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On Being With 7,000 Women at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women

11/07/2013 11:42 am ET

On November 1st I attended the 10th Annual Pennsylvania Conference for Women and spent the day with 7,000 women! Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright delivered the key-note addresses and there were many other extraordinary women leaders who spoke through out the day. It was a conference alive with waves of energy that kept surging. While I am only one among the 7,000, and apologize for not being able to report on what learnings others may have garnered, or on the nuggets delivered by presenters I did not hear, I want to share my "take-aways."

The themes? Acknowledgment of the reality that gender equity has a long way to go both in this country, and beyond, and that we need to spend energy on how we, individually and collectively, fortify ourselves and keep moving ahead. The theme was really about resilience -- the ability to bounce back, lean in, keep our dreams alive, and to give and receive support from one another. Yes, it's harder for women. Yes... and then what are we going to do about it?

The rebound and move forward theme:

In a session on entrepreneurship sponsored by LeBow College of Business with Susan Aldridge, Halsey Schroeder, Emma Johnson, Deborah Buresh Jackson and Stacey Ferguson, each of these successful business owners spoke of her own risk-taking and challenges to overcome adversity. Their message was to stay bold. When an audience member asked how to deal with the fact that women's opportunities and pay equity has not advanced sufficiently in this country, one panelist gave a look of recognition to the obvious, and encouraged the questioner to just stay in the game and keep on keepin' on. From another panelist was the invitation to listen to one's dream idea, consider its market value and to assertively ask for support in the form of sponsorship AND money. Each spoke of their 'failures' and then their successes, their fears, and their resolve to keep their eye on the next step, the small advances and apply their energies towards their goals.

Glennon Doyle Melton, an energetic, perky, funny writer who speaks freely about her recovery from alcohol addiction and an eating disorder added valuable ideas for maintaining resilience:

1) Know who you are by knowing what you love and let that be your identity, not your roles, or your successes and failures, because the ups and downs are inevitable, but one's inner truths are a constant.

2) Since criticism is inevitable, prepare for it and how you will deal with it before it comes--This helps to diminish the critic's sting and minimize the self-defeating emotional dark pot holes we can fall into.

3) Remember that people who have different opinions are not criticizing us; they just hold a different view.

4) Challenge the idea of balance. Melton said that balance "doesn't exist, just like the unicorn." Interesting! Balance, she suggested, is about finding how to be creative with our own natural rhythms -- of the day, or the particular chapter of our lives, and will always be about how we manage the tension of opposite forces, not a time when total peace and calm exist. Good food for thought.

5) Give and receive support by always having one person on one's team who is far ahead of our successes and also someone way behind. This keeps us in a perpetual cycle of giving encouragement to others and receiving mentorship.

The failure and Resilience theme:

Glenda Hatchett, judge, host of the Judge Hatchett show and also a best-selling author said, "there's no such things as failure, just warming up for success." This brought to mind my own resilience reminders that Walt Disney was initially fired from a newspaper job for his lack of creativity, that Einstein had a hard time learning to read and was seen as not too bright by many of his early teachers, that Kathryn Stockett, author The Help, was turned down 60 times before she finally got published and that the Harvard Business Review back in April 2011 devoted an entire journal to failure and the successes that have followed different failed business ventures. Many presenters called for a new definition of the word "failure," and the resilience theme was there again.

The dsponsorship and mentorship theme:

Early in the morning Albright said, "there's a special place in Hell for women who don't help other women" and the quote resounded throughout the day. Presenters offered their willingness to support, give advice, and follow-up with audience members to keep their momentum going.
The love and compassion theme:

Linda Cliatt-Wayman, the principal of Strawberry Mansion High School in Philadelphia shared her challenging journey as the head of this notoriously underserved North Philadelphia school in which there has been daily violence. She made a plea that we not leave any child behind and made an invitation to the audience to attend to disempowered children everywhere. I confess to tearing up when she shared that every day on the school loud speak she announced, "just in case nobody told you 'I love you' today, I'm telling you I love you.'"(Her work in the school has been featured on ABCs' Nightline and World News Report.)

My take-aways:

Firstly, I will support Hillary when election time comes because I do trust she will be fearless on behalf of women at home and beyond. Secondly, that we need to keep supporting our own inner resources regardless of the social factors that hold us back or the inevitable ups and downs related to success. Thirdly, that we need to stay bold with our energies to have our dreams materialize and lastly, to keep supporting one another in staying in the game.

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