[Podcast] Industry Spotlight | Diana Mertz – Sr. Director of Membership and Engagement at ASA- Thriving in Leadership: Women’s Representation and Success in the Staffing Industry

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Show notes

In this episode of the Full Desk Experience, we delved into a captivating conversation about the importance of women in leadership within the staffing and recruiting industry. Our host, Kortney Harmon, was joined by the esteemed Diana Mertz, the senior director of membership operations, engagement, and volunteer management at the American Staffing Association. Diana shared her incredible journey in the association management field and her passion for empowering women in the staffing profession.

They discussed the various initiatives and programs implemented by the ASA, such as the influential Women in Leadership Interest Group and the impactful scholarship program. Throughout the conversation, Diana emphasized the importance of supporting women in the workplace, providing flexibility, and engaging in open, transparent conversations to promote gender diversity and women’s representation in leadership roles.

The duo also delved into actionable steps for companies just beginning their diversity and inclusion journeys, and Diana’s global experiences that shaped her perspective on women’s empowerment. Overall, it was an insightful dialogue spotlighting the significance of championing women in the staffing industry and beyond.
Link to Thrive Virtual: Join Us for THRIVE Virtual on May 2, 2024 – American Staffing Association
Link to Diana Mertz’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dianamertz/


Diana Mertz [00:00:00]:
We know that women in the career, in the workforce is really essential to our economy and to our industry, too. Women are really strong producers and staff. So I think just looking to see where you can support women and provide some flexibility, but just have the conversation, I think being an open door and being transparent and open to having those conversations goes a long way with your female staff.

Kortney Harmon [00:00:28]:
Hi, I’m Kortney Harmon, director of industry relations at Crelate. This is the industry Spotlight, a series of the full Desk Experience, a Crelate original podcast. In this series, we will talk with top leaders and influencers who are shaping the talent industry, shining a light on popular trends, the latest news, and the.

Kortney Harmon [00:00:49]:
Stories that laid the groundwork for their success.

Kortney Harmon [00:00:52]:
Welcome back to another episode of the.

Kortney Harmon [00:00:54]:
Full Desk Experience industry Spotlight welcome back to another episode of the full Desk Experience podcast industry Spotlight, where we explore growth blockers across people, process, technology and the staffing and recruiting world. For this very special episode, we are talking Women’s history Month and I am thrilled to welcome a champion for women leadership in our industry, Diana Mertz Diana is the senior director of membership or operations, engagement and volunteer management at American Staffing association. She wears many hats. She’s truly amazing, overseeing membership retention, recruitment, the whole nine yards of one of the industry’s leading trade groups and associations. More importantly, Diane chairs ASA influential women in leadership interest group, providing a vision and initiatives to support professional development and advancement of women and staffing profession. So she has actually over 15 years of association experience and Diana, a certified association executive who’s been recognized with top industry honors like component relations, Rising Star award and being named among the 40 under 40 list of outstanding association professionals. Diana, thank you so much for joining us today as you share your insights for our industry and empowering more women overall in our industry.

Kortney Harmon [00:02:19]:
So thank you so much for joining us.

Diana Mertz [00:02:21]:
Thanks so much for having me. It’s a good month to celebrate and feature all we’re doing to support women in our industry.

Kortney Harmon [00:02:28]:

Kortney Harmon [00:02:28]:
And this will actually be the last podcast of the month for us. So it wraps up our month nicely.

Kortney Harmon [00:02:33]:
So thank you. Of course, tell our listeners a little.

Kortney Harmon [00:02:36]:
Bit about you, your background and career journey that led you to your current role as senior director at ASA.

Diana Mertz [00:02:43]:
It has been a journey, let me tell you that. After college, I went to school and I studied forensic science, which is interesting, fun fact. Nothing to do with staffing, nothing to do with association management, but maybe it helps us understand people better, which is what associations do. But I actually moved overseas after I graduated from college and I was in the Peace Corps, which is another fun fact, in Kenya, and had a really great experience overseas. But I came back to the United States a little bit unexpected due to shutting down the country. And someone who had been reading my blog while I was overseas said, I have a job for Diana, and it was with an association. I landed in DC and I started at a trade association and got my feet wet in association management and support. And from there I went to another association and then to ASA.

