March 8 was International Women’s Day, as well as the date for the fifth annual #girlbossYEG event organized by InterVivos, a non-profit organization that seeks to mentor young professionals in Edmonton. I was one of 10 panelists who went from table to table (in increments of 10 minutes) at the new London Villas Hub in McCauley to talk about the topic of how to achieve gender equality in the workplace. This is a very timely topic, especially in light of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements where women are speaking out about harassment.

I would start at each table with a brief introduction of myself as one of the co-organizers of Edmonton’s Women’s March as well as a freelance communications professional and digital content strategist. As a result, my workplace is not a traditional office as I am meeting clients and working out of various locations. Most of the issues I have had with workplace harassment involves online bullying – including troll attacks on the March On Edmonton Collective’s Facebook event page leading up to the Women’s Anniversary March on January 10 of this year.

Since I don’t work in a traditional office setting, I am only making a personal statement that a healthy workplace is one with open communication. We need to be open to having difficult, sometimes uncomfortable conversations about boundaries, respect, harassment, and other gender issues, whether they happen organically between workers over lunch breaks or going out after work, or the HR department organizing something. I realize that this is an ideal situation and that not all corporate cultures function like this.

The following is a point-by-point summary of responses to some of the questions I was asked in the discussions.

  • Don’t amplify the trolls. They are not there for an honest debate – they want to tie up your energy and wear you down.
  • Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences. You have the right to delete materials and block people acting inappropriately on your social media.
  • Mantra when it comes to trolls on social media: Block – Delete – Report – Repeat
  • Your personal space extends to your social media accounts.
  • If someone came to your home and started behaving inappropriately you would ask them to leave. Your social media accounts = your house, your rules.
  • Self-care is important when it comes to staying revitalized and not burning out.
  • My activism informs my art because social issues inspire me.
  • Harassment in the activism community happens in-person as well, because sometimes you get people coming to meetings and events who may not be as enlightened as we would hope (for example, older men preying on younger women).
  • Being open to having difficult conversations can also include having boundaries within them, and being allowed not to talk about something if one is uncomfortable or not ready.

This wasn’t my first time taking part in an InterVivos event. A few years ago I took part in a panel discussion with a similar format called Citizen Edmonton, to talk about how young professionals can get more engaged with their communities.