The Office of Inclusion and Diversity at Auburn University hosted the annual 12th Women’s Leadership Conference with a theme “Innovating a Better Future” on March 8, 2018 which also happens to be International Women’s day!
I got to attend the conference sponsored by the Graduate school of Auburn University and I had a really wonderful experience interacting with women leaders in various career fields and brought back home some necessary skills and the motivation stash I needed. And guess what? I also walked away (along with my spectacular team) with second place at “Pitch your idea” and two goody bags. Read on for a summary of my experience and I hope it would help you too in your journey.
The opening session included two speakers from two different fields – Dr. Jennifer Mueller Phillips, Director of Accounting at Auburn University and Alexis Goldhagen (she was dynamic!), a Senior in Marketing and the owner of Lake Martin Flyboard delivering TED-Talk style presentations about how they incorporated innovation in what they do. Dr. Phillips so cleverly renovated assessment in academics as assurance of learning through innovation. Alexis wonderfully walked us all through the process of starting her own company based on her love for adrenaline and how including a small innovation grew her business to what it is today. Flyboarding, being a leisure sport for adults broke the hearts of many kids who were mesmerized by flying (that’s how she always referred to it, which showed that she had so much love for what she does!) but only dream about actually doing it. And that is where Alexis took a step forward and trained herself to fly kids who wanted to, with her flying while holding them.
Take away #1
If you aren’t in love with what you do, no one else will. Be less rigid and more dynamic, because there are always alternate routes to get to a destination. Never miss an opportunity.
After that, I chose to attend the session on “Successful Innovation through Effective Engagement – It Starts with Me” among the concurrent sessions. I agreed and realized it in myself when they highlighted that women tend to use a lot of qualifying words while describing ourselves like “I think I am good at… , I just… , I am probably skillful in… , I guess…, etc.” where we should be confident in ourselves and stress that “I KNOW I am….” I intend to work on fixing it within myself. The session was a blessing to people like me from a developing country who have absolutely zero experience in job interviews, networking and general interpersonal skills. As one of the very few women working in a male-dominated field, I know that I would need special values and skills to get recognized.
Take away #2
Don’ts – Gossip, Judging people, Negativity, Complaining, Give Excuses and Exaggerate, Dogmatic.
We also did a few short exercises to develop certain skills which drained us all of our energy. After we refueled ourselves with croissants and coffee, me and my friend (who I met at the conference, and we hit it off!) decided upon attending the session “Throwing out the Box – Recognizing Opportunity and Embracing Creativity” which involved very short, but effective and -to the point- talks by three women leaders who shared some of their invaluable life experiences with us.
Dr. Kimberly Mulligan-Guy, Director for Office of Diversity and Multicultural Center (She called herself a cool person and of-course she is!) explained about how being a women in tech though challenging, made her happy. She stressed on not being afraid to share ideas and that innovation begins when we stop accepting things for how they are. I was impressed when she mentioned Volunteer work as the thing that gets her out of bed in the morning. She encouraged everyone in the room to share our research and get more people interested in science and technology.
Take away #3
When you find yourself at an intimidated position somewhere, remember that you have something to bring to the table that others didn’t. Remember that you are “COOL”
Kyes Stevens, Director of Alabama Prison Arts and Education Project started her speech with a strong message,
Take away #4
“Wake up every morning and KNOW that you are powerful”
She shared her experiences about going against her family’s wishes and how she made her own path to be where she is, by recognizing that failure is an opportunity to learn. Being someone who works with under-privileged people, she encouraged everyone to understand and recognize that not everybody has access to the kind of education that the people in the room have had and everyone who has that privilege has a duty to work towards making that possible.
Take away #5
“Everything is not going be okay, but you will get there”
Dr. LaKami Baker was at the conference with a mission! She began with asking us to learn to dismantle the boxes, the boxes being the confinement that is imposed on women by our society. We all were asked not to facilitate our own blindness, get out of our space and listen to what every person has to offer. If we have to get some things done but there are no doors that would/are open for us, we might have to build some doors by ourselves and we can. About her mission, she set the stage for our pitches with a simple exercise of coming up with 100 different uses for a PIZZA BOX! Imagine that. Me and my team were able to get to about 20 (maybe we aren’t as creative as we believed ourselves to be, LOL!)
After educating us about how to draft a pitch that would capture any investor’s attention and secure funding, she made us get into groups and come up with an app that would assist people with disabilities or that can solve problems in developing countries. We based our pitch on getting people excited about our idea, identifying who will be willing to pay and why we should be the ones who should make this a reality, all supported by necessary statistics. My team pitched an idea for an app called MedTalk which would facilitate a medical practitioner and a non-native patient with a language barrier to communicate his/her ailments better resulting in an accurate diagnosis.
Lunch ended up being even more yummy while listening to Lauren Washington, founder of Black Women Talk Tech which supports the startup ecosystem and the KeepUp app which helps with managing social media accounts effectively. She emphasized five important lessons that we should learn but are not taught in schools. One of them being,
Take away #6
You have to fail to be successful.
Every lesson had a deep meaning behind it and I was able to relate to how it would help a women with dreams ~ like me! After her speech, every team was given a minute to pitch the ideas we drafted in front of distinguished people and *drum-roll* Yay! We won second place! (That felt really good!)
The conference also recognized and honored Women of Distinction in Auburn University. Thanks to Dr. Annette S. Kluck, Assistant Provost of Women’s Initiatives for organizing the conference to provide us the best experience.
In conclusion, the conference provided me a platform for great fellowship with women and aided me to identify women leaders as possible mentors. I am grateful for this opportunity! Cheers.