Last week, I attended the Massachusetts Conference for Women. I had gone last year, and was
very excited to attend again. It’s a huge event – upwards of 10,000 women attend.
My Uber driver was an immigrant from Ethiopia whose daughter recently finished her degree in Ethiopia in….Gender Inequality! So he was really interested to hear about both the conference and whether I thought his daughter had any job prospects here.
The conference itself was amazing. Riding down the huge escalators in the morning, I saw the expo floor already teeming with women, eager and excited. There was palpable energy in the air, and it was immediately apparent upon arriving in the ballroom. The highlight of the morning keynotes were definitely Tory Burch (fashion designer) and John Jacobs (co-founder of Life is Good.) Tory’s story was very understated of how she’s become a top lifestyle brand, and John was just full of life and enthusiasm.
The morning sessions I went to were pretty good. In particular, I enjoyed the panel discussion on work/life balance. That seems to be code these days for “tips to get your kids picked up from daycare” but that was fine with me. It was a very practical discussion of what models work for several women in different industries. For the first time, I felt like I was equivalent to one of the women on the panel, not just learning from an expert.
Lunch had several impressive keynotes, most notably Lupita Nyong’o and Hillary Clinton. Nyong’o talked about how she got from Kenya to the Academy Awards; her talk was really one about following your dreams because nothing else will feel right. Secretary Clinton was, of course, in a class of her own. She began by speaking about the deaths in Ferguson and New York, then spoke more generally about leadership and her experiences. We all got a chuckle out of the moderator asking her what would the right qualities be for a “First Gentleman.”
In the afternoon, I attended a session on feedback that was okay – the thesis was that we practice and get a lot of training on how to give feedback, but don’t focus enough on receiving it. I liked that idea but found the actual content a little basic. I’ve thought about reading the speaker’s book, because maybe it is more in-depth and more relevant to me.
On my way to the coatroom, I was stopped by someone running the coaching area, and offered a free 10-minute coaching session that I couldn’t turn down. I had a really interesting and helpful talk with Laurie McAnaugh, who was masterful at getting to the crux of the issue I had brought up.
My takeaways this year were vastly different than those of last year. Perhaps a little less star-struck and a little more interested in practical advice, I ended the day feeling and thinking the following:
1. The theme of needing to bring one’s personal “self” into work and align values was louder than I had heard it in the past. I don’t know if it’s the next iteration of work/life balance, or if I was just listening for something different this year.
2. There was practically no content for non-traditional families – speakers used “husband” pretty liberally, only sometimes remembering to also offer “partner” and nearly never recognizing that there were likely many single women and single moms in the audience. While I’m married to a man, I think talking to a more diverse audience helps everyone better understand options, challenges, and sensitivity. Would have liked to see more of that.
3. The feedback session stayed in my head; not because I learned a lot from it, but more because I thought a lot of its content was rooted in having a lack of confidence. In fact, a lot of the content throughout the day was about building confidence, and not suffering from impostor syndrome, and I struggled with that – because I don’t relate to it. The issues and challenges I have with getting to the next level aren’t ones of confidence. Good news/bad news I guess.
What most surprised me was that I felt different coming out of this year’s conference than I had last year’s. Less elation, more introspection. But another good year nonetheless.