Monday, December 09, 2013

At the Massachusetts Conference for Women

I've been hearing about the Massachusetts Conference for Women for several years, but I was always working and couldn't (or wouldn't make the time to) attend. This year I decided to take the plunge.

The conference was held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, which is absolutely enormous (if you click here you'll see it looks like a spaceship!). You walk first into a giant lobby of sorts, and then you go down stairs into an even more enormous room which is where they had their exhibitors. It was a strange mix of career based organizations (schools, training), health care organizations and services, and vendors of every kind (windows, kitchens, clothing, beauty items, gift items, shoes, etc.). I found it to be a bit confusing and overwhelming.

You walk from the exhibition hall into another huge room which was filled with approximately 1,000 round tables (I did the math, 10,000/10 per table). That is where they had the keynote addresses, and lunch. The speakers were quite far away but there were many giant screens so everyone could see clearly. And the sound was great.

These were the positives:
  • 10,000 women! Just kind of amazing, the sheer number of women at the conference (I saw a very few men - very few. And they looked uncomfortable.) And a huge range of women: young (high school age) to older, all kinds of cultures, all kinds of styles of clothing. Lots of pregnant women, and quite a few in very high heels (not sure why, not very practical for walking around!).
  • Very inspiring, nationally known speakers, in no particular order:

  • Blake Mycoskie
    1. Blake Mycoskie of TOMS, who is an excellent speaker, a very low key guy. The basic story is this: while traveling in Argentina, Mycoskie realized that many children there were so poor that they didn't have shoes, and this literally prevented them from going to school.  He was inspired to create a for-profit company that would use part of its profits to fund giving out much-needed shoes.  You can read more about him here and more about the impact of giving shoes to children here.

    2. A songwriter from South Carolina, Emily Lynch, wrote a very beautiful and touching song about the Boston Marathon bombings called "Heart of this City." She wrote it in response to one of the marathon bomber's tweets that said "there ain't no love in the heart of the city." Here is a version of it. She did a very simple acoustic version at the conference, and I liked it better than this one, but you'll get the idea.

    3. Susan Cain, author of the book Quiet, who talks about introverts in an extroverted world. She was an excellent speaker and talked a lot about research to back up her ideas. However, after hearing her talk, I realized that being in a place with 10,000 women didn't appeal to my introverted side.Whoops!

    4. Linda Cliatt-Wayman is an educator who took over a troubled high school in Philadelphia and turned it around so the students could learn. Education is key to how these kids can get out of the cycle of poverty and violence, and it's very important to them. Cliatt-Wayman is a person of great faith, and she feels she is called to this work. It was very inspiring to hear her speak.

    5. Kerry Washington & Robin Roberts
      Robin Roberts, the news anchor, and Kerry Washington, the actor, both were unable to physically be there but attended via live hook-up. They were both very real, really connected with the audience. They spoke about the power of women, and the importance of the community of women in their lives. Really impressive. Their presentation was facilitated by Tory Johnson, who was great at asking interesting questions.

    6. Laura Munson, a writer and speaker, whose talk was entitled "Getting what you want by getting out of your own way" (you can listen to the podcast here). One great take-away I got from her talk was the idea of instead of saying "I want..." you should say "I create...".  For example, instead of "I want a new job" you say "I create a new job." It gives you more power over your situation. I like it!

    7. Mary Beth Monihan is a VP at Boston Scientific and is probably not a national figure, but I heard her talk at the "Power Stage" and I found her to be very down to earth and helpful. Some of her key points: 
    • What are you really uniquely good at? Ask people you know (friends, family). You might be surprised at what you find out.
    • What are your gaps?
    • What kind of choices are you going to make? Consider that you work for appx. 45 years. One choice is not going to derail you, so it's okay to take some chances.
    • When thinking about networking - help them first, before asking for something.
    • Her talk was hosted by Mel Robbins who is a dynamo, and I picked up her book Stop Saying You're Fine: The no-bs guide to getting what you want. Quite interesting.  

The negatives:
  • 10,000 women. Networking? Too random. Needed a better way to meet people in one's field or with similar interests/ages/stages. They should work on this.

  • The exhibition was too confusing - too many different things mixed together.

  • The workshop sessions were too large (one I attended was in a cavernous, dark room - not ideal). Even though they were smaller than the keynote presentations, they were still huge.

  • Too much emphasis on the corporate sponsors. It started to feel like the whole conference was a huge advertisement after a while. There were 1,600 women attending from State Street alone, which was a big sponsor of the conference. 


One of the biggest takeaways for me was how important education is to kids, and how we take for granted things like having shoes to wear to school, and having schools that are safe and relatively non-violent.  As my son complains about having to go to school, I wish he would realize how lucky he really is. Gives one pause.

Another takeaway for me is simply the power of confidence. So many of these women just exude confidence. They will not take no for an answer. I feel like I'm probably being too nice in my professional life, and that being a little more kick-a&& might be the way to go. I think.

I've also been thinking about how a lot of these very successful folks just seem to focus on ONE THING. Susan Cain focuses solely on introverts.  Blake Mycoskie on giving shoes to poor children. Do you have to just have one focus, one message? Is simplicity the way to go? Just a thought.

I still am chewing on this experience, and hopefully I will have some more insights as time goes on. Stay tuned...

1 comment:

Semirah Dolan said...

You made a great point! It would be beneficial to find out a way to network with women in your field.

I went to the conference as well and I did network but, with professionals outside of my field.

:) Semirah D