Women are often portrayed as catty. I’m not going to pretend like this is a perfect world—it can be true, of course. But the side of it most people don’t see, or choose not to recognize, is that when women come together, we support each other like none other.
We get shit done, and quite frankly, we’re just fierce as hell.
Today I attended James Madison University’s Second Annual Women in Leadership conference. I’ve always been a huge fan of learning, empowering and inspiring others, hearing other’s stories, and free things (naturally). So at 9am on a Saturday morning, I showed up in heeled booties and a blazer.
I wish I could share with you all the lessons that I learned today, but your eyes might burn a hole through the computer screen by the time you read through all of my notes. Instead, I’ll just share the top eight most powerful statements that stood out to me today. Hopefully you’ll learn a little something (I know I did).
1. Put yourself in awkward situations. Never say no. Be disruptive. Take risks. Virginia Coles, a lovely business woman and former executive director at AT&T, told us: “Sit at the table. If you aren’t at the table… where are you?” Be up front. Put yourself out there. Take on the tasks that scare you. One panelist said that her step-father told her: “Always ask for forgiveness. Never ask for permission.” Take risks, take risks, and did I say… take risks? This is the number one thing that most of the panelists and key note speakers regretted not doing in the early years of their careers. You get noticed for being a hard worker. But you stand out and create opportunity when you speak up, and most importantly, step up.
2. Be an ecosystem creator. Create an environment for yourself that’s collaborative. Bring people into your hub that support you. Build one that makes you happy, but also challenges you. One panelist called it “a personal board of directors.” Figure out who is for you. Seek diverse perspectives from people you trust.
3. Write down your personal core values. If you don’t know them, discover them. Now—do they match up with your company? If they don’t, say no. You will never be fulfilled. That’s a promise. Bethany Clark, the director of global customer engagement and community at TOMS, was a ray of sunshine. I, along with all the other ladies, basically cried when she said: “If your heart is being awakened, run towards it with full abandon.” It all comes down to this: Who do you want to be? She told us: “Your life plan is more important than your business plan.”
4. Follow people with a vision. Look for role models. Learn from the absolute best.
5. If someone tells you that you’re not allowed to do it, find another way to ask. Find another way to approach it. Heather Hart, a wonderful philanthropist who spearheaded California Pizza Kitchen’s charitable foundation Inspired Acts, told us that when she first decided to volunteer at a children’s hospital, a nurse wouldn’t let her bring up the toy she got for a little girl, because that meant that all the other children needed a toy too. She turned around, went to the store, and got toys for all of them. Heather said: “‘No’ means ‘Maybe.’ Maybe you just didn’t ask the right way the first time.”
6. If there is something you want, ASK. Can I just tell you—Lucy Hutchinson, formerly one of the youngest members on the JMU Board of Visitors, is absolutely fabulous. She told us: “Go find 10 no’s. Ask to switch a daily special, or get a discount on a ripped shirt, or ask for his number. I guarantee you’ll get more yes’s than no’s.” She told us to “Always make the ask.” Chiquita King, an associate at Booz Allen, told us she had a huge personality and she didn’t want to sit behind a desk anymore. She asked her boss if she could do something different. She ended up doing just that, and everyone loved her. Lucy raised money for a huge trip during her time at JMU just by walking around to different programs and colleges on campus—even ones she had only had contact with one or two times—and asking for finances. And guess what? She got the trip y’all! She told us “We have to get over the like-ability factor.” Tell your manager, your boss, your supervisor, your co-worker, or your professor, exactly what you want. Quite frankly, they can’t read your mind. Articulate what you want. Know what you want. And most importantly: Have a plan. (Also… statistics show that women are less willing to negotiate than men, and that women’s salaries also tend to be lower than men’s. Coincidence? I’ll let you decide. How’s that for motivation? MAKE THE ASK!
7. Never be intimidated. They’re people, just like you. They’re facing challenges and hardships every day—just like you. And just because they may be higher up than you doesn’t mean that you are any less of a person than they are. Say hello. Be yourself. People are more willing to help than you realize.
If you’re really that scared, just pretend you’re Beyonce.
8. Always, always, always be kind. I love how Hilary Mann, an actress on an upcoming HBO series, emphasized being kind to everyone you come across. You never know who’s vouching for you. She said that you never know who you’ll be working for in five years, or who can help you. My absolute favorite thing she said was, “When you’re on your way up, pull someone else up with you.”
And now that I’ve ended up writing a novel anyways, I’m finished.
In the end, autograph your work with excellence. Everything you do has your name on it. And that’s what you’ll leave behind when you leave this world.
I hope this helped.
Who run the world?