Today I celebrate my 8-year anniversary with Elevate. As we all know, it has been an unprecedented year so far, but still, I have so much to be grateful for. This business is the highlight of my professional career. I am fortunate to work with such a fantastic team and bring fabulous solutions to our customers. In celebration of International Women's Month, which we just closed out in March, I wanted to highlight a special event I attended in February. Every year since the event began, I have attended Watermark’s Annual Conference for Women in San Jose, California. The Annual Conference always has inspirational speakers, from the keynotes to the breakout sessions. It is a day full of self-reflection and inspiration. I remember the first year, 2015, Hillary Clinton gave the keynote address. Wow, what an experience! When asked if she was going to run for President in the upcoming election and she kept silent on the issue! She did start to raise and offer support for various topics such as more women in tech and eliminating the gender pay gap. We have seen some progress on those and other fronts relating to women's issues.
This February was just as inspiring. US Women’s Soccer Captain Megan Rapinoe, PepsiCo ex CEO Indra Nooyi and author Seth Goodin were keynotes. I loved Seth Goodin’s discussion of the Imposter Syndrome–if you are going to do something you haven't done before, of course, you are going to be an imposter–it is new, you are unsure. He highlighted the benefits of diversity of ideas–you need a multitude of ideas, including bad ones, so that ultimately good ones come through. Indra Nooyi was fabulous and reiterated the work we need to do to empower women. Megan Rappinoe has taken on celebrity status and now can affect so much positive change in the world with a broader platform to do so.
The session that most resonated with me was on Feedback by M. Tamra Chandler–the session (and book) is titled Feedback (and Other Dirty Words). Even as a business leader, I struggle with this topic. Let me be honest–I can’t stand conflict. I would rather avoid or ignore something, hoping it will get better or go away, than deal with giving feedback. After reading the book, I realized I am not alone. One statement Tamra made that blew everything else out of the water was that feedback isn't about your plan; it is about their future. Wow, think about that one!
The best part of the conference were my guests. After the first year, my wife has accompanied me to every annual meeting. This year, I got to do something special. I wanted to share the gift of this conference with our friends and invited 12 people to join us. They came from all across California. We even had two men attend! I wanted to share some of their takeaways from the conference below. I would recommend this event next year for anyone reading this post–it’s relevant for everyone:
Thank you for hosting us at the Watermark Conference. For me, the highlight was hearing Indra Nooyi speak. As a South Asian immigrant and new Mom of two young kids, I found Indra's thoughts on empowering and incentivizing women to remain in the workforce, particularly impactful. In terms of key takeaways, one message I heard consistently was that women in today’s workplace need to advocate for themselves, rather than relying on somebody else to speak up for them. Whether that means asking for greater job responsibilities, higher pay, or more flexible hours, we are our own best advocates.
One of the takeaways I had from one of the sessions was eliminating conscious biases and addressing unconscious bias in recruiting practices, specifically hiring graduates from one school year after year. I learned it’s often a preference based on the limited experience of the hiring manager. It made me think about our company.
I asked a presenter what "inclusion & diversity" means to them. Their answer was great: "Diversity is opening the door to them; inclusion is making them feel welcome once they walk through the door." Many people thought the battle was done by just hiring diverse groups, but then once they are there, just because they are getting a paycheck doesn't mean they feel welcomed, or have room for promotion, or there is an infrastructure that supports diverse growth. That inclusion piece is phase 2, where many companies stop short.
Thank you so much for including me in the Watermark conference. What an incredible day! One of the highlights was attending the "Building Relationships, not Contacts" session and learning about how to build better relationships with others. The presenter talked about focusing on someone's "who" not "do”. When we're networking and getting to know people focus on what people "do"–where they work, what their role is, etc.–when that's not going to build a relationship beyond just a name and a face. People remember how you make them feel the most, so we should focus on people's "who"–what makes them who they are today, what matters to them, etc.
She also spoke about her "Relationship Tuesdays" and reaching out to people just to keep in touch, checking in on how they're doing, and making sure you show that you care about them and don't have any ulterior motive beyond that you were thinking of them. While that may seem obvious, it was a good reminder of how much of an impact just sending a quick text or email, or having lunch with someone, can do to maintain and build relationships with others.
Coming to this conference as a male, I will admit I was a bit nervous. After spending time reflecting on the sessions, I can say that I found it quite beneficial and educational. I would classify the impact across two tracks:
- There was much of the program that was explicitly applicable to me; this included the session on Happiness Leadership, and how to bring my "whole self" to work each day.
- I also found the Language in Leadership session applicable to be conscious of how I may be influencing my teams' responses or decisions without being aware of the impact of my influence.
- Several of the programs–specifically the keynote sessions, brought perspective to issues facing people dissimilar to myself.
- I found that while I am generally aware of the issues facing women in the workplace, without continually reminding and educating myself, I will naturally lose an appreciation of these issues.
- My take away is that I need to spend time educating myself on these issues regularly; else I'll fall into space where I'm aware but lack an appreciation.
Thanks again for inviting me to this conference. It was quite an experience.
Every year since the event began, I have attended Watermark’s Annual Conference for Women in San Jose, California. The Annual Conference always has inspirational speakers, from the keynotes to the breakout sessions. It is a day full of self-reflection and inspiration.