Diana Mertz [00:03:35]:
I’ve been here at ASA for 13 years this July. But kind of as staffing professionals move around within the industry, association professionals move around within the association industry, and there’s a really big association community in DC with obviously the location to state legislatures and Congress and advocacy efforts there. There’s also a really big group of associations in Chicago, one of the other big areas for associations. And once you land in associations, you find your specialty. And mine was within membership and volunteer engagement component relations. And that’s what brought me to ASA 13 years ago to start working with our industry sections at ASA. And that has expanded a lot into all of our other volunteer engagement, but specifically our women in leadership interest group, which started as a task force and now launched in 2016 as a broader interest group as you all know it today, plans our thrive programs, our scholarship program. They launched our mentor match program, and then all of our other virtual programs that we do webinars and networking calls throughout the year.

Diana Mertz [00:04:49]:
So that’s kind of how I started. Came back to DC and someone had a connection for me and it was a great experience to a career path for myself.

Kortney Harmon [00:04:57]:
I love that.

Kortney Harmon [00:04:58]:
And I’ve gotten to know you, obviously, through ASA women and leadership, and you thrive here. So you have done such amazing things and are a very integral part of this whole thing. So thank you for all the work.

Diana Mertz [00:05:10]:
That you do because we see the.

Kortney Harmon [00:05:11]:
Behind the scenes and it’s truly amazing. 13 years, wow.

Diana Mertz [00:05:15]:

Kortney Harmon [00:05:15]:
Did not know the Peace Corps or the forensic science thing. That’s very interesting.

Diana Mertz [00:05:20]:
They are interesting. And I met someone else in association of management who had very similar experience to myself who also studied forensic science. And I was like, there’s something there. We understand what made people tick. I don’t know. We’re good at piecing things together, but I find passion in association management. Volunteers finding out what makes them tick, finding out what makes members experience with the association. That’s what gets me excited, specifically with our women in leadership program.

Diana Mertz [00:05:53]:
Just seeing how a community can come together to support each other and to support women that they haven’t even met yet that’s what we’re building with our women in leadership program, and that’s what our volunteers do and say yes to every day. When I think about all of the volunteer groups that I’ve had to manage and either other associations, there’s something really special about our women in leadership group. They show up and they say yes and they do the work which has created the programs that we have today. All of our volunteers are excellent, but I will say our women in leadership group comes with a passion that’s huge and they’re really willing to do what.

Kortney Harmon [00:06:34]:
Needs to be done. I love it.

Kortney Harmon [00:06:35]:
So you talked a little bit about this, but talk to me about how ASA has really worked to promote gender diversity and women leadership within the industry. You talked about thrive. You talked about those things. Give me a little bit more detail.

Kortney Harmon [00:06:47]:
The holistic view of what that looks like.

Diana Mertz [00:06:49]:
When we think about women in our industry, and when you look at the producers and the people that are having success in our industry, it’s pretty gender equitable. But what we found, and we’ve partnered with organizations like the Women’s Business Collaborative on surveys, is that there’s a huge fall off for women in the C suite, which is why women in leadership interest group exists today for a gender equitable industry kind of across the board. We should see more gender parity at the top, too. We know that women have really successful careers in staffing, and so that’s what led us to this. I’m really proud ASA has raised their hand and said, we’re doing this and we have a gender equitable board for the first time in the association’s history, and it’s huge this year. And these are women that give up their time at the board level. And it’s really fueled by our commitment to our members, but to the industry to support women. So I think the board is a really visible way that we say we’re fully committed.

Diana Mertz [00:07:49]:
We also just continue to provide programs for the good of our industry. Overall, we have programs just for our members, but we also have programs for the industry regardless of membership status, because it’s important to elevate women where they are at in their career, regardless of if they’re an ASA member or not. So we see that with a lot of our women’s History Month programs and other programs that we do throughout the year around supporting women and those topics that we hear from our volunteers, we want anyone in our industry to be able to attend, including allies, to learn more about what their female colleagues may need in the workplace. One of the other ways that I think we’ve made a really visible difference is in 2020, we launched our Women in leadership scholarship program, and it started by awarding two winners in 2020. And for the past two years, we have awarded eight scholarship winners each year, which is honestly not enough. I’d love us to give out way more scholarships. We have had over 100 applications for our scholarship program the past two years. There is a need for that kind of support in our industry.

