This month, I attended a conference and luncheon where something amazing happened.
No one mansplained.
No one had their ideas repeated without receiving credit.
Everyone got airtime, and very rarely was someone interrupted or talked over.
After working at this event for a second year in a row, it hit me again that in hosting the Young Women’s Leadership Conference and Women to Watch (WTW) Gala Luncheon each December, JWI creates a unique platform for women’s voices.
Thus far in my career, I’ve had the privilege to work in fields dominated by women. It means that I’m often in spaces with primarily, or only, women. Even so, I’m familiar with the experiences some women have had in the workplace – e.g. working harder to prove yourself, bosses telling you that you’re too emotional, others making inappropriate comments about your appearance. Once, I sat in a meeting listening to a male executive with no design background explain color usage to a room full of women with design degrees. I do acknowledge and feel grateful that this instance is a fairly tame example compared to what some women often experienced in their professional lives.
Reimagining our workplace
JWI’s conference and luncheon represent a unique opportunity to break down these types of common experiences, and beyond that, to reimagine what a truly equitable workplace can look like.
Conference attendees heard Ellen Stone of Bravo (WTW ‘11) talk about letting other people shine, acknowledging positive intent, and sincerely thanking your employees. Dr. Bonnie Hartstein (WTW ‘13), a physician and colonel in the Army, said, “Owning yourself and being who you are is part of your strength. Being a professional doesn’t mean you have to change who you are, but to present your best self.” At the Women to Watch Symposium, this year’s honorees agreed that teamwork has had a major impact on their professional lives. These sentiments – building positive relationships, owning your strengths, the importance of collaboration –echoed throughout the weekend.
What we witnessed at the Conference and at WTW this year was the way that leadership and company culture changes when women lead. We’re striving for authenticity, for helping others to succeed, for bringing your whole self to work. Rather than, “every man for themselves,” we’re asking how we can create high-functioning teams where everyone brings something to the table. We’re redefining what the workplace can look like, and as a result, building better companies and organizations. And, we’re supporting each other and expanding empathy and inclusivity.
Actress and disability rights advocate Marlee Matlin took the stage at the luncheon on Monday and described how she has built a 33-year career as a successful actress, overcoming both misconceptions about herself and a personal battle with domestic violence. “I know for sure,” she signed, “that it would not have been possible without the strength and the desire to overcome barriers.”
So, here’s to a weekend that celebrated the strength and determination of women leaders.
One last thought
I’ll leave you with one last moment that I can’t stop thinking about:
In a panel on #MeToo, a conference attendee asked, “How do you approach [sexism] in the Jewish communal world with the men on your Board of Directors?” JWI’s CEO Lori Weinstein responded, “Well, I’d like to say that you can do what I do – have a Board that’s all women.”
About the author: Valerie Brown has been in DC for 3 years, and questions the decision every time the humidity acts up. She is an unapologetic avocado toast consumer, avid podcast subscriber, cat befriender, and manager of Marketing and Communications for JWI in her spare time.
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