2016 Mass. Conference for Women: Key Takeaways

Dec 19, 2016 Jill Rosenthal

 Be your authentic self.”

"To be successful you have to listen a lot."

"Inhale, exhale and repeat."

"Failing is the best indicator of success."

By Jill Rosenthal and Angela Smith

On December 8, 2016, 11,000 women and 25 men (seriously) assembled at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, on a mission to collect inspiration from celebrity keynote speakers, learn from panels of accomplished female leaders, explore the marketplace and shop from more than 100 women-owned businesses, and simply connect with others. InkHouse East represented; we were about half a dozen strong, and no one walked away from the day without a healthy dose of inspiration and a fresh perspective.

The quotes above are some takeaways that left an impression on us. Trust us, it was hard to choose just four.

So many sessions, so little time

Appropriately themed, “The Power of Us: Amplify Your Voice,” our team strategically selected sessions from dozens of options. The leadership track seemed appropriate and we attended a session titled, ‘A Fireside Chat on Obtaining Power, Influence and Driving Healthy Advancements in the Workplace.’ That it exceeded expectations is an understatement.

The panel included powerhouse, Margaret McKenna, whose resume includes: first woman Deputy White House Counsel, first president of the Walmart Foundation and first woman president of Suffolk University. McKenna spoke about her career and shared defining moments like when a (male) superior accused her of "not fitting in" (see above for her street cred), advising her to tone down her “abrasive” manner. As women in the workplace, we can all relate to a moment when we were pushed down in some way; her words resonated. “Be your authentic self,” she advised, a concept that usually comes with experience. Other wise words: “To be successful you have to listen a lot." An important reminder from an accomplished woman.

Across the convention center, we heard from writer and CNN political commentator Sally Kohn, who shared thoughts on turning emotional 'lemons into lemonade' by finding compassion for others - even in moments of conflict and even for the haters (did we mention she’s a political commentator?). This advice is especially relevant given, well, 2016. Kohn shared her experience as an influential pundit and one of the most prominent LGBT people in the media. As a woman in the public eye, a columnist and liberal commentator, her opinions are subject to public scrutiny and it’s not always pretty. In fact, she says, the better she does her job, the more people dislike her - oh, the irony! Reading from her epic collection of hate mail, she shared how she deals with the straight-up meanness she faces each day. She introduced a phrase, “emotional correctness,” or the importance of how we say what we say. You’ll never get anyone to agree with you if they won’t even listen to you first. We all deal with conflict everyday and Sally's words hit home, especially for a bunch of female PR people who, by definition, need a thick skin to succeed.

Keynotes that killed it

The pièce de résistance was the featured keynote addresses from the amazing Carla Harris, Wall Street executive and author; Annie Clark, whose campaign against campus sexual assault is featured in the documentary film "The Hunting Ground"; and Kevin O'Leary, best known as "Mr. Wonderful", the, ummm, challenging judge on "Shark Tank". Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh addressed attendees, as did Massachusetts Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. It was a couple of hours that felt like five minutes.

We loved watching Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx (thank god for Sara, on behalf of women everywhere...), interviewed by Gayle King, co-host of "CBS This Morning" and editor-at-large at O, The Oprah Magazine. Two down-to-earth women just having a conversation in the presence of 11,000 people - somehow the moment had a feeling of intimacy about it as Sara shared her story of starting Spanx with $5000, born out of an idea stemming from desperation as she dressed for an event one night (she cut the feet off her control-top pantyhose and, voila!, Sara became the hero of the everywoman). Working at a job she hated selling fax machines door to door, Sara developed her idea until she felt safe enough to quit her day job and focus on Spanx full-time. PS - in 2012 Sara became the youngest self-made female billionaire at age 41.  

We realize that stories like Sara's are not everyday occurrences. But the fact that she was just a regular woman like the rest of us who believed in herself, her idea, and was brave enough to chase it down, was just enough to shift our focus from the endless to-do list that keeps us up at night to the bigger picture - with a little passion, dedication, courage and creativity, success is attainable. Her message refreshed our little group and left us feeling ready to face the demands of our lives and careers, maybe slightly more gracefully than when we entered the room. Did we mention Sara and her husband have FOUR children?

“We Can Do It!”

Speaking on behalf of the InkHouse attendees, the Massachusetts Conference for Women showed us what can happen when women step out of their comfort zones, build meaningful relationships, slow down and find balance in life; when they commit to being "a student of life" and recognize the importance of solid values. Most of all, we walked away that day with a keen reminder that, as women, we must pursue our passions without apologizing for our accomplishments, hard work, successes and failures. We learned that when we combine our voices, talents and ideas, we make a meaningful impact in our lives, the lives of others, and the world.

As Carla Harris said, "Never apologize for your accomplishments, your hard work and where it has gotten you. Own all of who you are."

Topics: Careers, Leadership, Women in the Workplace, Events

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