Diana Mertz [00:08:54]:
I’m proud that we have one way to support and rise up emerging leaders, emerging women in the industry. But I think it’s just a toe in the water to beginning to support women there. But our scholarship program is something I’m really proud of, having launched that in 2020 and how we have seen that grow. And I want to give a shout out because our industry helped us grow that group of winners from two to eight. We have scholarship winners from prior years who do fundraisers to make sure that we have a cohort of eight that gets to go for future years. And then we have just other supporters in our industry who say, I want to donate. We have authors from together we rise. We have Joni Biley from her book.

Diana Mertz [00:09:36]:
We have cherry on top with Joyce Russell who say, we’ll give the proceeds of this book to the scholarship fund because that’s important to them. And we’ve got other donors that just say, yeah, can I donate some money towards this cause? Which is why we launched the ASA foundation last year as a broader way to allow for donations to support this program. We were really pushed into that because people wanted to do it, which is a good problem to have people feel like that’s an important initiative.

Kortney Harmon [00:10:03]:
I love it, and it’s truly amazing to be able to see it from the other end, too, and all the celebration and during that time from thrive virtual to thrive in person. It’s been amazing to watch.

Kortney Harmon [00:10:16]:
So let’s talk a little bit more.

Kortney Harmon [00:10:17]:
About women in leadership. The council. Can you share a little bit more about the group’s mission and key initiatives.

Kortney Harmon [00:10:24]:
And what really drives them?

Diana Mertz [00:10:25]:
Sure. Our women in leadership interest group exists and was formed to elevate women at all stages of their career, but specifically so that we can see more women rise to the c suite. And we do this with a variety of initiatives. We have thrive live, which is our in person program. It’s in October in Nashville this year. We have our thrive virtual program on May 2 this year, which is a virtual half day event. We have our scholarship program. And then all year long we have webinars and networking calls.

Diana Mertz [00:10:54]:
And this interest group is led by a group of very passionate volunteers. We call them our council for the women in leadership group. It’s just about 47 women at all different career stages, all different sized company firms, at industry suppliers as well, because they are women in our industry too, and use the support, and we need their insight that they experience from their side of supplier relations to help plan the programs all year long. And so it is our largest active committee with the association, but it’s because we have four really big responsibilities that we have to plan for the industry and we need a bigger group to make all of those goals.

Kortney Harmon [00:11:34]:
I love it.

Kortney Harmon [00:11:35]:
So if you were to sit down, and I know you do this all the time, with a young woman just starting their career and staffing, who aspire to be in a leadership role, what.

Kortney Harmon [00:11:45]:
Advice would you give them?

Diana Mertz [00:11:46]:
I would say to ask for the opportunity, ask for feedback, ask for what are you looking for in the next position? Where do you see this going? How can I be a part of it? I think a lot of times there are people that feel like they can’t ask those questions or they can’t bring their ideas forward. And if you’re in a role like that, or you feel like I’m too young, I shouldn’t be asking those questions yet, then you’re holding yourself back because you have good ideas, you have good strategies. And sometimes maybe the newest perspective is the one with a totally different idea. You can walk into a room of people that have been at a company for a long, long time, and maybe the fresh perspective is exactly what they need. And so I think that some people underscore their ability to have a new perspective and the value that that brings to there. What I would also say is to look at your strengths, look to see what you’re really good at, and then double down. Because I think that a lot of times, especially women, can focus on what they’re not good at, and we could probably all rattle off that list. But what are the things that you are really good at, and how can you use that to craft a role that taps into all of your strengths? I think about that just kind of my personal career.

Diana Mertz [00:13:03]:
Like you said, I landed in associations. I never planned to be in associations, but I had a moment where I said, I think I’m good at this. I think this is where I’m supposed to be. That’s when I got my certification. And I remember my dad was still like, don’t you want to go work for the government he worked for the government for a long time. And I’m like, no, I think this is what I’m good at. And it’s okay to say that. To say, these are my strengths and this is what I want to do.

Diana Mertz [00:13:28]:
And I think you always have an opportunity to kind of craft and build.

Kortney Harmon [00:13:32]:
What you’re good at in your career. I think that’s amazing.

