Create Cultivate ATL: A Critical Look at a Surface Level Conference

Second Stage at Create & Cultivate ATL

Let me just start out by saying Create & Cultivate ATL was a FUN conference. The team at Create & Cultivate put a lot of time and love into crafting a 13 hour day of activities, panels, and Instagrammable moments and I wholeheartedly applaud them for that. That being said, I think there are some key areas where the conference really fell short.

Create & Cultivate ATL was marketed as a one day conference meant to entertain, enlighten and inform creative women around key topics surrounding the digital space and their business. The day was comprised of workshops and panels with top industry bloggers, executives, thought leaders and creatives.

A dear friend and colleague of mine had read about the conference several months ago. My colleague is a program manager at a technology startup, and I am a digital product designer who, until recently, worked at the same startup. With a mutual interest in entrepreneurship, and shared love of women making a name for themselves in the digital space, we decided to purchase a pair of VIP tickets and head to Atlanta for the weekend.

There were a lot of great instagrammable moments.

To put it plainly, we discovered that this was a conference primarily for bloggers. Most of the panelists were bloggers talking about blogging, and a majority of the attendees were aspiring bloggers. The fact that the conference was centered around blogging was not disappointing, even though I myself am not a blogger. There is a ton of inspiration and knowledge to be gained from listening to women who have created successful businesses out of blogs and I was excited to learn something new.

But the panels never got deep enough for that to happen.

The first issue I saw was the panel format. I was on track 2 for the conference, so I only saw half of the panels, but there seemed to be a general lack of coordination from the moderators. Each panel had a different topic, but they all seemed to ask the panelists the same questions over and over, panel after panel. I watched four different hour-long panels comprised of twenty different women talking about the importance of speaking with an authentic voice to form brand partnerships, and then give a show of hands as to whether they liked Snapchat or Instagram stories better.

This was hugely disappointing. Create & Cultivate boasts an impressive attendance of 600 women, a fantastic platform to talk about real problems that women starting digital businesses encounter. A wonderful opportunity to educate and empower fellow women. Yet every time the conversation swerved close to being impactful, the panels circled back to a discussion of whether or not to Instagram their boyfriends.

The questions were not hard hitting. I didn’t hear a single question about business plans. For the fashion bloggers, how did they deal with unfair beauty standards, harassment, and sexism while building a business based on how they look? What were the strategies for growing these businesses? For those that had books published, what was that process like? How did they set goals and then go about achieving them? For those who had actual products that were being manufactured and sold, what are the logistics of bringing a product line to production? Where did the panelists turn for help and guidance when they were in the darkest hours of their business? How did the mothers among the panelists balance caring for their children with running a home business?

I’ll never know.

The “Multi-Hyphenate Millennial Woman: Meet the Modern Day Renaissance Women” panel.

The panelists also seemed completely unprepared to answer any critical or thought provoking questions. At one panel, an audience member asked if the panelists ever think about how technology is quickly blurring the line between what is private and what is public, and how that will eventually impact a blogging business. The responding panelist simply said she would retire.

The most horrifying moment occurred during the “Multi-Hyphenate Millennial Woman: Meet the Modern Day Renaissance Women” panel, when the moderator (Jaclyn Johnson) asked the panel to elaborate on their feelings regarding the pay gap between men and women and was met with confused looks and silence.

When the attendees weren’t watching panels, they were encouraged to shop the pop-up shops and visit the beauty bar for a free manicure, makeup touchup, or have their hair done. I knew what I was getting into here- the conference is known for being a very “pretty” conference and being the person that I am, I enjoyed that aspect of it. But I couldn’t help but feel there could have been a balance between the stereotypically girly pop-ups and small business resources. Couldn’t there have been literature or reps for different content management systems? Resources for legal and small business services? Someone from a code school there to provide information about learning to write basic html and css? This was another missed opportunity to educate and connect the attendees with resources that could help foster their fledgling businesses.

All of the attendees did get to go home with a pretty sweet swag bag…

Up until this point I’ve been critical of the conference, but I do want to highlight some of the positive aspects as well. All three keynotes (Meghan Markle, Sarah Michelle Gellar & Galit Laibow, and Nicole Richie) were incredibly interesting and engaging. Maxie McCoy was refreshing to talk to during the mentor power hours and did her best to ask some meaningful questions on her panel. Mandy Kellogg Rye, Nikki Reed, Eugenie Gray, Jen Gotch, and Ingrid Nilsen all shined on their individual panels and provided some much needed depth and insight to what was a very surface level experience.

As I said in the beginning of this post, Create & Cultivate ATL was a FUN event, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. As for it being an empowering and educational experience, I think theres more work to be done…

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