Speaker Articles

What’s Inspiring Me Now: With Qurate Retail Group’s Naomi Jacobs

Naomi JacobsDirector of Social Strategy & Business Development

We know that sometimes, work, family—OK, life—can get a bit challenging. That’s why we’re interested in hearing what is inspiring successful women now. Here are four things from the Qurate Retail Group’s Naomi Jacobs.  Read More

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Ava DuVernay: Women Need to be Each Other’s “Fan Girls”

Ava DuVernay

Men are often defended by other men, Ava DuVernay said to the 10,000 women attending the 2019 Pennsylvania Conference for Women.

Using the film industry as an example, she said: If criticism comes, so do “fan boys” who support the person being criticized by descending on the Internet to protect them. Read More

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Elizabeth Gilbert: On the Three Most Powerful Words a Woman Can Say

Elizabeth Gilbert

When she was 25 and had moved to New York City to pursue a career as a writer, Elizabeth Gilbert saw a woman in her neighborhood who seemed to be living her dream life: one of creativity that was not taken up by other day jobs.

“She became my mentor. She didn’t know. We didn’t have the conversation. I just decided. And, what that meant in my world was that I would semi-talk to her,” Gilbert told 10,000 women at the 2019 Pennsylvania Conference for Women. “My plan for this mentorship relationship was to be in her presence and what would happen is all that [she had] would migrate to me.”

Then, one night, Gilbert saw her at a party, where the woman politely asked how her writing was going. Gilbert responded: not very well. The woman asked why. Gilbert said she had too much work, and was busy with a boyfriend, and her roommates were very distracting. In short, she didn’t have time, and she didn’t have privacy.

“At the end, she asked me the single most important question anybody has ever asked me in my entire life. I can honestly tell you my life hinged on that question,” Gilbert recalled. It was: “What are you willing to give up to have the life you keep pretending you want?”

Gilbert felt offended and immediately defended herself. But the woman challenged her, saying that from her perspective it looked like Gilbert put time into everything except the writing that she said was most important to her.

Then she asked where her free time was spent. Gilbert responded that she didn’t have any. “Really?” the woman asked. “What’s your favorite television show?” Gilbert answered Seinfeld. Then the woman similarly challenged her about her favorite magazines and restaurants and bars.

Finally, knowing Gilbert and her friends had plans to go the beach for a week, the woman said: “You are not going because if you do go, then I don’t ever want to have this conversation with you again about how your work isn’t going well because the thing you care about you don’t have time for.”

Gilbert acknowledged that she had to learn to say “no” to things she didn’t want to do. The woman said, “Oh, honey, it’s so much worse than that. You have to learn to say ‘no’ to the things that you do want to do with the understanding that you just have this one life stream, this one energy source, this one brief moment here.”

That, said Gilbert, became the turning point in her life as a writer. She stayed home and wrote what would become her first book.

The upshot: “Women are taught they are supposed to care about everything and everybody equally; and it is a lie, a great lie that is keeping you in bondage,” Gilbert said. “The reason I think you are so worried, tired, and stressed,” Gilbert said to the audience, “is because you believe this great lie that you are supposed to care about everything and everybody equally.”

“My prayer,” she added, “is that you take that worry off your neck that you have been struggling with and turn it into a golden circle you put around you and your projects, and your creativity, around who and what you love. Say everything in the circle is now sacred. I choose what is in it. And, if you’re not in the circle you can what outside because I don’t care.”

Those three words, “I don’t care,” are the three most powerful words a woman can have in her arsenal, Gilbert suggested, because they allow us to focus our energy on what we do most care about.


 

The Magic of Liz Gilbert

People know Elizabeth Gilbert best as the author of the wildly successful international bestseller, Eat, Pray, Love that was made into a movie starring Julia Roberts. It gave voice to women who longed for something more. More from relationships. More from love. More from life. She inspired us to pursue our dreams wherever they take us.

Since then, Gilbert has continued to dazzle us time and again. Her wondrous book, Big Magic, has led countless women to recognize that there are “extraordinary treasures” that long to be coaxed out of every one of us.

Then, just this past summer, Liz Gilbert returned to her roots as a fiction writer with the release of City of Girls, an instant New York Times bestseller. Set in the theater world of the 1940s, it’s a spellbinding novel of glamour, sex, and adventure, about a young woman discovering – you’ll like this: that you don’t have to be a good girl to be a good person. But perhaps most importantly, she inspires joy and wonder wherever she goes.


