It’s hard to get far in your life without the support of your girlfriends, isn’t it? That was the overwhelming vibe I felt from the Women Leading the Future conference I got to attend this weekend. Together, women are changing the world.
When I arrived in DC for the conference, I felt like I had stepped back in time a bit. For two years, my life and my day job revolved around the “women in politics” scene of Washington. I read books on women in leadership, attended speeches by women like DeeDee Myers and Dana Perino and talked with men and women at every kind of event about how important it is to get women to run for office.
I worked for a nonpartisan women’s nonprofit, in case you were wondering.
But since leaving DC in 2010, my world became a lot more about spending my days buried in books or writing. I had hung up my high heels and pencil skirt, and I hadn’t even been in an Anne Taylor in months.
That’s not to belittle what women in Washington do. It’s more a nod to women who work in Washington – trust me, if they’re reading this, they’re laughing at that joke about “the uniform.”
So stepping into the Microsoft suite for Women Leading the Future was a little surreal. But as soon as I sat down for the opening speaker, I felt right at home. The messages were in the same vein that I had heard before: speak up, have an opinion, don’t be afraid to be a leader instead of a follower, your words do matter and so do your ideas.
I wanted to attend every panel but there is only one of me and there were many. As it was, I think I picked the most inspiring. Alyse Nelson of Vital Voices, Gina Reiss-Wilchins of GirlUp and Daleela Farina of Care for Kenya spoke on the the global issues surrounding women’s rights. With personal stories and statistics, they showed the other women attending the conference that women are not just talking about changing the world. From child-brides resisting tradition and fleeing arranged marriages to women launching microfinancing projects that can change the future stability of entire communities, they are making it happen. In addition, we learned about girls right here in America who are already making a difference with volunteering, fundraising and activism. If you’re not familiar with their organizations, you should look them up. A lot of the women working to do good are truly making history.
Other panel topics included more specific skills and professional development like getting published and getting advice from women CEOs and women who work in the technology field. Both are professions that are woefully short on women when you look at the numbers, but that is slowly and surely changing. There was a panel on using social media to spread social good, a theme I am seeing more and more frequently on social networks around the web. There were panels on health and wellness, politics, and financial education.
The overwhelming message of the day was this: Stand up for yourself. Don’t be satisfied by the status quo. Seek change. Seek education. Look to your friends and colleagues for support, and in return give support to your friends and colleagues.
I think these are life lessons we all need to be reminded of sometimes. Conferences like these may seem run of the mill at this point, but there are always things you can learn from them. In past jobs, I have run them and can tell you that sometimes the messages feel a little repetitive. But I hope they continue to succeed and be held in cities around the country. Because every time I end up at one like Women Leading the Future, I see the faces of other young women who have never attended before. And every time I am reminded by the enthusiasm that there are a lot of women who just need a nudge from someone else or from themselves to step up and change the world.
Image via Shutterstock