Last week I spent International Women’s Day with 200 remarkable women in Philadelphia from the legal, marketing, communications, nonprofit and other fields at the inaugural Follow Friday conference aimed at women’s empowerment. Hosted by my friend and chief marketing officer for Legal Internet Solutions, Inc., Robyn Addis, the conference addressed how to rethink gaining entry, focusing on career advancement, managing work-life issues, overcoming fears and challenges, and most importantly, the value in helping each other succeed.
Although the occasion was Women’s History Month, now often now referred to as Women’s Empowerment Month, the speakers demonstrated that these are practical, everyday career and work-life integration issues for women in the workplace that go well beyond any one calendar date. These women inspired the audience with their stories — both professional and personal — of perseverance, resilience and hope.
Kelly Breslin Enache, CMO for Saul Ewing LLP, kicked off the presentations by explaining that while many of us recognize some aspect of imposter syndrome within ourselves, we have to tap into our professional courage to move forward and succeed. She referenced Tracy Brower, PhD, who recognized that while self-doubt is common in successful women, it is not standing in the way of their success. Women with professional courage choose to move forward despite feelings of self-doubt, fear or readiness. “Courage is when conscience, fear and action come together. It is grit, optimism, perseverance and determination,” Brower said.
I believe we have to say good-bye to the plague of imposter syndrome and usher in a new era of success for women grounded in professional courage.
Many women are fighting personal “gremlins,” Elise Holztman, president and founder of The Lawyer’s Edge, told attendees. Not just the gremlins that make us feel we don’t belong at the table or deserving of the professional title we hold, but those that put a wrench into our plans like health crises, family struggles and other personal issues. Some women suggested we give these gremlins a name — and shared the names they put to their gremlins. You would never guess looking at these accomplished women, the multitude of external pressures taking aim to derail their best laid plans of professional progress. But they shared how tapping into the power of each other can help to tackle the challenges before them. They reminded us to create our own personal board of directors to call on for advice, insight and support.
Speaker Beth Mirzai, a professional opera soprano, addressed the power of using your voice with confidence. She noted how critical it is for women in the workplace to remember that no one is actively rooting against us. We all have advocates cheering for our success. One woman in the room reminded us, to some laughter from crowd, that this is not always the case in the legal profession. That may be true, but overall, I agree we generally want one another to succeed. Particularly, as women, we have to be a force of support for each other.
During a break-out “fishbowl” session, one woman after another joined the table to share their professional experiences, accomplishments and struggles. Their words made me consider my own occasional feelings of self-doubt as well as family health issues I’ve struggled with that can tighten their grasp when we least expect it with no regard for our professional aspirations.
I’m fortunate to say I’ve experienced tremendous support from Kimball Hughes Public Relations. Company leaders and colleagues have supported my professional growth and career development as a female leader whether it’s a client win or crisis, a call from the school office, health issues or the little things in life that challenge us all. In fact, when my son was hospitalized a few years ago I was fearful of missing too much work and asking others to carry my workload. I tried to step down but I was told that was out of the question. Whatever time I needed I could have; I was assured my job would be waiting for me when I was ready because family comes first. A few months later, the agency took on the small nonprofit championing my son’s rare disease – The MOG Project – as a pro-bono client. We supported them with a public relations campaign to bring attention to this orphan disease I had come to know too well.
Yes, our jobs are important. We all strive to do our best, but family is critical because if you can’t do the important work at home, the professional work becomes exponentially harder. The women at this conference reminded me of this fact. We are all working to succeed in our roles as female professionals, as parents, as spouses, as valued members of our communities and more. By inspiring and supporting one another, we can build each other up and enjoy our successes and those of others while managing what life throws our way. We can be better leaders, better mothers, better members of our community, mentors and role models for future generations by showing professional courage, using our voice, boosting each other up and remembering we are all rooting for each other.