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I Am Merkle: Why I’m Equal, Part 2

Women's Equality Day commemorates the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting the right to vote to women. The amendment was first introduced in 1878. In 1971, the U.S. Congress designated August 26 as Women's Equality Day. Employees around Merkle share more about what gender equality means to them:

Cheryl Harewood: Cheryl is a Client Account Manager and is based in Troy, MI.

Kathleen Sack: Kathleen is a Senior Account Manager based in Baltimore, MD.

Jennie Woods: Jennie is a Senior SEO Analyst based in Central Virginia.

Ali Clerklin: Ali is a Senior Account Manager based in Denver, CO.

1. What does gender equality mean to you?

Harewood: Regardless of color, creed, religion, origin, or ethnicity, there should be equal pay for equal work.

Sack: Gender equality to me is that your life isn’t made harder because of your gender identity. So many of our systems are harmful to women of all kinds, including the prison and healthcare systems. Just being yourself can be challenging and dangerous for someone who is transgender. Gender should not be something that we’re judged on or held back because of. 

Woods: Seeing the abject poverty in Appalachia really shaped my view of equality and, to me, it boils down to access. By this, I mean access to everything including education, financial opportunities, enrichment opportunities, high-speed internet, nutritious food, medical care, decent roads, and indoor plumbing. With the right access, people can dream bigger. Dreaming is a prerequisite to achieving.

People can’t strive for what they can’t imagine.

Clerklin: Having gender equality would mean not having to think about gender equality. So, when I think about what it means to me, I think about what it would take to get to that end state. It requires people of all genders to actively pursue the initiative. We need support from all sides. 

2. In what ways would you like to promote gender equality?

Harewood: One of the ways I promote gender equality is by illuminating the accomplishments and contributions of women colleagues. I feel doing so highlights their overall involvement and how integral their hard work has contributed to the success of a project or deliverable.

Sack: The first step would be to start learning about how things work now and fight to change them. Pick up a book, watch a documentary, or start a conversation. The second step would be to vote. Gender inequality is shaped largely by current laws and voting for representatives who are going to change these laws will have positive impact.

Woods: I’m a proponent of universal access to high-speed internet and companies that embrace work from home opportunities. As a country with a post-industrial tertiary economy, the United States is well positioned to leverage technology as tool to elevate impoverished areas. Women tend to sacrifice their careers for their families. We don’t always move for better opportunities because our parents might need us, our partner’s career prospects are better, and/or we don’t want to uproot the kids. If good jobs are available remotely, then women will not need to decide between family obligations and moving for a career opportunity. That’s the advantage of a tertiary economy if we allow it to take hold.

Clerklin: There are a couple layers to answering this question. Since we’re a marketing agency: You can’t promote your brand unless you know your audience.

Frankly, we must promote gender equality through education and outline the desired actions for our male peers, friends, and family. Education begets reflection, which can spark a change in a person’s mindset to prompt action.

Women need to band together and champion each other’s success. One of the more impactful concepts about gender equality states that it’s not a zero-sum game. There is not a finite amount of success in this world, where holding one group down lessens someone else’s chance for personal gain. In fact, the reverse is true — equality ensures a variety of perspectives, with increased creativity and profits.

3. To date, what has been your biggest learning or teaching moment as it relates to gender equality?

Sack: I wouldn’t say there has been one moment, but once you start educating yourself, its hard to stop. I read a book called “Evicted” by Matthew Desmond that gave an example of how women are effectively punished by their landlords for calling the police to report domestic violence. If the police are called too many times, the landlord will evict the tenant which discourages women from calling for help at all. Going back to the example of voting, if we’re diligent in our election of representatives who can craft better laws, women in this country could feel supported in reporting domestic violence without fear of retaliation from their landlords.

Woods: There isn’t one moment, per se. My mother, a schoolteacher, instilled a love of learning and valued education. When I started working, she told me, “If they underestimate you because you’re a woman, heaven help them when you get there.” My father, an electrician in the coal mines and later an industrial electrician, broke gender roles before I knew they were a thing. I could use a drill press and a band saw before I could braid hair. In second or third grade, we built a robot where I was expected to solder the boards and be as much a part of it as he was.

Clerklin: Merkle (now part of Dentsu) hosts spectacular International Women’s Day events, with top-notch speakers from a variety of career paths not necessarily related to advertising. It’s wonderful and inspiring to hear how women in different settings and situations achieve success.

I will never forget in one IWD presentation, the speaker shared that gender parity will not happen while many of us are alive. When I looked up the most recent report from 2019, we are about 99 years out from closing the global gender gap. This stunned me. But also, in a way, it was a call to action. Too often we believe that things will work themselves out, however, parity requires the work to be done now, so it can be realized later.

