Today, I attended the second half of the 2009 Montana State University College of Business Women’s Circle of Excellence conference, thanks to the lovely invitation by a colleague of my husband’s, Sharyn Sears.
The conference, meant to be an inspirational, networking-promoting, educational event, was small enough to be intimate (there were about 70 participants) and yet charged enough with solid speakers and organic energy from the attendees to be a top-notch conference, and well worth the invested time.
As a mostly-stay-at-home-mom, my opportunities for networking with other driven, professionally talented women can sometimes feel few and far between. Especially living in a small Montana town. So, today’s event was a welcomed way to spend a Friday (while Andrew took care of the kids–thank you Andrew!).
The day began with marketing guru Mary Perry guiding the group through a series of exercises in which we defined ourselves as CEOs of…well…ourselves. She talked about seeing yourself as a brand–assigning things like packaging, tag lines, brand descriptions and position statements to our professional personas. There was a healthy emphasis placed on social media outlets and how these can be used to further our brand.
The dialog about social media continued with an awesome presentation by online marketing expert Shelby Nordhagen of My Business Ideas.com. Shelby covered the ins and outs of blogging, microblogging (Twitter), book mark sites like Delicious, Digg, Stumble Upon and Reddit. In all these workshops, certain reminders emerged like protecting certain elements of personal identity and thinking carefully about comments, photos, etc. that could be used against you in the future (such as when a potential employer Googles you and finds an incriminating photo of you at a friend’s bachelorette party doing something you’d rather a potential employer not see).
Despite all the great things that went on at the conference today, one very disturbing moment occurred which sent a large percentage of the crowd silently reeling in their seats.
A panel of four women–three of them in academia (science) and one in the private sector (ultimately, banking) got around to addressing the issue of balancing work and family. The consensus these women came up with was this: ‘I don’t really care if you have a family or not. I just don’t want to hear you tell me that you have to leave early for your kids’ soccer game. I don’t want to see you putting your family before work.’
Brenda Davis, renowned former Johnson and Johnson executive, and planning/policy professional in various political venues, spoke up right away, defending the approach she reportedly employed while hanging out in the upper echelons of J&J. She said she always made every effort she could to support women in the workplace who also had children/family to tend to. Her theory was, pay it forward now (ie. maintain a bit of flexibility with your employees who are trying their darnedest to do well in their jobs as well as their all-important parenting roles) and trust that in a few years, you will reap the benefits via your employee’s loyalty and hard work.
After the panel discussion was over, I participated in several conversations with other conference attendees (women mostly in my same age group) who were equally shell-shocked at the position collectively taken by the panel members. These women, by the way, were not necessarily mothers. Worst of all, there were undergraduate female students in the room. I hated to think what impression they took away from that session: perhaps, ‘”if I hope to go into business, I better not plan on maintaining any sort of decent commitment to my family. Work must always come first…”
Thankfully, Brenda Davis reappeared for the closing keynote talk. And she totally rocked it.
As Ms. Davis spent an hour expounding upon her personal and professional history, which included being responsible for 1/4 of the U.S. budget at the age of twenty-eight via her work on the U.S. Senate Committee on the Budget, she made note several times of the high degree of committment she maintained to her family. In fact, while interviewing for one of her many high profile jobs, she even brought the issue of her daughters up in an interview. Her girls, then 2 and 4-years-old, maintained the #1 priority spot in her life, and she made sure her future supervisor knew there would be times when she would leave the office early with the intent to be with her children for some special event, in exchange for working late at night after her kids were in bed.
Now, criticise this however you like, but, I for one was thoroughly inspired by this female executive tycoon’s ability to succeed in the business world and do a seemingly damned good job in her role as a mother.
All-in-all, it was a good conference and, at the end of the day, I was happy to return home to the cacophony of three spunky kids, dinner on the table, and a lovely bouquet of fresh-cut flowers on the kitchen counter.