One (of many) pieces of practical advice I received by attending the Massachusetts Conference for Women yesterday was from Susan Getgood, author of the Professional Blogging for Dummies, was that when you’re going to write a long entry, let the readers know up front.
Dearest Readers–This will be a long entry.
I got so much out of attending the conference that I don’t want to cheat you out of any of the highlights. My next few posts (at Susan’s suggestion, too) will be shorter in length.
While the entire conference was top-notch, Glenda Hatchett (aka Judge Hatchett) stole the show in my book. She was the final morning speaker following a list of luminaries (Victoria Reggie Kennedy – widow of Ted), Jessica Herrin (founder of Stella and Dot) and my personal favorite Elizabeth Lesser (co-founder of Omega Institute). She immediately won me over when she announced that she was an alumna of Mount Holyoke College, my alma mater. She also publicly thanked a committee member who had known her for 30 years and was instrumental in bringing her up from Atlanta for this event. I love that kind of humility and grace.
Glenda had had a successful career as a litigator for Delta Airlines. By her own admission, she never lost a case, had a healthy 401K and was quite full of herself and professionally comfortable. But she got an offer that changed her life and set her on a new course. “That first day in the courtroom my purpose and my passion intersected.” She told a heart-breaking story of an abandoned 8 year old boy and how she saw that justice prevailed on his behalf. This story, and others, are in her new book Dare to Take Charge, which sold out at the conference shortly after her talk.
When she was tapped for the position of judge in Fulton County Georgia’s Juvenile Court, she talked about turning this difficult decision over to God. In her words, once you’ve turned it over, “You may not be able to pull it back.” While she struggled with giving up the lucrative and attractive perks of her other employment, she made the decision to take the job as judge.
She said it was the most difficult job she’d ever had. Although I’ve never seen her popular TV show, clearly that difficult decision set her on the course to her eventual super-stardom.
Elizabeth Lesser’s talk yesterday morning was inspiring in a different way. Her message was more focused on the perilous shape our world is in today and what we might do as leaders, each in our own way, to change it.
She referenced the reading she had done in preparation for her talk. She’d spoken at 6 other women’s conferences this fall. The homework she assigned herself over the summer was to read the St. John’s Great Books list aka “The Dead White Man Curriculum” which included The Art of War, Wealth of Nations, The Prince and others. She admitted to throwing in Eat, Pray, Love to smooth it out.
Elizabeth reminded us that we women know what the world needs now–that warfare, domination and control as male leadership models–has brought us to a perilous place. She urged us to find our own style and voice and to lead from that place with courage. “Our world is seriously out of balance.” Male leadership has reached the end of its usefulness she explained.
From her experience in her former career as a midwife, she described the extraordinary intelligence of the uterus. Anyone who went through natural childbirth will remember the instructions to breathe with the pain. Fighting it actually slows it down and makes it last longer. Breathing into it allows the cervix to do its work of expanding to make room for the baby’s birth. It’s not easy to relax into pain. It’s natural to become frightened. But for a birth, or rebirth, pain is inevitable. Our planet needs to stop delaying the inevitable pain that we have been postponing and experience it, birth it and move forward.
After this incredible morning of mind-expansion and inspiration, there was a break before the first set of seminar sessions. I knew I wanted to meet the two speakers signing books–Glenda and Elizabeth. The line for Glenda snaked around the entire area. There was another long line at the cash registers, too, to purchase a copy of Dare to Take Charge. I chose not to wait, knowing I could order the book on amazon. I looked for Elizabeth and was sad to notice that there was no line at all forming for this brilliant and amazing leader.
I promptly headed over to shake her hand and offer my humble praise for her words of wisdom and courage. She is extraordinary and so approachable. I was able to meet Glenda later in the day. I wanted to thank her, too, and share reminiscences of Mount Holyoke, which we did. She and I lived in the same dorms, albeit a few years apart. She was gracious and easy to connect to.
A few other highlights:
Stella and Dot – a fun jewelry line that offers entrepreneurship opportunities for women was started by Jessica Herrin and named after her two grandmothers: Stella and Dot.
Jen Groover – Founder of Butler Bag, a solution to an overstuffed handbag that was created the day she had to dump her entire pocketbook out on the grocery checkout line while her twin babies were howling. Jen shared her mother’s wisdom: “Become comfortable with being uncomfortable.” And, “You are not allowed to complain about something unless you’re willing to do something.”
Patricia Miller, co-founder of Vera Bradley, had the good sense not to name the business after her mother Wilma Poleto, but after her partner’s mother – Vera Bradley. Best advice on this panel regarding scaling up your business: #2 Treat a complaint as an opportunity.
Tory Johnson, one of the lunchtime speakers, proved a powerful point when she held up a $100 bill. “Who wants this,” she asked? “Who really, really wants this?” Many of the 6500 attendees raised their hands, some even vigorously. She kept repeating the question. Finally, one woman stood up, walked up to the stage, climbed the stairs and took the bill out of Tory’s hand. Tory’s point (I have to admit, I’d seen this years ago with a $20 bill and I was sitting WAAAAAY back or I would have gone up) is that you have to take action when you want something.
The final speaker was Gloria Steinem. It was a joy just to be in her presence. She’s completely unassuming, no make-up. No hairstylist or primping. Very casual. It’s the words that she speaks that are captivating, engaging and uplifting. The quote that got tweeted immediately after (or during, I imagine) her talk was this: A bird doesn’t sing because she has a listener. She sings because she has a song.
I attended the day with Diane Ripstein, a consummate professional in the communications arena. Having her to connect and post-game with was fun. We re-visited the trade show area after the talks had ended (BTW, I’m SO glad I didn’t take a booth!), then hopped on the shuttle bus to the parking area (another one of the well thought out details of the event).
Driving back to CT I was able to savor all the connections I’d made and let the wisdom I’d heard percolate. Before I’d left Connecticut for the ride up to Boston, I’d stopped in at my favorite take-out place, Health in a Hurry. The owner, Sue Cadwell, has become a friend in the years we’ve been doing business together. I stocked up on her delicious granola and bought a container of her sweet chocolate/carob confections to bring to my hostess. Sue asked where I was off to. When I told her I was attending a women’s conference she said, “You’re so lucky to have your business allow you to attend events like that.” Yes, I am.
Next year’s event is December 8, 2011. Let’s get a bus and all go together.