Friday, March 8, 2013

Happy International Women's Day!

A joyous celebration of diversity, talent, intelligence and beauty (inside and out).  That is what International Women's Day means to me.  It is nice to have a day, but I think this spectacular array of appreciation for Women should occur all year long! :)

  International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on the progress made for women without regard to divisions - whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic, or political. It is an occasion for looking back on past challenges and accomplishments, and more importantly, for looking ahead to the untapped potential and opportunities that await future generations of women. Yesterday Cisco partnered with Citi in a lively, and passionate discussion.  We laughed, we cried, we left inspired.

The conversation was kicked off by two power houses, Blair Christie, SVP,CMO WW Government Affairs, Cisco and Deborah Hopkins, Chief Innovation Officer, Citi and Chairman of Venture Capital Initiatives.  They shared some amazing personal stories and experiences which every woman in the audience could relate too.  Next up was Lynette Lewis, Author and Inspirational Speaker - “Climbing the Ladder in Stilettos”.  Finally was a fascinating panel discussion - Padmasree Warrior, SVP, CTO and Strategy Officer, Cisco; Alison Gleeson, SVP US Commercial Sales, Cisco; and Tracey Warson, Managing Director, Global Market Manager, Citi Private Bank North America.  With more than 1,000 people listening on line and more than 200 members in the live audience, as well as the Social Media Firestorm which pervaded on Facebook, LinkedIN and Twitter listeners hung on to every word. Judging by the Twitter Universe male and female supporters alike laughed and cried along with every word the fantastic guests uttered, and shared tweeted and re-tweeted their timeless quotes.

The discussion was educational and informative sharing facts and figures such as "Board of Directors with two or more women are proven more successful" to the the call of action that 50% of women are graduating from College, and the question arising how can we inspire them?  Also, thought provoking- with the knowledge that with diverse graduates, comes along diverse customers, and thus is important that the companies too reflect that level of diversity.

Debora Hopkins reassured the audience questioning their own level of worth that she "never thought she was qualified enough for a job, but took it anyway" and proved her doubts wrong every time.  She encouraged us to never be held back by what you think you are capable of, we are capable of more than we ever imagined!  They spoke to being the only women amongst a group of men early on in their career. Time and time again, they noticed women appeared to be more risk averse, but encouraged the audience to have the confidence to leap into something others might be too scared to.

Learning that the top 10 jobs today didn't even exist in 2004 shows how much time, technology and business continues to change and evolve, and the importance of us to grow, change, and adapt accordingly.  Blaire and Deborah spoke about their years of challenging themselves, adapting and growing as well as the  importance of empowering yourself, even if you were the only women in the room.  Never apologizing for yourself (even if you have a cold) and never sit in the smallest chair in the room- figuratively, or literally.  Their funny anecdotes lessons and stories inspired us all to follow in their footsteps.   They also taught us to reach out to advisers and mentors; and if you were in a position of leadership to not forget where you came from, and to also take the time to "reach down and lift someone else up".

Lynette Lewis lit up the stage in her bright fuscia dress and stilettos, and packed a punch with her substantive key note.  Many of us, myself included, related to her personal stories of failed relationship and ability to "dream on all cylinders".  After almost a decade at Cisco, I have finally met my match and I too am glad I didn't wait for romance to fulfill my dreams in other areas of my life, especially my career.  She explained how she had a "plan" a timeline, she would get married, then have four children...but more than 63 blind dates (in a single year) and decade after decade she had still not found her match.  Her best friend "stole her life" and had gotten married right out of College and had 10 children.  She realized she would have to put her dream of marriage and children on hold, while she went on to live another dream.  She focused all of her energy into her career. She coined the term: "Dreaming on all cylinders", a great example for all of us.

After September 11, being single in her late 30's living in NYC, it was with a heavy heart where she pondered some of life's toughest career truths:  "Her bosses didn't care about what was in her heart" and "no one has time to pay attention".  She realized then she could not depend on anything or anyone else to find her purpose.  She pondered the age old questions we all think about- "Why am I here on earth?"  "What is my role in my job, and corporation?". When she discovered her mission, she found her "what", and she ventured  to achieve the "why".

Lynette was young when she sat on and was asked to chair a high level board with many leaders she respected and looked up to. How could she contribute?  The board had many issues, the biggest being attendance.  She went around the room and asked each of the 25 Board Members to articulate why they were there.  It turns out every single person in the room had a different why.  She often went back through their next year and re-connected with them on their goals and achievements and had their best year to date.  Why?  Because people were fulfilling their purpose.

She took this lesson back to her career and told her boss if they wanted to achieve the companies true goal of retention, and recruiting and keeping the best employees it would be important to know their purpose, and understand their dream.  At first he denied her, and she adamantly told us, never let anyone say no to your dreams!  It kept her awake at night, her juices flowing and she went back to him again and dreamed aloud, she let it evolve as she spoke and he finally gave her the chance.  Although she had fears, she explained, if you have the opportunity to pursue your dreams, always say "sure!".  It was through dreaming outside of her job description she began to fulfill her dreams and purpose!

Simultaneously she explained quite humorously how her biological clock began blaring, but she stayed focused on her other dreams which kept her going.  She talked about the three D's:  Delays, Denial, and Disaster.  Like many of us who are planners, and not naturally patient- delays can be the hardest to overcome.  She met her husband at the age of 42, and on her Wedding Day received the gift of four children ("minus the stretchmarks").  Sometimes life makes you wait- keep dreaming!