Kortney Harmon [00:13:35]:
Great advice. Sometimes it’s just the confidence to know that it’s okay to ask or it’s okay to say, hey, I want to do this.

Kortney Harmon [00:13:43]:
I think the other side of that.

Kortney Harmon [00:13:45]:
Coin is also the companies in which they work for. We see this oftentimes at thrive. We had a very good male presence last year where maybe we didn’t have those before. So let’s talk to those companies that are looking to advance more women in leadership. What are some strategies that companies can use to help those women develop?

Diana Mertz [00:14:06]:
Thanks for asking this, because one of the things that we were talking about for Women’s History Month and the volunteer group that helped us plan some of our programs and our networking events for this month, they said, we want to make sure that we give good, actionable ideas for how people can support women. I think a lot of people talk about mentorship, but a really good way for companies to support women is to focus on sponsorship. Are you speaking a woman’s name into the room when they’re not there for an opportunity? Have you offered to take someone to lunch or to take them to coffee? Or to ask them, where do you see yourself if you think that they do good work? I think that maybe costs a cup of coffee to do, but just asking that question costs nothing to the company, but it shows that you’re invested another way. I think companies can support, and this is small, right? But even just encouraging a rising star on your team to apply for our scholarship program, it’s not really a plug for the scholarship program, but what I have heard is even being told, I think you should apply for this is a vote of confidence for that person at your company, whether they win the scholarship or not. Seeing a letter of recommendation from a C suite executive about them is a boost in their confidence and their performance. That costs no money to do. It’s a 30 minutes letter of recommendation to write. So I think there’s a lot of little things.

Diana Mertz [00:15:32]:
Those are little things, bigger things you can do. You can launch ergs within your company employee resource groups about a variety of topics. You can focus on moms, you could focus on those that are caring for aging parents. A lot of times, women juggle both of those things at the same time. And then I think just talking about staffing is tough. Guys have a lot of numbers to hit each month long days. But where are those opportunities for flexibility to support women who may be stuck in the sandwich of supporting both aging parents and also kids? I think that COVID taught us that we can probably provide more flexibility than what we realized we could. There’s a vast ways that you can support women.

Diana Mertz [00:16:12]:
Some that cost no money and others that are much larger, like addressing pay equity and looking across your team to see if there is gender equitable pay within your organization and a lot of things in between. So take your pick.

Kortney Harmon [00:16:26]:
I love it. And I think just having that conversation to realize should I be addressing is the first step in any process. So I think that’s amazing as we obviously the staffing industry, I know this isn’t your necessarily line of work, but it is. You’re solely embedded in this and you’ve seen it across the board. How do we attract, retain and leverage the talent of diverse women? Is there anything that comes to your mind?

Diana Mertz [00:16:52]:
I think that goes to looking at the strengths of your team and allowing them to swim in their lane of strengths. Right. And seeing, can I offer some flexibility? I mean, we hear a lot right now that flexibility is a big retention tool, but what does that look like? That doesn’t always just mean working from home. So beyond that, if you’re in the office, where can you offer bits of flexibility? Maybe they work in a flex schedule. Maybe they come into the office early on Wednesdays because they know they have someone, they have to get to sports practice at 430, and maybe that’s a flexible arrangement for Wednesdays that you’re able to accommodate and you juggle it with a teammate who can work a little bit later to cover the shifts there. And I think that retaining women is really critical right now. I think COVID obviously set back a lot of things, but coming out to a post COVID world, it allowed us to examine what’s really important. And we know that women in the career, in the workforce is really essential to our economy and to our industry too.

Diana Mertz [00:17:50]:
Women are really strong producers and staff. So I think just looking to see where you can support women and provide some flexibility, but just have the conversation. I think being an open door and being transparent and open to having those conversations goes a long way with your female staff.

Kortney Harmon [00:18:10]:
I love it.

Kortney Harmon [00:18:11]:
Looking ahead, what would you personally like to see? Change for women’s representation and staffing leadership.

Kortney Harmon [00:18:17]:
Over the next five to ten years?

Diana Mertz [00:18:19]:
I want to see ASA continue with a gender equitable board. I think that made the marks. We need to continue to do that, especially to represent for women in our career fields. The Women’s Business Collaborative survey, which we did with them and we partnered with them in a number of organizations, shows that we still have a lot of work to do. In fact, between last year and this year, we really didn’t make much improvement in supporting women into the C suite. It stayed about stagnant, which means we need to just do more. One of the things that I would like to see is taking a look at gender pay gaps. Maybe they don’t exist at your company.

