I was raised by women.
In my early years, my father did impart some important lessons and qualities both intentionally and unintentionally. But my upbringing, worldview, and identity were formed through the combined effort of three women: my mother, my grandmother, and my older sister.
My grandmother lived with me for my entire life up until I left for college. My mother, who is honestly one of the most genuinely benevolent and selfless humans in existence (everyone who knows her would agree fervently), raised three children practically on her own while maintaining many (sometimes three at a time) full-time jobs. My sister, being the eldest with two younger brothers, passed down a massive amount of wisdom.
These three women, throughout my life, have been my providers, advocates, cheerleaders, disciplinarians, counselors, mentors, and much more.
Their influence on my life is a huge reason why WomenPresent is so important to me. I learned early on that you can learn a ton from listening to women speak. I have never questioned a woman’s position of authority nor have I any doubt in their ability to be executives in every industry. My grandmother was a judge. She started going to law school while raising four children during a time when very few women were going to law school at all. I certainly know that they can be thought leaders and teach (my mother taught me until sixth grade as a matter of fact) and that they often have a perspective that is not only beyond my knowledge but some times beyond my ability to ever comprehend.
Which is why it is unacceptable to me that women still only hold 24% of executive positions in the world and that event managers think getting to a nearly 1:3 woman-to-male ratio for speakers is pioneering. We hope WomenPresent can help solve these issues. Our goal is to boost the quality of conferences, drive gender-parity, and, for the world to see just how deserving they are of a stage, let women speak.
In honor of the launch of WomenPresent, I’d like to share three things the women who raised me taught me when I listened to them speak.
I could write an entire novel about what I learned from my mother but one thing she taught me, in particular, was how to understand different perspectives with compassion.
My mother was the queen of seeing through any person’s anger, negativity, or abrasiveness for what it was: an unmet need.
Time and time again she would effortlessly diffuse any person’s emotional outbursts by acknowledging their needs with compassion. She would do this with her children, with her colleagues, and with clients. She would do this with strangers and friends and friends of friends. Throughout my life, I watched her talk through my friend’s relationship problems, hear her tell stories of clients who would go from raging anger to hugging her at the end, and many others who would feel comforted by my mother’s compassion.
From listening to her talk to these people, I learned how to receive what someone was saying, listen intently, and how to respond with compassion.
My grandmother is one of the strongest women I have ever met. You might see her on the New York streets with blue hair hailing a cab to an off-Broadway show her friend is in or speaking at the women’s bar association (of which she is on the board). You certainly know how she feels about Trump if you are friends with her on Facebook and she has never for a minute been afraid to speak her mind.
And what Marilyn taught me is that life is so much fuller as an outlier. I mean this in direct reference to Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling novel (of which she bought for me last Christmas). Being willing to step outside the mold, being unafraid to take risks, and having an intense desire to stare in the face of adversity and say, “why not” is the driving force that guides her.
I see this whenever she recounts her interactions with her friends. She is always the one to point out the risks they want to take but are too afraid and encourages them that they are strong enough to do so. She has never once questioned my decision to go away for college, leave my cushy job at Microsoft to live abroad, and move to NYC to work for a startup. Every year she just says “you are an outlier.”
And I know it because she is too.
Anyone who knows Carolyn would agree she has taught us all more than we’d ever thought possible. Both about ourselves, about living healthily, and about expression.
My sister is the kind of person you follow around the room. She has always been a natural born leader and consistently succeeds at amazing me with everything she accomplishes.
And, while she may think what she has taught me from speaking is how to not be a dick (and that it is still a work in progress), I think, more importantly, she has taught me the importance of freedom.
Freedom to choose. Freedom to love and lose. Freedom to be whoever it is that I want to be.
She taught me that freedom is, ultimately, the meaning of life and any suffering we may experience is due to the absence of it.
She also taught me that the world not only lacks freedom, but the lines of freedom are drawn by those with power for those without. This is why we have inequality. And, because life is short, and freedom is purpose, it is the responsibility of this entire world to fight against this inequality in everything we do.
She is much better at speaking out about this than me. And I still, as I always have, look to her for guidance. Despite whatever place in our lives we may be.
If you read this and agree, I would encourage you to comment with your own stories of strong woman speakers or, better yet, nominate them to speak on our platform. Maybe you are a speaker yourself and, if so, you should sign up. But maybe, like many, you’ve always wanted to be a speaker but haven’t built up the courage to try.
Well, to that, my mother would say she understands and it’s okay to be afraid.
And my grandmother would say take the risk. We will be there to back you up.
And my Sister would say stand up when you’re told to sit down, dance when you’re told to be still and speak when you’re told to be silent.
We will be listening.
If you like what you read, have something to add, or want to learn more about what I do, drop a comment below or connect with me here!