Konica Minolta recently announced the start of a new program targeting women in the office technology industry. Step Together aims to help women “support, collaborate, and inspire each other.”
In a recent interview with The Cannata Report, Elisa Esposito, director marketing promotions and channel marketing, Konica Minolta, explained how she was attending a women’s leadership conference last fall when she realized how important networking with other women is and how rarely women in the office technology industry have the chance to do it. “I’m a part of a group of women that have the same experiences in their work environment,” she said.
Feedback from that group helped shape the Step Together program, with women participants agreeing that they wanted to form better relationships with each other and loved learning from other women in the industry. Envisioned as a series of virtual conference sessions featuring special guests from around the industry, the goal of Step Together is to help women build connections with each other, share experiences, and develop leadership skills and strategies in a way that’s intentional and positive. Though the industry can be competitive and naturally attracts people who are competitive themselves, Step Together is focused on collaboration and shared knowledge, with full support from every level of leadership.
Step Together is also rooted in an internal program Konica Minolta has been running since 2015, Step Forward. Open to all employees, Step Forward helps women hone their leadership skills and teaches men how to identify opportunities to effect change. The program was originally in-person at select locations but is now virtual since the pandemic and is available to Konica Minolta employees nationwide. Each session is hosted by an inspirational speaker who discusses topics that range from wellness to resiliency to leadership styles.
Step Together is available to Konica Minolta dealers nationwide and offers a range of networking and educational opportunities focused on leadership, inspiration, collaboration, and supporting the success of women in dealerships big and small. Esposito sees Step Together as an evolution of the work Step Forward does, putting further emphasis on the unique challenges women face in an industry that, while rapidly changing, still has more male workers than women, especially in leadership positions.
“When I started in the industry, it seemed the majority were all men,” Esposito said. “Now I see more women on the dealer side; it’s been a welcome shift.”
With any representation issue in the workplace, visibility is the first step. Women who may be the only female employee in their department or even their office can gain a lot simply from seeing what other women in the industry are accomplishing and hearing about how they’ve solved their challenges. Despite the benefits, the office technology industry has historically been hesitant to support communication between people on different teams. Siloed as the industry is into different territories, all protective of client relationships and dealer connections, there has been a slow culture change toward greater collaboration.
“This industry is very tenured, and a lot of times you’re going to have a mixed bag of very young people who come onboard,” said Esposito, “That’s a concern for anyone in this industry, how to deal with obstacles we’re all facing, how to adapt to change.” Esposito is focused particularly on the new challenge of global supply chain issues, which often take unconventional strategies and a lot of community-building to overcome. Konica Minolta adapted by building a line of communication specifically for dealers hosted on the company’s site, a place where dealers can not only network and bond but respond to requests for help, using crowdsourcing to track down hard-to-find accessories or items like toner that may be in short supply in a given region.
“Manufacturers resisted letting dealers talk to each other,” said Esposito. ” Our perception is, why try to stop that? If they’re our partners, allow them to work together. Make it easier! We’d rather see them happy than try to put up a wall.”
This is not to say that Step Together isn’t mindful of the sensitivities around protecting selling channels. Avoiding channel conflict is a top priority for Konica Minolta. If a dealer has a right to a territory and the manufacturer doesn’t, Step Together isn’t aiming to circumvent that. Fairness is, after all, the goal. Ensuring all women in the industry have a fair chance at success means protecting existing relationships while helping women develop strategies to deepen those relationships and develop new ones.
“We have an awesome president, Laura Blackmer [president, dealer sales, Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A., Inc.], and she’s extremely fair and very transparent,” said Esposito. “She’s one-of-a-kind. Her personality and the way she treats our dealers is why we’re so successful.”
Step Together is part of Konica Minolta’s holistic commitment to improving diversity, equity, and inclusion in its workplaces. In addition to fostering networking and mentoring through Step Together, the company also partnered with Exec Online and Berkeley Executive Education to create Accelerating Women in Leadership, a series of online courses designed to empower women, and recently launched Vibrant, the company’s first LGBTQ resource group, which already has the involvement of over 200 employees.
November’s LPGA Pelican Women’s Golf Championship in Belleair, Florida will double as the official kickoff of Step Together, with a live in-person event commencing the start of the program. This is a fitting bookend to the past year since Konica Minolta’s sponsorship of the tournament last year inspired the company to invite female leaders from the dealer community to attend the Raymond James Women’s Leadership Summit, an event that accompanies the tournament.
“This has nothing to do with being another avenue to try to sell something,” said Esposito. “This is about women having an environment where they feel it’s safe to share experiences. We want women to know that we appreciate them. It’s our thank you for being so loyal to us.”