By Caroline Hane-Weijman
I was lucky enough to snag a ticket to the second day of S.H.E summit 2016 from one of our client’s at Pivotal Labs. After being underwhelmed by previous women’s conferences I’ve attended in the past, I was blown away by the quality of speakers, the content that emerged, and the overall atmosphere of the summit.
I feel other women forums I have attended have primarily discussed challenges women were facing in the workplace because of their gender and how women have advanced organizationally, or “gotten ahead”, despite being a woman. The focus has been backwards looking on where “she has been“. In addition, it has not served to showcase what “she is doing“. Becoming a CEO in itself is not as inspirational to me as understanding what impact she is bringing to the world. What innovation/technology/product is she leading or contributing to? A tech conference for men would focus on technology; why should a woman’s conference in technology not do the same?
I felt the S.H.E. Summit took a refreshing and inspiration new approach. It showcased phenomenal women that had achieved success because they were women. How embracing all that “she is“ and where “she is going” has helped them create the change they want to see in their space. And then specifically highlighting those changes– from advocating for girls’ education and developing innovational underwear for women on their periods to being editor-in-chief of Refinery29 and managing technology for Morgan Stanley. As the mantra of the summit emphasizes “Rise to your potential. Lift other women”, there was a strong call to action for the audience to empower themselves but also to contribute to something greater than themselves. As a 28-year-old with many ambitions and fears, and who has studied and worked in primarily male-dominated spaces, the tone and content of this summit resonated with me.
Furthermore, I felt the summit cultivated a level of authenticity, vulnerability and humility amongst the speakers and attendees that I have not encountered in other conferences. The speakers were not preaching advice; they were sharing intimate, authentic, and inspirational stories. Within the first 10 minutes of arriving, I met a group of women I spent the remainder of the day with and have followed up with since. I am impressed by the safe space and openness that was so well cultivated.
The panels and presentations I attended ranged from parenthood, allowing yourself to drop the ball and expectations of what you should be or do, being deliberate about your “connectional intelligence”, capturing entrepreneurial opportunities in whitespaces, being a leader of change and “intrapreneur” within the corporate world, and dissecting the forces of the media.
Some of my highlights were:
- Allyson Downey spoke about the concept of benevolent discrimination. Allyson called out that making assumptions and business decisions for women that are pregnant or have family based on good intentions of being understanding and supportive is still discrimination. “This client is going to be very demanding so I’ll assign it to Mike since Sarah has two young kids and I don’t want her to have to work late”. Both men and women are culprits of this. With company cultures trying to shift to a more supportive work-life balance, I can definitely see how this may become unintentionally prevalent. The solution? Always make it very clear what you want to your colleagues.
- Claudia Chan, founder & C.E.O. of the S.H.E. Summit (and of course the host of the event), spoke about how to find ways to lift others. She spoke about how to turn your personal pain into power to lift others. This source of power, together with vocational training and skills, can help you take steps towards contributing beyond yourself.
- The only male speaker of the second day, Jack Myers, brought to light a topic I had never really considered: with the changing role of a woman, how do we help redefine the role of a man in our future? How do we help support young men to be better partners, colleagues, managers, sons and fathers to empowered women? He shared interesting research on Gen Z males, born 1990-2000, who are particularly confused by conflicting messaging of the dying patriarchy, boy’s club and macho stereotype that are still represented in the media, and newer movements of vulnerability, empathy, and women empowerment. What does it mean to identify as “a real man” in the future? I say identify with, as I feel it is important to call out that gender identification is not binary. It is a “New Masculinity Movement”, as Jack’s book is called, that does not only speak to “being a man”. I think we have a shared responsibility, all genders alike, to contribute to this movement just as we have for the femininity movement.
- A panel of women entrepreneurs shared their inspiring experiences building companies within industry whitespaces. Panelists were Melissa Ben-Ishay of Baked By Melissa, Lauren Wesley Wilson of ColorComm, Carrie Hammer of Role Models Not Runway Models, and Miki Agrawal of THINX. I’ve been to founders panels before but was extremely inspired by this panel’s authenticity, personal stories, scrappiness, humility and just pure passion. The focus was on what they were doing and why.
- As a last mention, the closing speaker, Lisa Nichols, inspired tears, goosebumps, laughter, and a standing ovation from myself and the audience. I’m not sure how to better describe her than the conference bio: “female speaker who has the motivational savvy of a Tony Robbins with the gospel soul of Martin Luther King Jr.” Find her. Watch her. 🙂
All in all, I feel a new found energy to pursue the ideas brewing in my head and heart and to seek out more help from the communities that exist. Specifically, as a Product Manager in tech in NYC, I am very excited to help grow the communities in New York that showcase and fuel conversation for the amazing women in product development. Please join me at an upcoming Women in Product meetup! All genders welcome!
About The Author
Caroline Hane-Weijman is a Product Manager at Pivotal Labs, working with large enterprises and startups to help transform the way their teams build software using agile principles to deliver value to users and the business. Caroline came from product management at the fintech startup, LearnVest, during which they were acquired by Northwestern Mutual. She was previously a business management consultant at McKinsey & Co, serving Fortune 500 companies across industries and functions, and has a mechanical engineering degree from MIT, with a focus and strong passion for international development. She’s most inspired when working with a team of passionate, creative people who are committed to continuous iteration, for themselves and others. Connect with Caroline https://www.linkedin.com/in/chaneweijman
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