Last week I had the privilege to attend my first Forum—the first of two conference events held annually by the Network of Executive Women. Forum isn’t just a platform for shining a light on gender inequities. Attended by C-Suite and senior leadership, it’s a congregation of leaders who can create top-down inclusive solutions and build diverse teams throughout every level of their organizations.
This year, Forum’s theme spoke directly to our collective power and progress on workplace gender equality. NEW CEO Sarah Alter kicked off the event by applauding the efforts of the US women’s national soccer team and their monumental win, but also reminded us of their fight for equal pay. So many of us can empathize with this struggle—there's still so much progress to be made for real gender equality.
The 3-day Forum agenda was jam-packed with inspirational moments and speakers that were raw and real… here are the five moments I was gobsmacked by:
#1 Daisy Auger-Dominguez
This woman is a spunky spitfire! During her Day 1 session, a nearby electrician managed to knock out part of the power grid, which took down the electricity in the hotel conference center. Daisy proclaimed, “I’m going to go on anyways!” With all of the “what’s-going-on” murmuring in the room, she managed to just keep going and command everyone’s attention. In that moment, I was inspired to go on anyways, no matter what obstacles are thrown at me.
During her session, Daisy touched on the Latina pay gap, reminding us that on average, Latinas make $0.53 to the Caucasian male dollar. So, 47% less—that number makes me queasy. Her talk also spoke to that eerie feeling of invisibility that women know all too well.
In a moment that gave me all the feels, Daisy said, “My daughter’s here. My greatest wish for you, my love, is for you to be seen and valued.” My greatest wish for Daisy’s daughter is that she’s also paid equally!
#2 Gender Equality Advocate Thomas Page McBee
Thomas’s transgender journey gives him a unique perspective on what’s going on inside “the man box.” He discussed this and explored the concept of toxic masculinity. He also touched on times that as a man, he worried he was acting inside the man box.
Finally, Thomas threw out a stat that really stuck with me: women are interrupted at three times the rate of men. He suggested that when we are back in our meetings and see women being interrupted, we need to pause the room and make sure women get their turn to speak. Hearing that instantly dialed up the gross remembrance of moments when I felt like I didn’t matter, simply because I was interrupted by an excitable male counterpart who managed to highjack the conversation.
#3 Reshma Saujani
Reshma Saujani launched Day 2 like a rocket! I didn’t even need coffee after she spoke. She opened by serving up a piece of humble pie—“I did everything AOC did, but she won, and I lost,”—then went on to deliver a poignant message about bravery. She said, “I thought if I tried something and failed, it would literally break me. I’m still here.” Goosebumps.
I could create a quote of the day calendar from Reshma’s session. The Girls Who Code founder dissected the notion that “we cannot be what we can’t see.” When in our media and pop culture we portray developers and coders as dudes in hoodies, girls and women don’t aspire to go into technology roles. “Bravery is a muscle,” Reshma proclaimed and went on to scrutinize this deeply ingrained need in women to be perfect at everything we do.
As gender equality advocates, we’re all familiar with the stat that women don’t apply for jobs unless they feel they’re 100% qualified. Compare that with men, who will on average apply for a job if they meet only 60% of the qualifications. Rashma hammered that point home, declaring that, “If I could give each of you the confidence of a mediocre white man, I could change the world.”
Finally, she urged us all to practice imperfection by sending an email with a typo in its. No way Reshma. No way.
#4 The Cost of Bias & Intersectionality
I was standing in the conference foyer when round one of our breakout sessions let out, and overheard someone exclaim to her peer that “The Coast of Bias: In Society and at Work” was extremely powerful. I committed myself to popping in breakout round 2.
The Deloitte Human Capital team sent their skilled facilitators Sophia Zeinu and Devon Dickau to walk us through being cognizant of how our social identities shape us and appreciating the identities of our coworkers. We filled out an intersectionality worksheet that listed our various identifiers: age, educational experience, relationship status, gender identity, spirituality, regional affiliations, family status, mental wellness, and more. Then we walked through sharing our stories with our peers at our tables.
It was incredible to hear people detail the fabric of what makes them uniquely themselves, and truly eye-opening to be reminded that we need to be appreciative and respectful of the traits that make us unique, amazing humans!
#5 "Shameless" Maggie Timoney
At 8 a.m., the CEO of Heineken USA cracked open a Heineken 0.0—a zero alcohol beer—and declared that it was the perfect morning beer, then with a huge infectious grin, said, “I’m shameless.” A few times I wondered if Maggie Timoney does stand up comedy on the side. She’s hysterical. Srsly LOL funny!
She declared that people who have fun deliver better results. She’s also completely down-to-earth and at times really vulnerable and spoke to times when she either felt low or lonely. Speakers addressing women second-guessing the fact that they are amazing badasses was a thread that wove its way through Forum. Maggie asked, “Do any of you have a parrot that sits on your shoulder and squawks things you can’t do, or makes you doubt yourself?” She paused for a moment. A handful of brave and real women put their hands up. Maggie continued, “Take a bat and smash the parrot.” The audience went wild!
I’d be remiss not to mention that the incredibly accomplished Valerie Jarrett was Forum’s closing keynote speaker. I stopped taking notes at that point and just sat back and relished in the fact that I was in the same room as the longest-serving senior Obama advisor and pinched myself for having arrived. I’d say I “felt lucky” to be there, but that’s something a more insecure person would say. I was in that room due to a journey I strategically planned, and I can’t wait to start planning NEW Exec Forum 2020!