So, after that amazingly inspiring first day, how was the Smart Girls Group ever going to top it? With Day 2, of course!
I wore this black and white striped cotton dress that I got my senior year of high school, wore twice….and haven't worn since, but when I decided to go to the conference, one of my first thoughts was, "I can break out the black and white dress again!" There's something about wearing a structured cotton dress and simple black heels that just leaves you feeling super professional, right?
Breakfast (and lunch!) was catered by Whole Foods so I fared much better on Thursday. I tried these adorable little Chia Pods they were serving (chia forms a kind of gel when you put it in liquid so you can make "pudding" out of it! I make mine with frozen blueberries and almond milk in the morning)
They also had granola with either almond or dairy milk (yay for dairy-free!), chia bars, and fresh fruit so already, my day was going well!
I poked around the expo a little more and then it was time for our first speaker, Brenda Berkman, the first female member of the New York Fire Department (FDNY). Her talk was probably the best way to start off the day because it stunned me. Even though women were technically and legally allowed to serve in the fire department, Brenda and the 90 other women who had failed the physical test (all of them), filed a lawsuit that stated that the physical test was discriminatory on the basis of gender. After a four year legal battle, the court ruled in their favor in 1982 that the FDNY had to change what was being tested to make it more job-related. Her fight didn't end there as she and the other women who pioneered the fire-fighting profession faced immense hardships from being ostracized and harassed by coworkers, peers, and members of the community, to even being sexually assaulted. And yet, she still showed up to work and didn't let any of this stop her. After almost 11 years on the job, she was promoted to captain, and in 2001 was one of the first responders to the attacks at the World Trade Center before retiring in 2006. She seemed, to me, so determined and so calm about the immense barriers she had to overcome to achieve her dreams and that was what amazed me the most. She didn't seem angry or jaded; she is a person who did everything it took to achieve her dream. According to her, "social change is a long-term process and anything worth doing can be hard."
Next was a panel on the Future of Feminism, including Renata Mutis-Black, micro finance entrepreneur, Kat Lazo, feminist media activist, and Julie Zeitlinger, author and blogger. What I loved the most about this particular panel is that it didn't just talk about typical "women's issues" like discrimination, media depiction, and sexual harassment. While I wholeheartedly agree that these are critical issues, this was a more positive panel. It was more of an empowerment-centered panel in which each woman told their story and talked about what it meant to be a feminist. Feminism has changed since the 1970s and Betty Friedan, but it doesn't mean today's feminists are any less committed than those of 40 years ago. There are so many ways to be a feminist and each of these women exemplified this with perfection. Ms. Black spoke of the need to bring men into the conversation, citing campaigns such as UNWomen's "HeForShe" Campaign and being a "do-er." We must ask ourselves what we can do to become smarter in our fields so we can achieve more. Julie implored us to establish an authentic voice and a sense of self, while Kat (probably the most bold and energetic of the bunch!) stated that great things are going to come and that we are going to become, "better, more badass activists." According to them, a Smart Girl is one who knows herself, respects the process of being a woman, lives her life, and is an independent and critical thinker. Particularly moving to me was Ms. Black's story because, as a philanthropist and entrepreneur, she works nonstop to pursue her passions and commitments. She stated that "living a life dedicated to the empowerment of women is the highest luxury and comes at the highest price." There was no fluff to any of these women; it was straight-up feminism and empowerment and honesty and I was amazed at the end:
Then came a discussion entitled "When I Was a Smart Girl", featuring Gina Greer of Deloitte (risk managements) and Yasmina Zaidman of Acumen. These were women who had experience as a woman in professional settings for several years so it was more of a passing-down of wisdom which was a different take. Gina had recently come back from a 7-month leave of absence during which she traveled the world and cleared her mind. 7 months traveling the world? As a professional? Kudos to her executive! Yasmina's testimonial particularly stuck with me because Acumen is a business approach to tackling poverty and global issues. They take care of the campaigning and fundraising and invest in people and organizations with innovative ideas. It kind of reminds me of micro-lending because of the rate of return and the more grassroots approach. Ms. Zaidman told us to find things that "fire you up" because fire and frustration can be driving forces. She said "study what will free you" and when you find what that is "step forward into it." These women were so passionate about what they did and showed so obviously and was quite refreshing!
