When Ben Phillips became an accountant, he didn’t expect the role would also lead him to opportunities to promote diversity and equity of women. But he was prepared to seize those moments when they came. As the son of two math professors, he appreciates the impact his parents had in both the home and the academic community to the development of individuals in STEM fields and promoting equity.
As Phillips himself enrolled at Purdue to study engineering, he grew even more aware and appreciative of his privilege. “I got to go to a great STEM high school in West Lafayette. I had a very affordable college education and inherited drive from the parents who made it possible for me. As I got older, I clearly recognized that most people didn’t have all these benefits, and I knew I had to pursue volunteer opportunities that would make a difference.” He also decided not to become an engineer. “I realized I was more interested in how a business worked than how an engine worked.”
After graduating from Purdue, Phillips was employed at Katz Sapper Miller (KSM) for two years before moving around the Midwest to cities like Minneapolis and Chicago, always maintaining a job as a certified public accountant (CPA), before returning to Indy. Today, he is a director with KSM specializing in auditing IT security. “The landscape of tools and technology has changed the way our clients and we approach solving problems,” he explains. “There’s a lot more info out on the Web than ever before. When our clients do business with certain customers, their end-user is expecting certain standards to protect their data will be upheld. That’s where I come in, to help them prove it.”
This might be the day-to-day work of Phillips’s role, but he also takes the role of male ally very seriously. “You can be on board with the ideas of diversity and equity, or you can be committed to actually doing something to make them happen. It’s the switch between, I’m still going to sit on this committee and be engaged, versus the decision to go do something else. At the end of the day, that’s the difference—men must be willing to get uncomfortable and invest their time to elevate others.”
In his roles at multiple accounting firms, Ben has been closely involved with recruiting. For any organization looking to attract more diverse talent, he has one insight: “You have to show up with diversity to attract diversity. If you want your company to look a certain way in five years, you have to bring that to the table now and make your commitment apparent to students and those in the talent pipeline.”
He cites the presence of an incredible number of support organizations as a sign that progress is occurring. Organizations like Girls Stem Institute, Women in STEM through Indiana University, Girls, Inc. of Greater Indianapolis Eurkea! Scholars program, Women in Engineering Program through Purdue University, Ivy Tech Community College Youth Programs, Pass the Torch for Women – the list can go on. “What is still needed is a continuance of male allies in the environment,” he adds. “When the programs to advance diversity are female-oriented or minority-oriented, it doesn’t take the conversation to the men in the space and make them change their perspective on their terms. It puts the burden on the marginalized to prove they deserve a chance, versus putting the burden on those in power to share the opportunity.”
Across all the organizations he mentioned, Phillips chose to join the Women & Hi Tech Board of Directors as Treasurer because the organization puts action behind ideas in a way that aligns with his personal values. “When I volunteer, I want to spend my time trying to do something that will really drive change. Women & Hi Tech is moving the needle every month. Meetings and events are diverse, and board meetings every month reveal a lot of consistent movement toward our goals. That lets me elevate myself to a new level,” stated Phillips.
He’s especially pleased to see that at the Leading Light Awards and Scholarship Gala on October 1, 2020 Women & Hi Tech will be awarding over $50,000 in scholarships and grants to women and girls pursuing STEM fields. “When some people have more benefit than others, creating the literal opportunity to go to school or learn a trade helps organizations like our sponsors put funding behind these values and create real change.”
As Treasurer, some of Phillips’s goals are to help Women & Hi Tech increase transparency and create the framework needed to diversify funding. “We currently don’t apply for grants—but if we did, different grants would have financial compliance requirements. So, establishing a process and helping everyone understand the right questions to ask is part of moving forward. My direct skill set of working with efficiency and focus to help us advance is something I already do with clients.”
That effort won’t just help more women achieve funding and support to enter the STEM talent network, but will also sustain Women & Hi Tech as an organization. “Currently, we are an all-volunteer board with no paid staff. Our first hire will be a huge milestone for the organization. We will further develop our infrastructure and create a more inclusive STEM landscape to all involved—our members, volunteers, employees, board members, and, most importantly, the communities and populations still in need of support.” Overall, the mission of Women & Hi Tech pursues a demonstrable increase in the number of girls and women positively impacted to further their education & experience in STEM fields.