Friday, I received an email from the White House that I was selected to attend the Working Families Summit that following Monday. I had no idea what I would take from this experience. But it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. Before the summit, someone said to me, “I hope it’s worth it.” I have to say, I think that a day’s worth is what we make of it. It was up to me to make sure I created an experience “worth my time”. My measure? The quality of the people I meet and get to know.
By the time I had checked in, stood in line to pass through security and got my coffee, I had already met several amazing people who make other’s lives better through their work. Then there was the beauty of social media; the ability to know someone wherever you go; and if you don’t know someone, then the chance that you know someone who knows someone there. For me, I knew of one person also attending from my PLN on Twitter…and within a short time of arriving at the Omni, a friend I met through Twitter connected me with another person attending (turns out when we got talking, face to face, she is a real life neighbor). So before Vice President and Doctor Biden had even taken the stage, I was on cloud nine.
But this is more than a local social networking event. Although I was ecstatic about those I had met in the first hour, I really needed to take more from this event. So what was this day about? Some of it was what I expected the 9 hours to be about. How can we, the United States, provide families with a better quality work-life balance? What can be done so that an employee can provide for their family financially while also being there for them physically and emotionally? What basic necessities do we as a country need to provide for our citizens, and what can employers do? (You can learn more about the day at WorkingFamiliesSummit.org and see an archive of tweets from some of those in attendance, here.)
Then there was an aspect of this summit that I didn’t anticipate, yet it had the biggest impact on me. Women. I don’t know that I have ever been in a room with so many amazing women not only achieving their goals and happiness, but also helping others do the same. A true WOW!! There were the featured speakers such as: the President, Vice President, First Lady and Dr Biden, all of who were completely down to earth; sharing stories of triumph and failures, struggles and what they see needs to be done to ease those struggles for others. There were top executives (mostly women) who spoke about breaking glass ceilings, inspiring girls to jump into the STEM field, and creating work environments accepting of families and all that comes with them (FYI…more pros than cons).
And then there were those “everyday” people changing lives one at a time. They were as inspiring as the guest speakers if not more so. There was the professor sitting next to me that is working to educate her community on cultural differences and how those can be used to work together and strengthen the community. The mom who didn’t want to have to choose between being present for her children and a career, so she started her own business that accommodates that for her…and other moms looking for the same. The businesswoman sitting with me during a keynote, working to build 1 million mentors in the STEM industry (mentoring young people to help build our “pipeline” of future talent prepared to enter the fields). And the lady who I shared an outlet with to recharge our phones, who is working to help low-income women achieve more through education, financial counseling and more.
At the end of the day, what were my personal takeaways from this summit? First, although women were a big part of the conversations, it is ultimately about advocating for better conditions for working families in general, male or female…regardless of their title (because children are not only raised by mom or dad – sometimes it is a grandparent or other relative, or even a foster parent). But my biggest personal takeaway had nothing to do with politics. It is what I can do to make a small difference in the lives of my children and those I know and/or meet. Growing up I never thought I couldn’t do something because I was a girl. As a mom, I always tell my children that they have the ability to do anything they set their hearts on. After the summit, I realize that we need to do more than simply tell our children they can achieve anything; we need to continue to expose them to all that is out there, surround them by those achieving their dreams, and inspire them to follow their dreams. How? Serve as role models and mentors ourselves. Seek out individuals that can serve as a mentor when we are not capable. (The beauty of social media can help ease that task.) And we can’t forget about the power of reading about someone and their achievements; in a book, newspaper or online.
For individuals in those positions; give back. Share with young people what is out there (one cannot dream to be something they don’t know exists), how their lessons in school are relevant to the real world, what your job entails and what skills are necessary, and the story of your journey and navigating obstacles.
Was this day “worth it”? No doubt! I am beyond honored to have been a part of this summit and inspired to continue to share the messages that came out of it.