On November 19th the 12th annual Pennsylvania Conference for Women was held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. I was fortunate to be able to attend, supporting coaching in the career pavilion alongside resume review. Since I was working, I had a limited opportunity to experience the Conference. But even in my little corner I absorbed a lot of the energy and excitement of the day. I came away with a renewed sense of optimism. The speakers talked about how an idea became a thriving business, and how they kept going in the face of sometimes immense difficulties to see their dreams come to fruition. All in all, it was a day of inspiration and hope. I met a lot of women in many walks of life, young and not so young, who were looking for information, contacts, and new ideas.
So what is the Pennsylvania Conference for Women? According to their official description, it is the “largest gathering of women in the tri-state area” and it is intended to help attendees make “an invaluable investment in your future.” In addition to the keynote speakers and many workshops and panel discussions, it offered networking opportunities, new ideas, and inspiration. I listened to all the keynote speakers, along with over 8000 other women . . . and a very few men. The Governor of Pennsylvania spoke, and I am embarrassed to say I did not know who he was. I need to start learning more about my new home state. I do live here now!
What inspired me?
My strongest impressions were of Leymah Gbowee, the Liberian peace activist and 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate. She asked us “why should we care” when we live in a world where there is so much evil. She described a body of water that has some evil drops amongst mostly good drops. We tend to focus on the evil in the world even though there is much more good. I was inspired by Rachael Ray’s story of how she built her cooking empire from a simple concept of how to cook real food in 30 minutes, the time it takes to wait for pizza delivery. Jessica Alba related how she was looking for gentle household products after her baby was born and ended up creating the Honest Company. John Jacobs talked about how he and his brother grew their t-shirt business from the dining table in their tiny apartment to the worldwide business “Life is Good.” I heard Carli Lloyd talk about her mentor and coach who pushed her to work hard and be the best.
The day was about hope, and dreams, and giving back. In the midst of all the ugliness we have around us, after the terror in Paris, and the fighting in Syria, the day was a time to reflect on the human spirit and how we can all make the world a better place, starting within ourselves. Instead of giving in to negative thoughts, we should consider how we can make a difference. We were encouraged to look for the good rather than to expect the bad. It made me think of the recent political statements about refugees, and its potential for spreading fear and hatred. I thought about how easy it is to fall into the abyss of fear instead of treating others with the respect and kindness they deserve. Leymah reminded us of the simple acts of kindness all around us that we need to notice and emulate. John Jacob’s t-shirt below captures what I want to say — “fear less”, with the addition of two words of my own, “trust more.”
The changing workplace
Many of the attendees were young women with new careers. Some were satisfied with their career trajectory, and others were looking for another path. They lined up for resume review and others went for coaching. They attended workshops on mentoring, how to lead with authenticity, learned how to brand themselves and take risks. I want to applaud our new generation of female leaders who will create a workplace that is different than the one my generation grew up in. Twenty years ago making sacrifices and working long hours were expected. You had a family to care for, well maybe you weren’t serious about your career. You couldn’t travel, no problem, we can find someone else who can. My children will remember being pawned off to stay with friends so I could step up when asked to go out of town. Those were the days when I was a single mom. Giving up a good night’s sleep to complete household chores and missing a child’s school event for work was common. Today one of our daughters works in an office that offers a catered meal, yoga, and free flu shots in-house. You can take leave when you need it and work late or leave early as your schedule allows. She’s part of the new workplace that respects diverse needs and approaches. My career was a one size fits all, and if you didn’t fit in, you didn’t thrive.
We should not forget how we got here, with help from women like Gloria Steinem. She reminded us in the keynote that we have not yet achieved pay equality. There are other battles still to be fought. I leave the Conference behind with warm thoughts for all the attendees and their sisters as they forge ahead in this 21st century working world. There are many paths to follow, and each provides demands and rewards. In this journey I hope that the ride is gentle and the obstacles surmountable.