It’s not every day that you get to hang out with 12,000 passionate, inspired and dedicated women nor is it every day that you hear from nearly 150 leaders, activists, and changemakers who are paving the way for gender equality, protections for women and increased diversity at the top professional levels. The One For Women team had just this opportunity last week while attending the Massachusetts Conference For Women.
While we were also there sharing our message that one small gesture can have one big impact and helping our fellow lady bosses finish their holiday shopping (or starting it for some!), it was our immense pleasure to be among the thousands of attendees who heard from the likes of Aly Raisman, Cecile Richards, Elizabeth Gilbert and Amal Clooney. Through personal stories and powerful anecdotes, these powerful women delved into the most pressing matters for women today – from #metoo to chasing your dreams to the ultimate fight for equality.
Below we’re sharing some of our favorite takeaways from these inspirational women in the hopes that they inspire you (as they did us!) to stand up, speak out and fight back in the name of women everywhere.
On the #MeToo Movement
Amal Clooney was joined on the stage by her father-in-law and renowned journalist Nick Clooney, who pointedly asked her if she had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. She answered directly – “yes” and went on to say “In the sense of unwanted advances that were inappropriate and awkward to deal with. Yes. And I think at the time, I would not have felt comfortable speaking out about it because others weren’t, and so I think that’s changed now.”
She goes on to say that she hopes her young daughter, Ella, will work in more pleasant environments. “I think the workplace is safer for my daughter and is fairer than it was. I don’t think women of her generation are going to expect that that’s just something that we have to put up with and I think now it’s the men, or the harassers, who have something to fear and not the victim and that’s a very good change, so thank you to the women of the #metoo movement.”
Amal ended her comments with a bit of caution, though: “We are living through a moment of reckoning and a rebalancing of power. But it’s a long way from #metoo to never again.”
And as American gymnast and two-time Olympian, Aly Raisman said: “When you support a survivor you are helping to change this culture.” So let us all remember that while we have come a long way in the last year (last year’s Massachusetts Conference For Women took place right as the Harvey Weinstein and Senator Al Franken scandals were coming to light), there is still much work to do, and one of the best ways we can support our fellow women is to encourage them to speak out and hear them when they do.
On Being a Leader
Aly Raisman also spoke on the topic of leadership;
“One of the most important things about being a leader is being transparent and honest even about your mistakes. You should be up front when you succeed and share that with other people. You should also be up front when you don’t succeed.”
Her comments struck a powerful chord because it often seems, with the dawn of Instagram and selfies, that everyone else is living this fabulously, perfect life and as a result, it’s created this culture of shame when someone does make a mistake. As women, one of the most powerful things we can do for the girls who come after us is to own our mistakes so that they not only know that yes, we do make them but how to deal with them when they do happen.
On Going After Your Dreams
Switching gears, Elizabeth Gilbert, the famed author of Eat, Pray, Love, had a lot to say about shaking things up. In talking about going after your dreams, she said: “If you’re not happy with your life, ask yourself what you are willing to give up to have the life you keep pretending you want. Then ask yourself what you are doing with your free time. Make sure it is moving you towards your goals.”
Marian Heard, the founding President and CEO of the Points of Light Foundation, which was formed to address President Bush’s call for voluntary service to address the serious social problems in America, had some strong guidance for the audience. “Remember,” she said, “you are responsible for your next steps. If you need to, ask for help. People who succeed, succeed because they ask for help. People who fail, fail alone.”
On Fighting For Equality
The speakers also delved into the fight for equality and the difficult issues women in the workplace are facing today. Cecile Richards, former President of Planned Parenthood, reminded attendees of the sad state of equality and respect for women in the U.S. – “We are the only developed country with no paid family leave.”
Maysoon Zayid, one of America’s first Muslim women comedians, put it bluntly: “The world is broken but we can fix it.” And Amal Clooney stated the importance of this fight when she said: “No country can reach its full potential until all women receive equal rights.”
The women ended their respective conversations by appealing to us all to keep fighting and to not give up. Maysoon Zayid exclaimed “Your voice is your weapon against injustice. I beg you: use it” and then ended by imploring women to “be an equality junkie.”
Amal Clooney passionately stated that “If we want things to improve, we must be the agents of change and never, ever give up.”
On Supporting Each Other
Despite the varied conversations, one theme ran through the entire conference, and that was the importance of supporting each other. As Aly Raisman shared, “We are all going through something and have a story. You matter, and your story matters.” She and others encouraged women to share more and be more supportive of each other when we do share; to understand and be compassionate for what we’re all going through.
As Cecile Richards put it, “We need to have women supporting other women.”
For at least two days at a packed convention center in downtown Boston, that’s what we saw. Now it’s on us to take the wise words of these impactful women and show up for each other.