Strength. Wisdom. Power. Inspiration. Those were some of the prevailing takeaways from the Pennsylvania Conference for Women, held last week in Philadelphia. With close to 5000 women and a few brave men in attendance, tons of amazing speakers, seminars, an expert exchange, and even a small business summit with the spirited Tory Johnson, the most challenging part of the day was deciding what to choose from among the sea of offerings. I started out at Gloria Feldt’s presentation. Gloria is an author, speaker, teacher, and previous CEO of Planned Parenthood National for 10 years. Based on her book, “No Excuses; 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power” Gloria’s presentation centered around women and their power. Feldt gives women the “power tools” (I LOVE that!) they need to transform their thinking and emerge with the power they had all along. Gloria referenced a quote from Sojourner Truth, (escaped slave turned advocate of abolition and women’s rights), “If women want rights more than they got, why don’t they just take them?” Well said, and very telling in this generation where we still talk about the glass ceiling and women making 77 cents to the dollar that men make. One way to keep moving forward is for more women to take the lead instead of the follow, so Gloria focused on getting women to complete the following sentence: “When did you know you had the power to……”? Since she had recently featured me on her website, Gloria asked if I would start out with my answer, which was “…..to make a difference”, a mission I live by. I met a colleague of Gloria’s that morning who is walking this walk bigtime. Vanaja Ragavan, a Harvard graduate/top research scientist and pioneer endocrinologist started her own company exploring advanced diagnostic technology. I think we all have the power to make a difference, and much of the conference reinforced that, especially by nature of the theme, IMAGINE. Just imagine what can happen with 5000 women making a difference. Check out Gloria’s recap of the conference here. You might even see people you know!
The myriad of programs throughout the day were uber-impressive, with speakers like David Bach, Charlotte Beers, Sonia Sanchez, Barbara Bradley Baekgaard, LuAnn Cahn, Cathie Black, Tory Johnson, and Cheryl Strayed and former Governor Ed Rendell. Halls and conference rooms were all a buzz with presentations on leadership, money, career, business growth, social entrepreneurship, and plenty more. The lunchtime Keynote was presented by the infamous Arianna Huffington. I first met and saw Arianna speak at the Take Back America conference back in 2004. She is quietly dynamic, and a voice to be listened to. It’s tempting to call her tireless, but that might not be apropos since the bulk of her talk was about sleep. It was an interesting choice considering all the other topics that would have been more likely, but Arianna drove the point home by focusing on how sleep affects us in the work that we do or don’t get done, and the corresponding energy that gets depleted if we are sleep deprived. In her article with a clever name, “How to Sleep Your Way to the Top – Literally” Arianna states, “For all the talk about the ‘efficiency of the marketplace’, it’s surprising that so few companies and rising stars take advantage of one performance enhancement tool that’s been scientifically proven to have multiple benefits — and which also happens to be absolutely free. I’m talking about sleep.”
Speaking of tireless, if you look up “go-getter” in the dictionary, you might find Tory Johnson’s name. New York Times bestselling author and regular contributor on ABC’s Good Morning America, Tory is a force for women entrepreneurs with her television spots, books, and super-conference called Spark & Hustle. I was pre-introduced to by our mutual colleague Gretchen Gunn of MGD Recruiting Services. who has been a guest of Tory’s on Good Morning America. In addition to a full tilt Small Business Summit during the conference, Tory hosted co-founder and CEO of Vera Bradley designs, Barbara Bradley Baekgaard in a fireside chat during lunch. Barbara told the story of getting in the door of a big company because they thought she was the OTHER Vera, a signature artist and fabric designer with her own multi-million dollar business in the day. The funny part was, when Barbara turned to the 5000 person audience to ask if anyone remembered THAT Vera, yours truly was singularly the only one to clap, as my mother raised me with VERA scarves after knowing her personally from her work as a buyer in NYC.
Over at the Social Media Pavilion, along with a smattering of other topic filled tables, social mogul and fellow Bucks County gal, Jessica Cohen, held a roundtable discussion about blogging as a career. Jessica went from being a top research strategist for major magazines like Self, House & Garden, Mademoiselle, Lucky and Conde Nast Portfolio to becoming a consultant, brand strategist and force for social good with her blog, Found the Marbles. It was great to catch up and hear her tips & tricks and latest must-do’s for the blogosphere. Another friend and colleague, PR Specialist Gina Rubel of Furia Rubel Communications asked Jessica what she likes about blogging. In the vein of “Do what you love and the money will follow”, Jessica responded with, “I like it because it doesn’t feel like work.” Sounds good. You can let Jessica know how YOU found the marbles on her website, and follow her on Twitter: @foundthemarbles
The veritable who’s who of the conference is a long list, but it begins with Leslie Stiles. I’ve known Leslie since I created a custom pin for the conference several years back and then brought her in to speak at the Women’s Business Forum, where I serve on the Board. Current Board president of the Pennsylvania Conference for Women, Leslie was also the Executive Director for the Pennsylvania Commission for Women under Governor Ed Rendell for nearly 10 years, and headed up the entire conference during and beyond her tenure. A survivor of breast cancer, Stiles now serves on as many as eight Boards, including the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition, and The American Heart Association.
The conference was a non-partisan event, but Leslie chose her closing statement to be solely about the importance of voting. This works for me, as it is one of my core beliefs and a subject I hold near and dear with a line of voting pins, (including “Vote, Damn it!”, that have been utilized by organizations like the Black Women’s Health Imperative for their VOTE campaign). Leslie stated to the room of 5000, “Women will be a pivotal force, if not the pivotal force, in this coming presidential election. If I leave you with one word, it’s going to be ‘vote.’ If you don’t like the education your child is getting, vote. If you feel unfairly treated in the workplace, vote. If you struggle to afford health care, vote.”
It can’t be said better than that.