Today marks the 32nd annual Women’s History Month and this year’s theme celebrates visionary women. The textbook definition of visionary is someone who thinks or plans for the future with imagination or wisdom. Given this, it should come as no surprise that in my role as CEO of Televerde, it’s a theme that strikes an emotional cord.
I lead a technology company that’s 87% female–70% of whom are incarcerated in state prisons in Arizona and Indiana. (Televerde is a B2B demand gen company with five of our contact centers employed entirely by women incarcerated at the Departments of Corrections in AZ and IN.) I had the privilege of meeting these women as a customer and since then have watched these ladies grow and transform into the most consummate business professionals I’ve ever seen, and it’s been anything but easy for them.
Most of the women who work for Televerde don’t come to us from storybook childhoods. They are broken, very often drug addicted and survivors of emotional, sexual and physical abuse. They’ve never had anyone point to their worth or invest the time and energy to help them find and fulfill their human potential. Many were discarded by their loved ones and written off by society. Their stories are different but also similar: broken dreams, families torn apart, children removed. They can point to every flaw, weakness and shortcoming, but can’t find one strength to cling to. It’s especially hard in a country where harsh stigmas are imposed on those who are formerly incarcerated, making it a major barrier to successful community reintegration. They’re aware of this and it leaves them with little hope, yet something keeps pushing them to find that second chance to prove they can be better than their worst mistake.
From Inmates to Visionaries
I opened with the formal definition of visionary but now I’d like to share mine. To me, a visionary is someone who is resilient, intensely focused, takes risk and is unafraid to change. And when you’re around a visionary, you’re inspired. This is my experience every time I step into one of our prison-run contact centers. I’m surrounded by visionaries – women who inspire because of where they are today and where they plan to be tomorrow.
From the time we hire these ladies to work for our company, they are trained rigorously in business acumen and technology. And for the overwhelming majority, they are starting without any previous skills or experience. It’s all new. In fact, many get their GED while on the inside—the minimum education level required to work for us. The ability for adults to successfully change so dramatically, while at the same time training oneself for today’s workforce is rare, underscoring how resilient and strong they are.
It might be counterintuitive, but a prison-run contact center lends itself well to an environment of continuous learning. Our women have an incredibly high aptitude for knowledge and a burning desire to never return to prison once they’re released. This is what motivates them. When I was a customer of Televerde, I described their abilities in this way: if our sales people knew our products as intimately as the women in Perryville, we’d have revenue growth quarter over quarter.
These ladies are highly proficient in the most cutting-edge technology on the market, and they learn both the hard and soft skills needed to close deals, communicate with c-suite executives, and collaborate with our customers’ sales and marketing teams. And they’re really good.
This level of change, transformation and learning isn’t easy. It’s work, and it requires true commitment. (President of Conscious Capitalism Brian Mohr recently visited one of our Perryville contact centers and observed this immediately, writing about it in his blog: Televerde Emphasizes the Conscious in Capitalism.) Our women bring their A-games, day in and day out.
Seeing Women for Who They Are Today
Imagine being judged for the rest of your life by the worst mistake you made on the worst day of your life.
I’d like you to really think about that for a moment.
Did you know this is how it is for more than 200,000 incarcerated women in the United States, regardless of how hard they are working to rebuild their lives? These women are grandmothers, mothers, wives, aunts, sisters, daughters, neighbors and career women. They matter. They deserve to be seen. And to me, they are the greatest examples of visionary women and deserve to be celebrated.
Throughout Women’s History Month, we’ll highlight several of our Televerde ladies in a social media campaign titled, #SeeMe. You’ll see their faces, read their stories, and hear their voices as they share their transformational journeys, hopes and dreams for a future now much brighter thanks to their perseverance.
In return for their openness, here’s what I’d like us to do for them.
Make a commitment to see these women for who they are today and recognize them for the changes they’re making to rebuild their lives and fulfill their human potential. Be a catalyst for them. This is what Women’s History Month is about—coming together as women without judgement and lifting each other up to create futures that matter and that profoundly impact our small corners of the world. I invite you to get to know them. I think you’ll find our differences are far less important than our similarities.