Diana Mertz [00:18:54]:
Huge kudos if it doesn’t, but have you looked? That takes just a little bit of time to take a look at. So I think having attention to those sorts of things is one step there. And I would like to see more women in senior leadership and staffing. If our industry is gender equitable, why can’t it be gender equitable at the top? And I think in five to ten years that still might be hard to achieve, to be honest, but we definitely won’t achieve it if we don’t try. So that’s what we do at ASA, trying to provide programs that support women on topics and professional development so that they can advocate for themselves and they feel represented and heard within our industry. That’s what we’re all about here.

Kortney Harmon [00:19:33]:
I love it.

Kortney Harmon [00:19:34]:
It has been truly amazing. You might have already covered some of these things, so this might be a repetitive question.

Kortney Harmon [00:19:39]:
If it is, that’s okay.

Kortney Harmon [00:19:41]:
For companies that are just starting out in their diversity and inclusion journeys, they’ve realized that they need to make some step forward. What are some actionable steps of the first things that they could do? Obviously, sometimes it’s a big step or there’s a lot to chew in that conversation, but what are some of the.

Kortney Harmon [00:19:59]:
First steps that they could do?

Diana Mertz [00:20:00]:
I think that a lot of times people think there’s always a heavy price tag to doing DEI initiatives at the company. But with so many opportunities for free training and resources out there, there’s a lot that you can do to just encourage your teams to get involved. They’re an ASA member, or even some of our members or programs that are open to our non members. We have a lot of different programming that the women in leadership interest group plans, but also that our idea group plans, which is our inclusion, diversity, equity and advocacy group, they have programming as well, open to nonmembers. Just encourage your staff to get involved there. That costs no money for those programs as a start, I think then also opening a conversation internally at your company, what are they looking for? Does your staff feel welcomed? Do they feel like you have an inclusive work environment? And beginning some of those conversations, those could lead to ergs. Those could lead to things like we had today. We had waffles and women’s history in our kitchen today.

Diana Mertz [00:20:59]:
It was the cost of some waffle batter and some toppings. And we talked about women that made a difference in history and had waffles together. Right. So there are little things that you can do to get started. And we did the same. We did bagels and black history month for February. And there are little things that can do. But I think a lot of times people assume that you have to do something large and something expensive to begin.

Diana Mertz [00:21:24]:
And to begin, I just say take the first step forward. Doesn’t have to cost money just to start the conversation.

Kortney Harmon [00:21:30]:
I love that.

Kortney Harmon [00:21:31]:
And I love that that’s where you guys play a role in offering these services. And as much as I’ve been in this industry, I still am amazed that people don’t understand the resources that you guys put out. Even if they’re members, they’re not fully aware sometimes of the extent of everything that you guys do. So we’ll make sure we put that in the notes as well. For all those women in leadership that are looking to attend more things, I got a direct link. We’ll add it.

Diana Mertz [00:21:55]:
Awesome. Yeah, there’s a lot. We hear that a lot, too. Membership didn’t even realize all the resources we have. So good problem to have.

Kortney Harmon [00:22:02]:
It’s a great problem to have. I love.

Diana Mertz [00:22:04]:

Kortney Harmon [00:22:05]:

Kortney Harmon [00:22:05]:
How has your global experience and exposure shaped your perspectives on women’s empowerment?

Diana Mertz [00:22:11]:
So one of the things that came to my mind was when I lived in Kenya, actually, and there’s a lot of very gender stereotypical expectations for women there. But one of the ones that exists, and I remember having kind of an out of body moment, is that women can’t do science and they’re not in the math field. And that stereotype very much still existed there when I was in Kenya, and I remember I was invited to speak to the science club because I studied science in college, and I realized that it’s just such a different time. And I never felt like I couldn’t study science in college. But speaking to a room, I was at an all girls school that had been told that they couldn’t study science, that girls weren’t good at math and science. It rocked me a little bit. And it reminds me that that’s why we have to empower women around their full potential, because that stereotype was still being taught to these girls. I don’t think it was intentional, but that’s what they believed.

