cultural norms according to this post. In another article published by the Harvard Business Review, many women must experience a “fundamental identity shift” before they can promote themselves. One helpful approach is for women to focus on the personal experiences that helped them achieve their goals rather than focusing on the relationships that supported them. Recognizing outstanding women on their own merits inspires future leaders, both women and men.

Momentum’s renowned past award winners come from many different roles, industries, and backgrounds. Their bios are ready to impress. You can read more about each winner by clicking on their photos. In this video, four of our sixteen past honorees speak briefly about their respective experiences, challenges and accomplishments.

Women in Alabama deserve recognition for their many accomplishments. To advocate for the promotion of women, nominate a woman you know to receive the esteemed Woman of Impact award, then join Momentum for the ceremony to honor the winners on February 27th! Registration will begin in October.

Welcome to Momentum, Class Fifteen!

Each year Momentum welcomes a new group of outstanding, highly accomplished women into our program. They are driven. They are high-performers. They are leaders. And yet they can do more, be more, give more. Many are already well over 110% capacity in their professional and private lives, so how can they possibly add more?

That’s where Momentum comes in.

Over the course of the next nine months these women will gain top-notch training in emotional intelligence, healthy leadership, and stress management, as well as practical skills such as negotiation, branding, and vision planning.

They will learn to focus their time and energy on the things that matter most. They will learn to relinquish control in order to delegate. They will learn to ask for the resources they need to add value and drive results.

Most of all, they will build relationships with one another, the kinds of relationships most male leaders naturally find within their workplace or among any number of social circles. For the women of Class 15, there are fewer and fewer women around them as they rise through the ranks. Momentum will provide that network of advice and support as these women take on higher levels of responsibility with confidence.

The Momentum welcome retreat is designed to set the stage for this new phase of growth. Class 15 really rose to the challenge. In fact, you can see them in action in this video! Through several days of training and exercises that stretched everyone outside of their comfort zone, this class came out the other side closer and stronger. I am certain they will go far.


Class Fifteen, on behalf of Momentum staff and alum, we are here to support you on that journey.

April Benetollo
Interim CEO, Momentum



Market at Pepper Place Hosting Momentum Alumnae

Mark your calendars…bring your family, friends and fur babies!

September 16th 8:15-noon Momentum Alum are invited to the Market at Pepper Place to celebrate the women of Birmingham’s cuisine scene! Take a look at the program that Momentum alumna Leigh Sloss-Cora has put together for us. Come for all or any part of this fantastic morning!


8:15 am Coffee & Scones

Arrive at the Market and grab a coffee and nametag from the Red Cat tent (owned by Erin Isbell) and a scone or croissant from Continental Bakery’s counter (owned by Caroline Griffin). Shop the beautiful fresh produce, food items and unique gifts.

9:00 am Chef Demo with Ashley Tarver 

Meet at the Chef Demo area on 29th street and learn how to make a delicious seasonal recipe from the  chef/owner of Copper Pot Kitchen and the soon-to-be-open Za’atar Bar Ashley Tarver and food writer Christiana Roussel, with help from Jeff State culinary student Daphne Jones. Find out amazing facts about women in the food industry and cheer for the ones who have been “breaking the pyrex ceiling” in Birmingham and beyond their entire careers.


10:00 am Brunch and Mimosas at OvenBird

Pick a spot in the garden if the weather is nice, or relax inside, if you need the A/C. Award-winning chef Chris Hastings has a fantastic brunch menu. It’s hard to beat the Eggs Benedict or the Cornmeal Hotcake with fruit.

Leigh’s favorite? Oysters on the half shell with g&t mignonette, just to get started!



11:00 am Last Call at the Market

If you’ve had enough brunch, pick up those last minute purchases before the market closes at noon. Remember, the Market at Pepper Place is a nonprofit that was founded by a Momentum donor, is overseen by a Momentum alum and run by an all female staff. Community support is essential to keep it going! So post your pictures and help spread the word before you hug your Momentum pals goodbye and make a plan to meet up at the Market again.


The following Market regulars are all owned or co-owned by women, so shop their tents and support them!

Main Lot: 

·         Continental Bakery

·         Dayspring Dairy

·         Deep Roots Apothecary

·         Henke Farms

·         Homewood Gourmet

·         Monroe Sausage

·         Pie Lab

·         Red Cat Coffee

·         Silver Lane Farms

·         Stone Hollow Farmstead

·         Southern Foothills Farm

·         Thula’s Vinaigrette

On 29th Street:

·         Ashley McCullars Art

·         Bare Naked Noodles

·         Copper Pot Kitchen

·         Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes

·         Happy Trails Flowers

·         Harvest Roots Seeds Coffee

·         Inspirals Jewelry

·         Lovely Lettering

·         Lula’s Woodworks

·         Obsessions Jewelry

·         Pudding Amore

·         Red Cat Coffee

·         Zkano Socks

In the Cantina/Martin Biscuit Parking Lot:

·         Big Spoon Creamery

·         Earth Garden Naturals soap

·         Hip Hop Hooray kids Clothing

·         J. Lizzie

·         Lindsey Kelly Art

·         Prodigal Pottery

·         She She (artist)

·         Windy’s Wind Chimes

Birmingham Southern College President to Speak at Momentum Luncheon

Linda Flaherty-Goldsmith, Photo credit: Bob Farley

We are honored to have Linda Flaherty-Goldsmith, President of Birmingham Southern College, to deliver the keynote address entitled “Lead Where You Are Needed” at Momentum’s annual luncheon celebration to welcome leadership class fifteen to the program. Momentum alumnae, sponsors, class participants, and their guests are invited to register to attend.

Linda  became the first female President in Birmingham Southern College’s 160-year history in 2016, bringing many years of senior leadership experience in higher education to the position.  She has served as Vice President for Finance and Administration for the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Vice Chancellor for Financial Affairs for the University of Alabama System, and Vice President and COO for the University of Connecticut.

Linda has enjoyed bolstering BSC’s administrators, faculty and staff during its re-accreditation period, and she founded BSC’s popular Panther Partnerships mentoring program, which pairs juniors with a professional mentor and offers regular seminars in everything from career development to professional etiquette.  She has also worked as a pro-bono consultant with Human Rights First, a non-profit, nonpartisan human rights organization based in Washington, D.C., and New York, to create, implement, and advance an international campaign designed to disrupt the business of human trafficking. In this role, she has been a part of an effort to promote at the national level legislation addressing social issues and challenges that face higher education and society in general.

Flaherty-Goldsmith graduated summa cum laude with a BS in Business from the University of Alabama and received her MBA with an emphasis in finance from UAB. She has a long history of community service, including as a member of the board of the National Collegiate Housing Foundation, the EyeSight Foundation of Alabama, the UA Women’s Leadership Initiative, and the YouthServe Leadership Board. She is a graduate of Leadership Alabama and Leadership Birmingham and was named one of Birmingham’s Top Ten Women by Birmingham Business Magazine.