Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Texas Conference for Women, 2016

Where to even start? I'm on my annual post-conference high right now, having just returned home after this year's Texas Conference for Women. I'm fortunate that it's in Austin, and that my company bought several tables for us. Every year I come home both inspired and more informed about women in the world -- both the amazing things they're doing and the terrible things they're facing.

This year was no different. The most memorable speakers during the morning keynotes (for me, obviously) were Annie Clark, and Abby Wombach. Annie's name didn't sound familiar, but after her introduction I realized I had heard her story before. Abby has been doing amazing things in the fight to end sexual assault on campus. Hearing the reactions of her school to her rape was unbelievable. Her courage to change the status quo by going up against one of the largest and most prestigious universities in the world were inspiring to say the least. That she managed to turn something awful into a positive is something not all of us have it in us to do.

Abby Wombach's story was more well-known to me, and I was encouraged to hear about her fight for equal pay for women in sports. She joked that she wasn't able to do whatever she wanted to do in her retirement unlike another male soccer player, due to their pay differences, but also noted their World Cup trophy differences. Funny but not funny, amirite? The best part about Abby's talk was that she veered off into politics. Many of the women at the conference today did go there, and they all kept it classy. Abby was a little different in her tack. She urged us all to have hard conversations with the physical people around us. She said that social media is destroying us by allowing us to isolate ourselves in self-affirming bubbles, which is I think something we can all agree with. I'm not sure I'm up for the hard conversations just yet.

The lunchtime keynotes were also inspiring. My two favorites from lunch were Diane von Furstenberg and (surprise surprise) Amal Clooney. I actually was surprised that Diane von Furstenberg was one of my favorites. I knew nothing about the woman -- only that she has her own fashion brand. Her story was more her family's story -- her mother held in a Nazi concentration camp for 18 months and left weighing 54 pounds. After her marriage, she was told to wait five years before having children, but didn't. Ms. von Fursetenberg joked that her mother's doctor's warning had come to pass -- she had had an abnormal child.

Her message was that we should explore opportunities presented to us, even if we we may see them as not worthwhile. We can never know where it may lead. She learned about fabrics thinking she was just working to pay the bills, but she was actually picking up valuable knowledge that helped launch her into where she is today.

Amal Clooney talked about the work she is doing to have ISIS leaders tried for their crimes against Yazidi women. The stories she told were horrific. I can only say that I am in awe of her courage in the face of such evil. Amal was then joined on stage by Carroll Bogert, another human rights activist (though I feel the word activist doesn't come close to describing the work these women are doing). My favorite thing that Ms. Bogert said was that people have this perception of human rights activism as women's work -- because it is largely done by women -- and that it is also somehow easy work; but that it is incredibly difficult work. The stunned silence and heaviness in the hall left no room for disagreement.

The two sessions that I went to outside the keynotes that really stood out were Living with Intent with Mallika Chopra (yep, Deepak Chopra's daughter), and Transform Your Norm with Lisa Nichols. This year I decided to steer clear of any technical or business-oriented talks, and go all-in for the "Self-Improvement" talks. Those tend to have the most dynamic speakers (although last year I didn't exactly love the message of the most dynamic speaker I saw).

Mallika reinforced things that I already knew about the benefits of meditation, but the thing I needed to hear was that you need to make sure you're having enough fun in your life. I think that's something I've neglected as I tried to pick up the slack during Chris's most challenging first years with his new path, and push myself further in my career. Another thing that really resonated with me was the joy she seemed to get from her group of girl friends. I've never had a big group of them, and my good ones mostly live far away (and in different cities). I'm not sure how to gather ladies together who are more swamped than I am -- but it's something I know I need to do.

Speaking of things I know I need to do, Lisa Nichols' talk was aimed at getting us inspired to do them. She was fantastic. In the final sentence of her introduction, we were told to "buckle up." She was fun, funny, charming, and did in fact make us all slightly uncomfortable. Her story of going from someone with $11, living on public assistance with an 8-month old son, to running a multi-million-dollar business was only the premise to her appeal. She had some great one-liners that she credited to her fabulous-sounding grandmother; my favorite being, "Your conviction and your comfort don't live on the same block." I decided I would buy her book and watch her Youtube videos.

I didn't have time to make it to the expo hall's book store, but in a stroke of luck (or fate?) she was the guest speaker at the technical women's networking event held at the end of the day. Along with my glass of wine, I picked up a book and got her to sign it. I told her it was the first time I'd purchased a book at a conference, so she signed my copy, "Proud to be your first." What a way to end my day.

*Aahhhhh* And I needed this day.

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