Diana Mertz [00:23:19]:
So having me come and speak as someone who studied science in college just was a humbling experience, to be honest, because I was raised, that was always an ability that I had and that I could do, and these teenage girls were told they were, but that wasn’t possible for them. So I think that’s why we do what we do.

Kortney Harmon [00:23:39]:

Diana Mertz [00:23:39]:
Like, on a broader scale. But I just was thinking about a global experience. I remember that room.

Kortney Harmon [00:23:44]:
That’s amazing.

Kortney Harmon [00:23:45]:
Talk about empowerment. That was right there at that time that you were in that room. That was amazing. I would have loved to seen the looks on their faces, just of probably excitement and joy of what the possibilities could have been.

Diana Mertz [00:23:56]:
Yeah. And it just shows you that we are our experiences, and these girls were told that they were less than in math and science. That’s so disappointing. But we’re raised, and we’re told that we can do a lot more than that. So that’s what we do here. You can do anything you want to do as long as you’re determined enough.

Kortney Harmon [00:24:12]:
I think that speaks to most women.

Kortney Harmon [00:24:14]:
Absolutely. And the stuff that the organization does and the association does. So, last question. What’s one key piece of advice that you’d give your younger self when you.

Kortney Harmon [00:24:26]:
Were starting your career?

Diana Mertz [00:24:28]:
I think to be open minded to the possibilities. I think that we have this idea of what our career should be, and sometimes it may look very different than what you anticipated, but you can find success in that. And I think being open minded to the potential that exists within you exists within the career path that you’ve chosen. Or maybe a different career path allows for growth in ways that maybe you didn’t anticipate. So I never thought that I would land in associations. I never thought I’d really land in volunteer management or membership, but I was open minded to it, and I’m thankful.

Kortney Harmon [00:25:06]:
For where I’ve ended up. I love that you went to school.

Kortney Harmon [00:25:09]:
For forensic science, where you went. I went to school for education. I’m still in that field to an extent, just with adults that run businesses. But I was an athletic director at the age of 24 in Ohio, and I was the youngest athletic director in Ohio. And when I changed jobs, it was like, is that a failure? It was a question in my mind, and I love that you state that because it’s not necessarily a failure. It’s a pivot to what your passion is and to follow what your heart speaks to you or whatever that looks like. Just realize being open, that’s such a.

Kortney Harmon [00:25:46]:
Great piece of advice.

Diana Mertz [00:25:48]:
It’s interesting, too, that you say that about the failure piece, because I think we all had that moment. Like, this isn’t exactly what I thought when I was studying forensic science in college. This is not where I thought I would be, but it’s okay to say I think this is where I landed is good. I think this is where I’m supposed to be, even though it’s not where.

Kortney Harmon [00:26:07]:
I thought I would be.

Kortney Harmon [00:26:09]:
And it was part of your journey. It’s made you who you are and given you the life experiences in which you have to give you the passion that you do.

Kortney Harmon [00:26:17]:
That’s right.

Kortney Harmon [00:26:18]:
I love it. Well, Diana, thank you so much for joining me. Granted, I will see you again in ten minutes on another meeting.

Diana Mertz [00:26:24]:
That’s right.

Kortney Harmon [00:26:26]:
But thank you so much for giving us your insight about driving women. Thank you for giving everything that you do to ASA and helping support those applications are open around October timeframe once staffing world comes around. If anybody’s interested in joining. It was news to me two years ago whenever I attended staffing world, and that’s when I applied for my first time. So I would encourage you. It is such a rewarding and great experience. So thank you so much for joining us today.

Diana Mertz [00:26:55]:
Yes, thank you for having me. And let’s close Women’s History month strong. I support everyone thinking about what’s one thing that you can do to support another woman in our industry? And maybe it’s a shoulder tap to apply for the scholarship. Or maybe it’s a shoulder tap to them to volunteer with the association. But just think about one thing that you can do to support another boy.

Kortney Harmon [00:27:14]:

Kortney Harmon [00:27:17]:
I’m Kortney Harmon with Crit. Thanks for joining us for this episode of Industry Spotlight, a new series from the full desk experience. New episodes will be dropping monthly. Be sure you’re subscribed to our podcast so you can catch the next industry spotlight episode and all episodes of the full desk experience here or wherever you listen.

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