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One man’s eye-opening week with a thousand women

Paper cutouts

In September, I was one of about 100 men who attended the sold-out NEW Leadership Summit, which drew 1,200 retail and consumer goods industry leaders focused on women’s leadership to Washington D.C.

This event was unlike any experience I have ever had — and was nothing short of illuminating.

The Summit began for me with the First Timers’ Reception and, for the first time in my life, I felt what it’s like to be significantly in the minority. Of the couple hundred people there, I spotted five men. I fielded a few “What are you doing here?” looks and, in one instance, was rebuffed during the networking exercise. I couldn’t help but feel a little unwelcome. These are experiences and feelings that I imagine women and minorities have endured many times.

The eye- and mind-opening experiences continued during the two break-out learning sessions I attended.

The first session I attended was “The Power of Storytelling” with Accenture’s Terrence Gargiulo. Terrence delivered a message suggesting “the shortest distance between two people is a story.” I’ve always believed this myself. Most people have similar challenges and concerns in life; stories that connect to those commonalities can bring people together in powerful ways, bridging almost any gap.

The second session I attended was “Women’s Leadership: What’s in It for Men,” with women’s advocate Michael Kimmel and a panel of male industry executives. This session really challenged me to think. One of the panel members suggested that you could classify men in one of three ways:

  • Men who are “all in” when it comes to gender equality
  • Men who are against gender equality and, in many cases, actively oppose equality efforts
  • Men who are somewhere in the middle. These men may be described as “wanting to do the right thing, but not necessarily knowing what that is.”

This discussion really challenged me to consider how I can be in the “all in” group and what “all in” looks like.

Another message that strongly resonated with me was delivered by women’s leadership expert Grace Killelea. She talked about resilience by sharing her personal, painful story of leaving a damaging marriage. Resilience in the face of adversity is a challenge that affects and connects us all.

Since I joined the Network of Executive Women, people have said that NEW isn’t just about women; that everyone shares in the benefit of NEW’s mission and work. After attending the NEW Summit, I understand why.

Brad Carlson is manager of accounts at Altria Group Distribution Company, where he has worked for 16 years.

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.