The women at my office, Astute Communications, traveled to Columbus, Ohio last week for the annual Women In Digital National Conference. It’s a cause close to the heart of our president, Anna, who serves as the VP of the organization’s Nashville chapter.
The purpose of the group is simple: to create a community for women to mentor, encourage and empower each other. It’s a networking event with all the vulnerability and intentionality of a sisterhood, and for the women of Astute, the conference was a couple of days to reenergize our creativity and refocus our goals.
Of all the lessons and girl power sprinkled over us in just 48 hours, a few ideas stuck out and had us continuing the conversation during the six-hour drive back home.
1. care more about less
Let that possibility sit with you. It’s a simple sentence, but giving yourself the permission to do it is anything but simple. From work responsibilities, pressures from peers or parents, trials of marriage and parenthood, it can seem like by the time you get to the stuff you really care about, you’re worn out.
I loved Kelly’s Mooney’s talk on how to “Be the CEO of your life.” It’s where this gold nugget of wisdom came from. She’s an expert in customer experience excellence, brand building, digital innovation, social media, and e-commerce, who spent 22 years at the IBM company Ammirati. She reflects on this realization— and how it led her to stop matching her kids’ socks, and instead spend time with them. It empowered her to hone her skills at work without allow the mundane tasks to weigh her down. It was a simple sentence with a huge impact.
2. as women, our greatest strength is each other
Our natural reaction to other women is to size them up, see where we fall, and ‘be better.’ This conference was one of the first places, professionally, where I felt a sense of communal empowerment. There was a clear recognization that we are better together. Women from across the country spoke to each other with empathy and encouragement.
The conversations began and ended in a place of empowerment, the teachers spoke vulnerably about experience with both success and failure. The “ask” and “give” portions of the conference were opportunities for women to ask specific questions about their specific situation. Then the women in the room would give their recommendations. It was a pool of resources flooded with the desire to help. It reminded me that our greatest strength really is each other.
3. focus on passion over path
This was a continuous theme throughout the conference. Women with engineering and psychology degrees, experiences in pharmaceutical sales or architecture, came together to tell the stories of how they came to digital. They outlined the trajectory they had envisioned for their lives, and how life had other plans.
One of my favorite moments was when an aspiring gaming marketer asked if her psychology was a hindrance. She asked a room full of women, “should I go back to school?” A resounding “no” responded, followed by advice to allow passion to be a teacher. It was a reminder that success in this industry is measured by the excitement you get about a project, not the degree you write on a resume. It’s liberating to see women admit that things didn’t go according to plan and that by following their passion, they instead went so much better.
4. content with purpose is worth the work
A social media manager from Aerie spoke about their body positivity promise— a vow to never retouch any of their ads. This commitment gave birth to social campaigns like “love the swim you’re in,” and “#AerieReal.”
Stephanie Campbell discussed the power of listening to your audience, finding their pulse and catering to their needs. Throughout this process, they were able to turn a line of intimates, swimwear, and activewear into a larger mission beyond themselves. That mission hit home with consumers. The trial and error of campaigns centered on user-generated content can be frustrating and time-consuming, but in this case, the results were worth it.
It was a reminder to find content that extends beyond its purpose to sell a service or product, and that connection and purpose are opportunities this industry gives us, and we should make the most of it.
5. ask for what you want
Most men are likely to apply for jobs they’re under-qualified for, while women apply for jobs they are overqualified for. It’s part nature and part nurture for women to minimize their success, but if I learned anything from this conference, it’s that equality in the workplace starts with our expectation for it.
If women believe that we deserve equal pay for equal work than the negotiations at our next annual review will be very different. If women believe that we deserve to feel safe, respected and heard in our offices, then our collective tolerance for anything else goes away. Without placing the burden solely on women, I found it empowering to say that our resilience is a crucial player in the fight.
And if this past week, and the enthusiasm of the 500 women in attendance, is any indication of the future, it’s looking bright.