4. What is a moment in your life that defined or shaped who you are today?

Harewood: I have had many pivotal moments in my life, but my greatest one to date would be the loss of my father who died a year ago.  He was my protector, my teacher, my confidant, and my life’s GPS. His death has shown me that although I am an adult and have a family of my own, he gave me everything I needed to navigate through life’s path.

Sack: Small things make the big impact. There’s hasn’t been one defining moment for me, and I’m not sure there ever will be. The choices we make every day define who we are, and that will always be true. Choosing to move to Baltimore after college, getting involved with volunteering, or taking a job offer have been choices that, in the moment I wouldn’t consider life changing, but they have shaped me into who I am today.

Woods: I grew up surrounded by strong women. My grandmother, who had served in the WAC, struggled to raise her children and her youngest siblings. My mother stepped up and became an adult long before she should have. This set the stage for starting with the assumption that women are capable.

Society doesn’t carry that assumption. I was first introduced to gender roles at camp when I signed up for wilderness survival. The instructor rejected me because I was a girl. Imagine third grade me, insisting that being a girl came with no limitations. I didn’t win, but I found a different wilderness survival class the next summer.

Clerklin: When I was walking home from work one day, someone came up behind me and tried to steal my cell phone right from my hands. The man started to run off with my phone, and I chased and tackled him. We fell to the ground, but I still couldn’t get the phone out of his hands. It was when another woman came in and helped me that we succeeded, and the perpetrator ran off.

The story is not about victory over a phone. I learned something else about myself that day — that I am a fighter in the “fight, flight or freeze” scenario. It’s great to know who I truly am in a crisis. And, that sometimes I need support from other women.

5. What inspires you about your workplace culture? i.e. Merkle’s focus on equal pay, benefits, as compared to other places you have worked etc. (experiences that you have personally seen, inspiring stories, etc.)

Harewood: What inspires me about my workplace culture is being able to reach out and collaborate with those who came before me and paved the way and have guided me through my career path and goals; Merkle has been supportive of that.

Sack: I have the privilege to work in the nonprofit vertical, so my workplace culture is filled with people who come to work every day to better the lives of others. Every member of the team has a crucial role to play in helping Merkle’s NP clients raise the money they need for an important mission. The teamwork is what drew me to Merkle and it’s what keeps me here.

Woods: Merkle is the most cooperative place I have ever worked. Our superstars are the ones who conduct trainings to share what they’ve learned and create templates and spreadsheets to help others do tasks more efficiently.

The cooperative environment starts with our extensive new hire training. We continue this spirit of training and growth by emphasizing the importance of professional development. This access to knowledge creates opportunities to learn and thrive for anyone coming to us regardless of previous SEO experience, backgrounds, gender, ethnicity or disability.  

Clerklin: Merkle encourages individuality in terms of our work contributions and thought leadership, but the environment breeds community and a network of support.

6) Rapid fire:

a. Favorite food

Harewood: Seafood

Sack: Steak Frites

Woods: Salads of any type — made with fresh, crisp vegetables. They’re especially tasty next to a bison burger topped with extra sharp cheese.

Clerklin: Cheese pizza, preferably Detroit-style - don’t even get me started

b. Favorite TV show/movie

Harewood: TV show: Greenleaf, Movie: Love and Basketball

Sack: Show: Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Bob’s Burgers, Movie: Wonder Woman, Jurassic Park

Woods: “Booth at the End” despite it only lasting one season (still angry about that). Probably the best writing, performance, and directing that I’ve ever seen on television.

Clerklin: I have to stick with the staples: Friends, The Office, Parks & Rec; although I’m really enjoying The Umbrella Academy and Succession lately.

c. Favorite hobby/activity outside of work

Harewood: Home Design and boxing classes, Volunteer/Board Member for Impact100 Metro Detroit, working at our church’s pantry and being active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.  

Sack: Traveling

Woods: Gardening and related kitchen crafts: canning, baking, preserving, home creamery stuff, etc.

Clerklin: Making my own pasta

d. Favorite book

Harewood: “The Vanishing Half“ by Brit Bennett

Sack: Two of my favorite books are “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson and “It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War” by Lynsey Addario

Woods: My favorite fiction series is Robert Asprin’s Myth Adventure series. I also enjoy Mark Mathabane’s autobiography about growing up in Apartheid South Africa. (The title contains a word that I’m not comfortable repeating.)

Clerklin: Classic: Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison); Modern: Shantaram (Gregory David Roberts)

e. Best advice or mantra you try to live by (in your own words)

Harewood: Never forget who you are and what you, don’t fear or get lost in fire… Become IT!! – William H. Mason (my father)

“Deal with yourself as an individual worthy of respect and make everyone else deal with you the same way” – Nikki Giovanni

Sack: Stop making excuses for change. I heard this quote “If you fight for your limitations, you get to keep them,” which I see credited to Jim Kwik, but I heard from my Jillian Michaels workout DVD. It holds true for so much more than exercising.

Woods: Kindness Matters.

Clerklin: Everything Happens for a Reason.