Read more keynote recaps from the 2019 Conference

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Jesmyn Ward: Hold Fast to Your Oars

Jesmyn Ward

“I grew up in a poor, rural mostly black community in Mississippi,” Jesmyn Ward began her talk before the 10,000 women at the 2019 Pennsylvania Conference for Women. She was a child of cleaning women, bootleggers, factory workers and landscapers.

Growing up, she thought the people around her lived the lives they did because of one colossal mistake: They did not choose a life of education. She did not yet know, she said, how history and cultural legacies had narrowed their choices. She didn’t understand that writing a different life for herself would also involve luck. Read More

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James Clear: If You Want to Make Big Changes, Think Small

James Clear

When he was a teenager, James Clear got hit in the face with a bat during a baseball game. It took surgery and nearly nine months for him to be able to work on regaining basic functions, like walking in a straight line. And even then, he could only focus on developing one tiny new habit a time. But together, these tiny habits made a big difference—big enough that, in college, he was named an Academic all-American.

They also led him to be an expert in how tiny habits can help us reach our potential—insights he compiled in 2018 The New York Times best-selling book, Atomic Habits, and shared with the 10,000 people at the 2019 Pennsylvania Conference for Women.  

“So often we think that change is about being ambitious. But setting a goal is the easy part,” he said. “Excellence is not really about making radical changes. It is about accruing small improvements over time.” Read More

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theSkimm Co-founders: Progress Comes When Hearing “No” Starts to Lose its Meaning

Amanda Weisberg and Carly Zakin

Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg quit their jobs at the age of 25 to try to start a business together, despite having no business or fundraising experience.

What they had was a perception: that millennials like them were not reading or watching the news because they were too busy, and it was not being delivered in a way that effectively appealed to them. They also had a plan: that they would deliver the news in a newsletter format, written in a voice that sounded like millennials. Plus, they had the two qualities they say are most important in starting a business: confidence and networking skills.

But what they did not have—and were not able to attract, despite trying—were investors interested in supporting them. Read More

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Proven Ways to Pioneer Equity and Diversity

Group of colleagues meetingYou might want to take a deep breath before you take this in:

  • At the rate we’re going, it will take another 202 years for women to be paid as much as men, according to the World Economic Forum.
  • The percent of women CEOs on the Fortune 500 list is still less than 7 percent—despite the fact that women represent 47 percent of the workforce.
  • And, it’s all worse for women of color (despite last month’s report that the majority of Americans now entering the work force are people of color, primarily women).

Now for the good news! Research is revealing what works—and what doesn’t—in efforts to give all women a fair shot at career advancement; and Lori Nishiura Mackenzie of Stanford University Clayman Institute for Gender Research knows what they are. Read More

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Stop Underestimating Yourself

Cecile RichardsBefore being interviewed for the position of president of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards thought she was unqualified and should just skip it. Uncertain what to do, she called her mom, the late former Governor of Texas, Ann Richards. Never one to mince her words, the elder Richards said simply: “Get it together.” Read More

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Think Only Extroverts Can Lead? Here Are 5 Reasons to Think Again

Woman watching sunset alone

If anyone has ever hinted that you need to be an extrovert to be a successful leader, here’s your one-word response: Oprah.

As Susan Cain wrote in her 2012 bestseller, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, there are many misunderstandings about the nature—and skills—of introverts. But over the past decade, that has been changing. 

Here are five things people are now recognizing about introversion in the workplace and beyond, according to Jennifer Kahnweiler, a Conferences for Women speaker and author of The Introverted Leader, Quiet Influence, and The Genius of Opposites:

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Don’t Play the Weather Girl if You Want to Be the VP

A woman gets into an elevator. She’s a hard-working executive who comes to the office early every day. One day, the CEO gets into the elevator with her. She freezes, afraid to talk and afraid not to talk. So, she chats about the weather.

Another day, she’s riding the elevator when the CEO steps in again. But this time, a male colleague also gets in, shakes the CEO’s hand, introduces himself and says: “We just had a great meeting with a new client we were pitching the other day. And, I think we’re going to get the business.” The CEO looks at him and says, “You just made my day.”

The woman, realizing her mistake, reflects: Her colleague was branding himself as the next VP while she was branding herself as the weather girl. Read More

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