The Future is NOW! Developing Leaders for a Promising Tomorrow, was the theme of this year’s Diversity Women Business Leadership Conference, and once again Dr. Sheila Robinson and her team at Diversity Woman Media exceeded all expectations for the annual event. While conference hosts around the world have struggled, postponed, and lost out to social distancing since the arrival of COVID-19, Diversity Woman Media has pivoted to provide online expertise and inspiration to guide a diverse group of women (and men) forward, above and beyond the limitations of a worldwide pandemic, and all apparent technological challenges for two years. This year – with Crystal Harkless as Conference Director – the organization has pivoted again to prove you can have it both ways, with an extraordinary array of speakers live at the Gaylord Resort in National Harbor, Maryland, and online to shout out loud how we can emerge with fresh ideas, directions, and strategies to claim our place amidst the shifting tides of today’s business world.
After the opening reception and Tuesday night concert, Wednesday morning buzzed with excitement. During the opening remarks and welcomes Pamela Everhart, Senior VP for Fidelity Investments, asked attendees if they were “looking to be wowed” when she introduced Carla Harris, Senior Client Advisor at Morgan Stanley, author of the new book, Lead to Win, and gospel singer with five sold out concerts at Carnegie Hall. Carla borrowed highlights from her new book and declared that “the antidote for resignation is leadership.” In fact, she said that she calls what happened during the pause that was COVID, “the Great Contemplation,” not the Great Resignation. She said that people found new meaning in the last two-and-a-half years. Since nobody has the playbook for what is going on right now, Carla said we get to write our own. She went on to describe her eight pearls of wisdom for successful leadership: homing in on being authentic to build trust, delivering over and over again, and especially valuing yourself as a multifaceted individual–since only you can be you, bringing all of you is your greatest strength. She said, “Your voice is your power and now is not the time to be silent…It takes courage to lead to win.”
There were too many pearls to share them all, but there are several others that need to be mentioned. Monne Williams, a Partner at McKinsey & Company, shared startling statistics about women in the workplace, which she called “the Great Attrition.” Basically, she said there was a “fundamental mismatch between what employers and employees want.” People want to feel valued, and leaders have to be careful not to give their employees a reason to leave right now. Monne said that 71% of HR leaders say that hybrid work helps retain a diverse workforce and that women report experiencing fewer “othering microaggressions” when working remotely. All of which summed up how changing to a hybrid workplace can create a thriving, sustainable workforce for tomorrow.
Erika H. James, Dean of the Wharton School and Dr. Lynn Perry Wooten, President of Simmons University talked about their new book, The Prepared Leader: Emerge of Any Crisis More Resilient Than Before. They wrote their earlier book on crisis leadership after the Deep Horizon oil spill in 2009. They started to update it in 2019, when they both moved to new jobs and then the pandemic hit. They said that they were living what they wanted to write, which was real tips for leaders. The key is in the title of the book, being a “prepared leader.” They referred to preparation as the fourth bottom line (grouping it with people, planet and profit), and feel that being prepared involves building a trust bank so that your employees will be there in a crisis when you need them most. The trust bank also extends to the people in your life who support you, your personal board of directors: your significant other, girlfriends, babysitters–whoever you can call on when you need support. Although you can’t prepare for the exact crisis beforehand, you can prepare and practice improvising. They likened it to a polished jazz band. The musicians sound like they’re improvising, but they practice for hours–individually and together–until improvisation among their different instruments becomes seamless.
Dr. Sheila also introduced attendees to Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, CEO of Celebrity Cruises. The first female CEO of an American cruise line, Lisa went on to show how they’ve built women among the positions on the cruise ship that until now have only been crewed by men, including the Celebrity Edge all female bridge team. Lisa’s journey has taken 38 years – working from the bottom in an industry devoid of women leadership – and she credited male mentors for helping her on the long winding road. Her advice was, “Don’t limit yourself and teach your daughters to think less about fitting into the glass slipper and more about breaking the glass ceiling.” Lisa said that when she gets a no, she figures out how to turn it into a yes, but COVID presented unimaginable challenges. The cruise line industry was completely shut down for 15 months which meant that 20,000 people depended on her for hope and confidence, with 70 nationalities at home with no way to make a living. They survived with resilience, pivoting and turning noes into yeses. Dr. Sheila announced that in 2023 Diversity Woman Media has partnered with Celebrity Cruises for the first Women’s Self-Care Health and Wellness Conference Cruise. Check out the conference page for more information.
Day one concluded with a panel on Leveraging Male Allies to Advance Your Career. Vera Stewart, a VP with Bank of America, questioned W. Brad Johnson, PhD, Professor of Psychology at the US Naval Academy, Carlos Cubia, Chief Inclusion, Equity, Diversity and Sustainability Officer at Corewell Health, and Mark Person, Director of D&I for Dollar General Corporation. Each male ally had personal reasons for helping to promote women and suggestions for how to do it. Chief among them was the fact that advocacy had to be at the top of allyship. Carlos said that it can be as simple as standing up for something when something is not right, even if there might be repercussions. Brad cited studies about what women value in male allies–showing up and holding themselves accountable, showing up in public as well, including public sponsorship, and changing the systems by pushing policies for equal pay, doing audits, and keeping track of where women are being left behind. Two key points were mentorship and accountability. Brad gave examples of how to ask someone to be your mentor or vice versa. Rather than asking, “will you mentor me?” directly, he suggested that attendees put the request in context by referring to a presentation he made and drawing a comparison to something they’re working on. The second key point was accountability. More than one of the panelists said DEI has to be directly tied to management bonuses to get beyond lip service. Companies that are doing this are much more successful at achieving their DEI goals.
The Conference offered attendees so much more: outstanding winners of the Mosaic Awards, each with an inspiring acceptance speech, breakout sessions on a myriad of topics, additional moving keynote addresses, and insightful panels of experts. But this year’s Business Leadership Conference isn’t the only event in the works – Diversity Woman Media features the Business Leaders in Tech conference in December, and the Self-Care Cruise in April-May, 2023. Go to the website to see the complete schedule. If you can only work one conference into your schedule, mark November, 2023, for the 18th Annual Diversity Women Business Leadership Conference. There will be equally outstanding speakers and panels, and only one thing you must do to be ready–prepare to be wowed!
~Women Connect4Good is proud to be a sponsor of this empowering leadership conference for women.