Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. — Margaret Mead
The old adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same” likely came to mind when Propeller alumna, Kelly Kleespies, spoke to her mother about her career as an engineer. While many doors have opened for women in the workplace, Kleespies' mother expressed that many of the challenges she faced during her career — the wage gap, fewer opportunities for leadership, and the difficulty of balancing family and work — are still issues women face 30 years later.
Over the past few years, these disparities have been at the forefront of workplace diversity discussions. Companies have indicated that addressing these issues are important to them. In fact, the Lean In Initiative’s Women in the Workplace survey found that 78 percent of companies report that "commitment to gender diversity" is a top priority for their CEO. However, the survey also found that that many organizations are unsure of how to put this commitment into action.
Inspired by the conversation with her mother and frustrated by the issues women face in the workplace, Kleespies and fellow Propeller alumni Amy Gee and Casandra Jensen, formed “Propel Her,” a gender-diversity initiative. The vision of Propel Her is to provide Propeller women with usable knowledge and practical skills to face unique business challenges confidently, boldly, and courageously. To achieve this, Propel Her conducts monthly workshops, panels, and meetings for participants of all genders at Propeller, and the group blog keeps members connected in the interim sharing ideas, articles, and successes.
Propeller as a firm is a bit of an anomaly among consulting firms. With a workforce that is 54 percent female, Propeller also boasts the distinction of having a female co-founder, Amy Weeden. By comparison, a large national consulting firm recently released their diversity report, which showed a workforce breakdown that is 36 percent female.
So while Propeller is proud to “walk the walk” when it comes to workplace gender diversity, the larger issue of gender disparities in the workplace is a complex topic that may take generations to solve. Kelly says that while the big picture requires long-term tactics, there are immediate opportunities for progress, such as "building knowledge and starting a dialogue. The more informed we all are on strategies to empower women in leadership, the better we are able to adapt our actions and advocate for change.”
What’s next for Propel Her? Kelly says "we're very excited to host a panel at the end of October featuring women leaders from the Portland area sharing their unique journeys to leadership." This will be the first public event Propel Her sponsors and the group is excited to expand the conversation to the larger Portland area.
For Propeller alumna Amy Gee, the moment of transition holds both fascination and opportunity. Whether she’s overseeing global teams, or planning her next trip, Amy thrives on identifying end goals, building plans, and activating the right people to get things done. This passion for leading people on their journey and enticing the best of her teams has been key to maximizing results, all with the spirit of fun and adventure. Amy holds a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from John F. Kennedy University and a bachelor’s degree from Marquette University.
Propeller alumna Kelly Kleespies has grit. An avid hiker and backpacker, Kelly knows that the path to the top is best traveled one step at a time. Her perseverance and passion for pursuing a goal set her apart in the fast-paced business environment as well, where she takes a systematic approach to solving tough operational challenges and enacting change. Kelly holds a bachelor’s degree in management science and engineering from Stanford University.
Propeller alumna Casandra Jensen has a predilection for applying herself to the task of doing difficult things really well. She’s focused and driven, with a firm belief that the details can make the difference between acceptable and exceptional. Casandra holds an MBA from Willamette University and a bachelor’s degree in Italian from Scripps College.