I am the co-founder of ROAR for Good, a wearable safety tech company with a mission to reduce assaults, cultivate male allyship, and empower women. AMA.
This was the moment I first realized my unfair privilege: I had been recently promoted into an executive management position for a very large public company, and I put in a request to promote my best manager into a Director role. My request was initially rejected because the person was a woman. I was flabbergasted as to why that had any bearing as to promotion-worthiness. In my mind, all that should matter was the person’s capabilities as a leader, manager, and engineer (it was a tech company). I fought this decision and eventually “won” - and the woman went on to have an amazing impact on the company. But it was the first time my eyes were opened as to how easy I had it as a white male in the particular business world in which I was living.
My co-founder of ROAR for Good, Yasmine Mustafa, has a quote that I really love - and it is this: “You don’t realize your privilege until you’ve lost it … or gained it.”
Since that sexist, discriminatory moment, I’ve tried to keep my eyes open as to what male allyship is and the benefits I have purely based on my gender and race. Unfortunately I’ve failed in many instances - only seeing in hindsight how I could have done a better job handling particular situations.
I vividly recall a time that Yasmine and I were walking down a street in Philadelphia. We passed a man and a woman off to the side of the road, engaged in a conversation. As Yasmine and I continued walking, I realized she was no longer walking next to me. When I turned around, I saw that she was back speaking with the couple. In particular, she was talking with the woman. And not just idle talk - Yasmine was speaking with her as if this woman was her best friend. I knew most of Yasmine’s friends, and I was fairly certain this stranger was not one of them. Making matters even more confusing for me, Yasmine pointed at me and said to the woman, “And you remember Anthony … the three of us used to hang out together all the time.”
And that’s when it hit me. Yasmine didn’t know this woman. She felt that the woman was in a situation she didn’t want to be in, and Yasmine was intervening to help extract her. And sure enough, the woman walked away with us, thanking us profusely for helping her.
And while there was no yelling going on, and the man wasn’t overtly restraining the woman, clearly she wasn’t comfortable. And I totally missed the signals that she was in trouble. In fact, had Yasmine not intervened, who knows what might have happened.
Ever since that moment, I’ve tried to do a better job reading situations like that and being more sensitive to what others around me might be experiencing.
When Yasmine approached me a few years ago about building a company (which we later named ROAR for Good) to help reduce assaults and empower women, it was a no-brainer: we have to build this company. We set it up as a B-corporation, ensuring that proceeds from all of our sales go to organizations that are teaching kids about empathy, respect, and healthy relationships - the kinds of programs shown to reduce violence in adulthood.
I’ve had the great fortune of building a few companies in the past - and learning the most from my failures. One of those failures was buying into the belief that investment dollars were fungible - meaning that a dollar from one investor is as good as a dollar from another. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The character of the investor matters just as much, if not even more so, than their investment dollars.
When we were pitching ROAR to investors, was had one meeting with a small angel group (all men). In the middle of the meeting, Yasmine left to use the restroom. And during her absence, one of the investors said, “We’d seriously consider investing in this company if you were the CEO.” I was shocked and disappointed and had to shake my head at the sad state of affairs when it comes to angel / venture investing. There was not a chance we were going to take their money.
As we spoke to additional investors, we made it very clear that our goal was to eventually work ourselves out of business. We envision a future where companies like ROAR and products like our Athena safety device are no longer necessary because we’ve thoroughly addressed the issues. Unfortunately, we have a long way to go.
We’re now a couple years in with ROAR and have been shipping our Athena safety product to people all over the world. Being at the forefront of helping reduce assaults and cultivating male allyship has been very rewarding for me.
I was honored to speak at the Philadelphia Men Can Rally a few months ago to help reinforce the message that it’s on us, all men, to stop assaults. It’s on us to recognize the position we’re in, and how often we’re blind to what women deal with on a daily basis.
Sexual harassment, discrimination, and inequity in all its forms will never end until we address the root causes. #MeToo reflects a tragedy that’s been going on for a very long time. Just like racism. Men - white men like me – showing up is a start. But we can do a lot more. We can challenge ourselves, and people just like us, to engage, listen, create new opportunities, open doors, and attempt to right wrongs.
As Melinda Gates powerfully notes, “We can’t keep building from the same old blueprint that created the Old Boys’ Club.” We don’t need a tweak to the blueprint, we need a new architecture … a new archetype for societal interaction."Equal stature of men and women is as fundamental as the basic human rights.” ~Ruth Bader GinsburgEach one of us is either perpetuating the status quo, or we’re lending our voices and minds toward creating a more just framework.
I look forward to hosting this AMA.
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