October 29, 2009

I am Woman! The Women's Conference

I feel very fortunate that I was invited to attend the amazing Women's Conference in Long Beach again, this time thanks to Lean Cuisine, one of the show's major sponsor for the last two years. Under the leadership of California First Lady Maria Shriver, The Women’s Conference brings together 14,000 women across the nation and aims to empower and inspire women to become architects of change. For the second year in a row, it's easily the most inspiring conference or event that I've attended. Tickets sold out in less than two hours and the speaker list is a who's who of entrepreneurs, female leaders of industry, activists and people changing the world. Below are just some highlights, soundbites and the insight gained from such speakers.

Paula Deen
I have never watched her cooking show before, but I do know who she is due to an episode of Kathy Griffin My Life on the D List. However, I definitely know a lot more about this likable Southern cook as she was being interviewed by Martha Beck about living an authentic life. Apparently, Deen started her career in her 40s after she was divorced and found herself alone raising her two sons. She had heard that you should do what you know and so with only $200 to start her business she bought $50 worth of groceries, a business license and a cooler to cart her homemade meals for sale. Before this, she also suffered with agoraphobia for 20 years and felt hopeless until she realized the words behind the serenity prayer and that YOU are the only one to stand in your way, to stop your happiness. She went on to say "ya'll if you have a passion go for it, the sin is to not try!" Overall, she was very open, honest and heartfelt as she shared her wisdom with the audience, even at one point leaving her interview seat to walk out to address everyone and standing inches away from me in the front row. I would have snapped a photo, but she was looking right at me as she talked and that would have been weird and of course rude. Ah well.

Madeleine Albright
OK now we're talking about a real architect of change here! I was so excited to see the first female Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in the panel "How a Woman's Nation Changes Everything" (twitpic photo). She also delivered my favorite line of the conference, when she said that she thinks "there is a special place in hell for women that don't help each other." CLAPPING! The panel itself focused on women having the right to choose...work that is, having kids, having both a career and kids, the lack of flexibility at work and how there aren't any policies in place to let women do both effectively.

Katie Couric
The anchor spoke to the crowd reflecting on her trail blazing career being a prominent female anchorwoman and covering hard hitting issues as well. She shared her failures in broadcasting as well, including CNN saying that she would never be on there again after her first gig on the network. Katie then reflected on how former Meet the Press' host Tim Russert helped give her the break that she needed and that "it takes just one person to see something in someone else, everyone needs a cheerleader." She also made me tear up as she talked about losing her husband to cancer. She said her biggest challenge was smiling on The Today Show after her husband died of cancer and while he was battling it. With her bright smile in place, she read some quotes from others including, "Some days you're the pigeon andsometimes you're the statue," and "A boat is usually safer at the dock, but that's not what it's made for." She received a standing ovation.

Geena Davis
I was surprised to see this actresses' name on the speaker list at first, but soon heard about her athletic past and her institute on Gender in Media, which focuses on dramatically increasing the percentage of female characters and sharply decreasing gender stereotyping in movies, TV and other media aimed at kids 11 years of age and under. She started this project after watching cartoons with her daughter and noticing the stereotypical female characters even in G rated shows. She also spearheads www.genatakesaim.com, which champions Title 1X legislation and girls' participation in sports. She still looked the same btw.

Robin Roberts
I had met the Good Morning America anchor once before during President Obama's inauguration weekend, while visiting the Air and Space Museum. The young kids that I was with for a client project even interviewed her here. Anyway, we all know how Robin bravely fought cancer and shared her battle on the air, even shaving her head and not hiding under a wig. She briefly discussed this and said she was inspired by her families motto, "make your mess your message."

Ashton Kutcher
As you can imagine, there was a long line to attend the panel Changing the World Through the Web, which featured actor and social media guru Ashton Kutcher, Facebook's Randi Zuckenberg, Kiva's Premal Shah and Joe Rospars who was the new media director for Barrack Obama's Presidential campaign. Ashton was trying to channel his inner geek, wearing all black. At times I thought the session moderator was being too snarky with him, even cutting him off just as he was delivering some useful insight especially for me in PR and who lives on Twitter. One gem, that he shared was that the Web allows for town hall meetings from home and is a faster way to mobilize people around a cause or issue. I really liked that comparison of the old and new way to gain support (Additional twitpic of Ashton).

Jillian Michaels
The Biggest Loser fitness trainer Jillian Michaels (photo) rallied the audience by saying it's in our DNA to dream, we just have to allow ourselves. She also challenged everyone there with, well behaved women rarely make history so find a rule and break it! On a side note, I couldn't help but think she looked like actress Linda Hamilton.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
This was now the third time I've heard the Governor speak, outside of movies that is, and again I had to admire his deftness at making fun of his film career, while also providing some interesting insight. Last year, he was a bit more inspirational though, but the crowd appreciated his comments about his wife saying that she is a true partner, beautiful, smart and that she gives good advice. As a result, he went on to say "she's a female Terminator" lol.

Maria Shriver
Such an amazing and smart women, I really do admire her and the work she's done with these conferences and her warmth when she spoke to all of us. As expected, she spoke about losing her mother and how she was her hero and how her death brought her to her knees. Of course everyone was crying. I was twittering just to keep myself from going into full sobs.


The sob fest continued during a panel on grieving with Elizabeth Edwards and Susan Saint James, who both lost a teenage son. They were joined by a surprise guest, Lisa Niemi, Patrick Swayze's wife for 34 years. Like everyone there I was of course remembering my own losses and for the millionth time admiring my mother for being so strong despite losing her other daughter. I was so emotionally drained after this panel that I didn't go to the next scheduled one with Arianna Huffington, instead I walked around to the different booths in the exhibit hall.

In the sponsors area, I received a lot of pamphlets and branded knickknacks (not as good as last year though and no CVS flu-shots either). I also got to speak with the lovely ladies at Not Done Yet, which creates t-shirts around this slogan and a portion of every sale supports Cancer and Alzheimer's research (my two causes) as well as grief support services. Do check out their awesome and soft-to-the-touch tees, especially for holiday gifting this year and as their motto says, "Live agelessly! You're 'not done yet' - in fact, you're just getting started!"

Last year, I had walked away from this conference determined to blog more about social issues like cancer and green topics, which I'm proud to say I accomplished. I also planned to continue to be more of a mentor to young women at work and in the blogosphere, which I'd like to think I've done as well. This year, I plan to continue the above goals, but because I was so recharged and inspired hearing from such strong and successful women again, I plan to continue that inspiration going all year long, by reading some autobiographies and essays from strong women and keeping more up-to-date on women's issues, like I did back in college. I also want to do some hands on volunteering again, even if it's just a once and awhile roll up your sleeves thing.
For more photos from the conference, do check out e*starLA's flickr photo stream (she has a nicer camera).

8 comments

  1. Tell Robin she needs to come back to her old ESPN SportsCenter anchoring job. I miss her bragging about her 360-windmill dunks! :)

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  2. Sooooo amazing - how lucky are you.
    It's about time that women are finally getting the recognition they deserve. 50% of the workplace are females! What a great time to be a WOMEN.

    April

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  3. okay this event sounds amazing. i was following your tweets and glad you had such a great time and this is a fantastic recap, it's like i was there. :)

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  4. This event sounded fantastic. Thanks for the recap!

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  5. wow, that's a ton of people you got to hear from first hand....very cool.

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  6. Tara! The girls at ndy are so grateful for your support and for helping us spread the message! We have so much fun living age~lessly and love running into you around town!

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  7. Wow looks like a great experience with fanastic speakers.

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  8. You get to go to the most ridiculous events!

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