Asked for an example of a new collaboration that emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic, Chelsea Peters had a ready answer during a Fortune conference yesterday.
In 2020 alone, 50 million children throughout the U.S. had their education disrupted, explained the chief strategy officer of the Walton Family Foundation. “Of that 50 million, 15 million—so 30%—didn’t have access to the Internet or to a device for them continue their learning and really evolve into this remote learning world,” Peters said. Six million had neither.
With a diverse coalition, the foundation took action, getting devices to millions of kids and helping to facilitate $75 billion in federal funding for broadband infrastructure.
Besides meeting an immediate need, that collaboration addressed a long-term one, Peters noted in a panel discussion at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit in San Diego. “We’re right now in the stage where we’re reimagining when, where and how kids are learning and what education looks like in this country,” she said. “We really wanted to use this catalytic moment to redesign and rethink that.”
For Julian Guthrie, founder and CEO of Alphy, the rise of videoconferencing during COVID turned out to be a blessing as she launched her San Francisco–based startup. “I was able to build our company over the last two years—fully distributed team, bringing people together over video,” said Guthrie, whose A.I.-powered communication tool tackles the deficiencies of meeting and collaborating with others on-screen. “I think collaboration and how we collaborate has changed dramatically.”
The three pillars of collaboration are communication, building community and fostering curiosity, Guthrie maintained. “How do we do that in this new world of hybrid, remote, back to in-person?”
The pandemic offered a chance to re-evaluate relationships, said Alva Adams-Mason, executive group manager for multicultural business alliance and strategy and multicultural dealer relations with Toyota Motor North America. Her company saw what many of the non-profits it supports could accomplish via video, Adams-Mason recalled.
“That helped us to be able to take a step back and say, ‘Wow, we don’t really need to have a huge conference anymore to get the learnings and to understand what the organization has to give,’” she said. “Or maybe we should refocus our thoughts on how we’re giving to this organization and focus more on…the workforce talent pipeline.”
Anya Dua, the 18-year-old founder and president of research platform Gen Z Identity Lab, called on schools and workplaces to encourage genuine collaboration around issues such as diversity. “When people feel like they have a hand in creating the culture that they are a part of, it feels more authentic,” Dua said. “Instead of the administration or the people in the top dictating to everybody else, ‘These are our values,’ I think the values should come from the people in the company, in the community.”
For any successful collaboration, “trust is the lowest common denominator,” Peters asserted. “To be able to have open conversations and dialog about respect and how to show up at work and how to have compassion, you need to trust and feel like you can show up as your most authentic self in these conversations.”
Responding to a question about how women can better collaborate with men, Vanita Patel shared a wish—and some advice. “What I would love to continue to see is us leveraging our great skills, one of which is creating an opportunity for everyone to have a voice,” said the head of strategic partnerships and initiatives at Apple.
Patel also recommended that women be “ultra-prepared” for any business meeting with men. “You almost need to know everything they know, or as much as you can,” she said. “And to a degree—depending on how severe or important the meeting is—guessing what questions they’re going to ask, so that your answers are so crisp and you don’t cast a sense of doubt about your capabilities and who you are.”
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