Usually when presidents of global media groups, CMOs at top ad agencies, and executives at leading technology companies are gathered in one room, business dominates the agenda. But when hundreds of professionals gathered at the Westin Hotel on Wednesday, this wasn’t the case. It wasn’t an industry summit or career conference. It wasn’t a company off-site or executive presentation.
This was the Ad Club’s 2014 Women’s Leadership Forum.
Once a year, this half-day conference gives women a few precious hours to hit pause on their high-powered, fast-moving professional lives and reflect on what it means to be a successful woman today. This year, thirteen female leaders told their stories to a packed ballroom at the Westin Hotel on Boston’s innovative waterfront. And while it might be cliche, it is nonetheless true, the audience laughed, cried and ended the day enlightened and empowered by the incredible insights these extraordinary women had to offer.
“We’re women in marketing, At some point, we cannot talk about advertising, and marketing, and technology. How many times am I going to talk about mobile?” Diane Hessan, chairman of Communispace, said. “What I love about this is it’s not about our field, it’s not about our profession … So many of us put our heads down, work hard and focus on [work]. I think the message here is about getting your head up and thinking about the world in a broader perspective.”
And when thirteen leaders who span generations, industries, and borders share their story, it’s impossible not to look at the world with a fresh eyes. No two perspectives were alike, and this gifted the audience with an incredibly vast well of wisdom.
“I think what came through today is the diversity of different voices, of careers, of experiences.” Farah Pandith, featured speaker and former special representative to Muslim communities, said. “Everyone’s path is unique … There’s not one-size-fits-all.”
As the speakers talked candidly about their journey, each member of the audience grew a little bit. And while we are never too old to learn, young people in the audience stood the most to gain from the half-day leadership conference.
“I think that showing great examples for the next generation of leaders and women who are entering the workforce now is really critical,” Cindy Stockwell, EVP and chief media officer at Hill Holliday said. “… We’ve all had to make choices as we’ve come into this world and we’ve made mistakes and had successes …I think it’s important for anybody in a position of leadership — man or woman — but especially women to be mentors for that next generation of women.”
Stockwell’s words ring true. Because though we see shining examples of successful women here in the Hub, the path to leadership is far from easy and statistics continue to rule against women.
“As much as you want to say sexism is over, there’s no glass ceiling, just look at the numbers,” Alexis Wilkinson, student President of the Harvard Lampoon, said. “For my generation, it’s easy to feel like these are things that my mom worried about … but as someone who’s dealt with the intersection of sexism and racism at various times in my life, it’s an important conversation we need to have.”
To cease the conversation, to ignore the issues would severely set back the rising generation of women who need to know that, though the road is not easy and roadblocks remain, you can make it to the top. We must nurture that ambition because the more young women who resolve to be leaders, the easier it will be for the generation that follows.
It is impossible to capture every inspiring sound bite from the Ad Club’s Women’s Leadership Conference, but here are the top takeaways from the luminary ladies who spoke during the inspiring half-day event.