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Another Voice: Billie Jean King’s 'Battle of the Sexes' resonates today

By Michele D. Trolli

I recently shared the stage at Kleinhans Music Hall with Billie Jean King, a woman who has touched so many lives in her global advocacy for equality. It was an inspirational experience, and the fact that it happened as we were preparing for the start of Women’s History Month — in a year when the fight for women’s rights has gained added national urgency — made the experience even more impactful.

At the invitation of M&T Bank and Wilmington Trust, tennis champion Billie Jean King came to Buffalo for a screening of the film “Battle of the Sexes” followed by a Q&A with about 400 of our employees, customers and community partners.

Billie Jean King is not only one of the top American athletes, she is also a truly great American. A courageous human rights advocate who has helped pave the way for countless women, and members of the  LGBT+ community, who have become leaders in sports, business and government. During her visit, she delivered an important message — the battle for equality and opportunity for all is just as important now as it has ever been.

As businesses make progress in fostering more diverse and inclusive workplaces, we must continue our collective efforts to accelerate the momentum. Every time we take a step forward, we must hold our footing and refuse to let our society slip backwards. Together, we need to relentlessly push ahead with all of our strength and resources.

In 2009, M&T Bank’s Diversity & Inclusion Council formed a series of Employee Resource Groups that are organized around various shared interests to facilitate cultural awareness, community outreach, peer-to-peer mentorship and professional development.

They’ve grown tremendously, and now more than 4,000 employees are involved in groups such as our Women’s Interest Network, PRIDE Resource Group, Latino Resource Group, African American Resource Group, Disability Advocacy Network, to name a few. These groups have become invaluable in our effort to create a workplace where all employees feel they belong.

As a community-focused employer of several thousand Western New Yorkers, we feel it is our responsibility to continue to organize opportunities, like our event with Billie Jean King and our Employee Resource Groups, to drive dialogue and collaboration for the benefit of our workplaces, and for our community.

In meeting with Billie Jean King, our commitment to uplifting our community grew even stronger. Through her experiences — her advocacy for Title IX before Congress, her historic victory over Bobby Riggs, her ongoing fight for equality — she provided inspiration for us all to capitalize on our individual strengths to brighten our entire community.

Locally, we’re fortunate to have many individuals and organizations who work to champion these causes, including The NFJC of Western New York, which works to promote understanding and respect among all people, the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, which convened the Greater Buffalo Racial Equity Roundtable to advance racial equity and promote change, and the WNY Women’s Foundation, which works to provide opportunities for local women and girls.

Together, each of these contributions makes a difference. Let’s work together and keep pushing forward, not only during Women’s History Month but year-round, to generate meaningful, productive exchanges that advance diversity and inclusion.

Michele D. Trolli is M&T Bank executive vice president and chief information officer.

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