Next up was denials, and she provided a great example- "When you get to a stop sign, do you park?" of course not!  She wanted to write a book...but she didn't know how {Stop Sign}; fine get a literary agent...but I don't know any? {Stop Sign}; write a book proposal... but I don't know how{Stop Sign}but she kept driving around all of the stop signs and within two weeks she had a book deal.  It just might be that your dream is EXACTLY what someone else is looking for.  Alison Gleeson also shared her touching personal story about planning to get pregnant, and things not going as she planned, but adopting her beautiful son and things working out better then she ever had dreamed.  "Dream big, dream full, dreams keep us moving".

Lastly was disasters.  Somethings in life we cannot overcome, and are out of her hands.  One of her stepsons was doing a mission trip to Tanzania and had 20 nose bleeds. The day before his 21st birthday he was diagnosed with stage 4 Sinal Cancer.  UNC Chapel Hill diagnosed him with a softball sized tumor which was wrapped around both of his olfactory notes.  It was at this point of her story the audience burst into tears (myself included) with a lump in our throat hanging onto every word. After aggressive treatment, 71 rounds of radiation and 8 rounds of chemo he still had a 50% chance of death.  During his final surgery which was scheduled to last four hours he came back 1.5 hours came back cancer free, and his eyes returned to 20/20- a miracle indeed.  I myself have had lots of struggles in my life which I have worked to overcome- an abusive father my mom left at a young age to raise me alone as a single parent.  A rare heart condition which requires surgery I was diagnosed with at two years old.   Some things in life are out of our control, and it is during those times you have to "let go, let God", or for those of you not religious  leave it to to the universe.  For those somewhere in the middle, I love this Native American Proverb- "Pray to God, but row away from the rocks".  I do my best to control my own destiny, and to bounce back from the disasters or challenges I face, and her story inspired me tremendously to never give up, even in the face of adversity.

Mrs. Lewis explained that her success took a formula of innovation, perseverance, and {help from} others.  She describes the life she has now as "different then what she thought, but better then imagined" and I am sure many of us, myself included can relate to that.

My personal story, the love of my life and I met per chance through a charity.  I had just gotten back from South Africa, and he was leaving for their in a few weeks.  We had everything in common and stayed up talking till 6 in the morning...I knew I was in trouble.  I had never dated anyone with children before, but he had two beautiful and intelligent daughters who I immediately fell in love with.  I had always been a dog person, with not one but two hundred pound lap dogs.  He had a small cat named Austin Danger Powers, Danger was his middle name.  The day Jay proposed, my soon to be 16 year old step daughter moved in with us.  I joked I became a wife and a mom all in one weekend.  As a type A person who gives their all to every aspect of my life, personally and professionally, it is sometimes hard to not feel the pressure to be the very best. I related very much to Padmasree Warrior on her stories as well.

Padmasree spoke about creating her own purpose and destiny as well.  She stated, she was not sure if destiny existed but she tried to mold her own future.  She gave great relief to the crowd when she stated there was "no perfect- job, opportunity, or next step".  She like the other women said she did not let her title define her, but rather "let who we are define our role".  As we discuss our own possibilities of children, and the teens we both share now as well, I couldn't help but chuckle and relate to the story of her first born.  She said, she had a baby, and felt guilty for going to work.  So, she decided to stay home... and then felt guilty for not completing her work projects.  She decided working from home would be best- problem solved... right?  Then she felt guilty for not being a "super hot mom" she got a treadmill for home.  Then she felt guilty that the house wasn't clean enough... so there she was cooking, and cleaning, working and "momming", and no matter what she did, or how much she did, feeling guilty.  Can you relate?  I sure did!!!  Mrs. Warrior (and what better name could there be for a mom who does it all?!) said "have the courage to decide what is best for you...without feeling the guilt".

The final words are advise are things each of us can carry with us every day:
  • Dream, one day a week, for a minimum of 10 minutes.
  • Know when to "turn your brain off" and relax.
  • Tune in to your creative side
  • Be Proactive about your career
  • As women we tend to shy away and over analyze... there will never be enough data to feel comfortable, so don't "over analyze".
This last piece of advice impacted me more than anything else Padmasree  said, "take calculated risk, but don't calculate forever".  Now go on and live your life, create your destiny, dream big, and have some fun along the way!

Should the speakers of these eloquent words happen to read my blog- I want to say THANK YOU for your message of hope, encouragement and inspiration.  At times, I felt like you were speaking directly to me, and I am thankful beyond words you were so willing to share your personal stories with each of us.  I hope I did justice capturing your words and message, as I wanted so much to share it with those not lucky to here it live.  As soon as I get the video recording, I will post that as well.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart, and please continue your work of inspiration!

1 comment:

  1. OK... reflection-time over... lets get to work. Lots to be done. Thank you Michelle. Enjoyed your post and agree that we need to work/celebrate 365 days a year. Lets also give a shout out to us guys out here doing what we can and trying to make a difference. My tour company, Meaningful Trip gives back 5% to support issues of women's empowerment, health and education. We are 1 of only 2 USA tour operators to sign the Code of Conduct to fight sexual exploitation and trafficking of children in tourism.

    While I may not be able to rock a stage in fuscia and stilettos (well... you never know!) I did have a fun-filled month including dancing my ass off at V-Days One Billion Rising event. And, just the other night, stood on red carpet (always wanted to say that!) at Seattle premier for “Girl Rising” film, which benefited World Vision’s Strong Women, Strong World initiative.
    Thanks for all you do