Thursday, June 16, 2016

Reflections from the United State of Women Summit

I have had a couple of days to reflect after attending the tremendous summit that was the United State of Women which was sponsored by the White House. I did not really understand what the full event was going to be, but was a bit skeptical.  So many times you attend these large events aimed at women and it is a lot of platitudes with no real discussion on how to move forward.  I was not totally prepared to take in all the information that was handed out by President Obama, Vice President Biden, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, First Lady Michelle Obama and the host of women who spoke who are not household names.  

But before I dive into what I learned and what my take aways are, I need to discuss how this event fit into the context of world and personal events.  The two weeks leading up to the summit included news about the shameful sentencing of the Stanford rapist and the outpouring on social media, the continued “musing” of hate speech by the presumptive Republican Presidential candidate (it should be noted I will not be voting for him), the forgone conclusion our country will have its first female Presidential candidate, and the massacre of 50 people at a LGBT club. Couple this with my eldest son’s graduation from college, my niece’s wedding, and confirmation of TechGirlz working with 2500 girls in one year, and I am a swirl of emotions, both happy, sad, angry, and hopeful.

I began the Summit on Monday with a pre-conference on Entrepreneur Empowerment. This was about 150 women, so much smaller then Tuesday’s marquee event/ The sessions were very good, full of information, especially about how the SBA can help with providing funds. I am hoping to have a high level SBA representative come to talk to the Philly tech community. I don’t think this is really thought of as an option for funding. And if it is not a good option, I want to explore why.  I did learn the SBA is supporting women led funding groups with a two to one match.  It is called the SBIC program (Small Business Investment Company).

Tuesday was the big event.  I am not going to review the entire day. I recommend watching the videos the White House has put online or finding reporters versions of the soundbites and quotes. There were tons of statistics to support why we need to support women (like did you know women earn 79 cents on the dollar for what men make in comparable jobs, but African American and Hispanic women make significantly less than that?. I didn’t).  It was a bit of a commercial for the administration, but I did not realize how much this administration had done for the cause of women’s health, economics and family life.  Here is a good link worth exploring. There were talks on violence against women, not just here in the US, but also internationally, talks on closing the pay gap and the growing role of women in the workplace, the changing of culture to break down gender norms, and education for women.

I do recommend watching Biden’s speech as he talks urgently about violence against women. But, I urge you to watch President Obama’s speech which outlines the strides that have been made and the hope for the future of women in America. It is stirring and I will admit to crying at the end of it.

It is hard for me to describe the joy I felt during the day of being surrounded by 5000 women. It felt like a true sisterhood.

But, as I predicted, there were no actionable items you were left with, so what did I take away and what is my advice for other attendees as they come down off the high of such an event?

I came away reenergized to do the work that needs to be done to further women down the path.  I know that even though it was stressed time and time again that this is a great time to be a woman in the United States, there is still so much to be done.  I have my action items. It is to continue to slog it out on a day to day basis and do what I, and my team and my co- conspirators, are doing.  It is to continue to support each others work with words of encouragement, acts of kindness, and purposeful connections.  It is to make sure I am visible to other women to serve as an example and role model.  I do not say this in a narcissistic manner, but in truly understanding  that it is not just famous who are helping us make strides, but the ordinary women who are just as important as role models on a smaller scale.

I  also discovered that I could come further out of my shell than I ever thought I could.  Those who know me are chuckling because they think networking comes easily.  But it does not.  I was feeling so good about the idea of this event (and also happiness from the graduation just a few days before) that I think I unconsciously opened up. I came to the event by myself, I did know a few people, but did not have a safety net of constant companions.  So I made them at every corner, every line, every table, in the hallways. I easily introduced myself to others and made some valuable connections because of being so open.  Where I might be reticent about meeting someone who had a high position, I threw caution to the wind to talk to them.  I really did not know I had that type of spirit in myself and gaining this knowledge will make me less afraid in the future.  I gained so much by taking chances.

 What would I recommend to others? I will start with a story of a young women I meet while in the registration line. We exchanged who we are and what we do. She told me me about her work at a large company. She said she had been given a ticket at the last minute and was not sure what she wanted to get out of the conference. But she told me about how #BlackGirlMagic had inspired her to bring the African American women at her company together to meet once a month so they could support each other. I am not sure she truly understood how that one act was going to impact the group she formed. She did not think it was that big of a deal, I could tell by the way she had underplayed her role. Maybe it was because it was a newly formed group, But I know from experience that her reaching out to support other women and form a community, no matter how small, would be impactful.

The point of the story? Each of us can play a small role in creating change in your company, in your school, in your community.  You can decide what it looks like or what it is, but do something.  The speakers did not need to provide the tools, they provided the information of what needs to be done. Pick a small project, make a commitment to yourself to see it through, no excuses.  

 Change happens in little incremental steps, not in giant leaps.   

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