Some of the conference attendees weren't directly involved in Smart Girls Group, so we had a session called "Smart Girls Group 101" led by the amazing staff team:
I don't know about you, but listening to people talk about Smart Girls Group is just as exciting as being involved in it, so that was fun! I was thrilled to hear that more online classes are coming in the fall, led by the highly talented Kristen McNeill! Topics include college prep, personal finance, health and wellness, social media and branding, and more! I think the only one I don't want to (can't!) take is the college prep one but I would gladly sign up for all of them, wouldn't you? It turned into this huge group discussion and Q+A session about Smart Girls Group, during which time we got to get lunch from Whole Foods which was….SALAD! Ah yes, one of my favorite foods in the world! There was lettuce and arugula and greens and crumbled goat cheese and soooo many toppings! I was in heaven :)
I'll be the first to say that I chowed down on that salad! Also, the SoulSnacks representative was back with these little individual cookie samples of the Double Chocolate Chip, Ebony and Ivory, and Sweet Potato cookies. I know, sweet potatoes in cookies? Believe me, they were AMAZING! Brooke and I had zero shame taking full advantage of the enormous cases he brought.
I also met another member of my Smart Mail team, Jamie! She and Brooke and I got a partial staff picture in front of the conference banner to commemorate, of course:
Once we were all full of beautiful organic greens, it was time for a Career Development unit featuring three mini-sessions. First was a representative from Levo, one of my favorite professionalism websites EVER. It was a perfect dose of how to improve your resume to make it stand out. Now, I have a resume, but after listening to her, I definitely need to re-do it! Levo has a (free!) resume builder that helps you focus on your impact on the places you've worked, not just what you did which, I learned, is much more important.
Next came Arthur Woods (our "token male" of Smart Girls Group, according to him!) of Imperative. I like to think of it as the innovative version of LinkedIn that helps you discover what your real passion is and how you go about pursuing it. The book he was also featuring was called "The Purpose Economy" sums this up so well. This is why we live in a tech-driven world, full of bloggers and social innovators: because we want a specified purpose and to work with that in mind. It is about our relationships and ideas and how they interact. His ranks very high on my list of speakers from the conference because it was just a very interesting way of looking at your future that I had never considered before!
Elaine Pouliot of Image gave an excellent talk on how to present oneself as a Smart Girl. She rose from a temp job to a managerial position and has since received numerous certifications in style and color and it was because, in addition to her skills, of the way she presented herself to the world. She spoke about the effect color and texture has on what you're trying to convey as well as how to dress for the job you want, not the job that you have. According to her, we must fit OUT and not fit in!
Finally, the moment we had all been waiting for was here! Yes, we had Carly Heitlinger of The College Prepster, Mackenzie Horan of Design Darling, Molly Ford of Smart, Pretty, and Awkward, and Lauren Lally of rewardStyle, right here to give a talk on Blogging and Branding: How to Leverage Your Brand for Opportunities! These ladies are the powerhouses of the blogging industry and some of the biggest sources of my inspiration!
They all exuded the most graceful poise as they told their stories, beginning back in 2009 when blogging was nothing like it is today. The concept of developing your personal brand has become so fascinating to me with the start of my blog so I was really curious to hear what they had to say. A personal brand, they said, is an "extension of your best self" and I couldn't agree more. Ask people how they would describe you and work from there without pigeonholing yourself too much. Carly lamented that she chose the name "The College Prepster" without considering that she would outgrow it so she advised against choosing a brand that wouldn't be relevant to you a few years down the road. According to Lauren, what makes your brand a success is 1. Quality Content, 2. Patience, and 3. Consistency. It takes work and time but you can turn what you love into something even more. If you really love writing and you love what you do, it will shine through and blossom. They discussed boundaries, the personal and branding uses of social media, tips on how to get started and it was such an honor to be in their presence! Personally, Molly's Smart, Pretty, and Awkward is my favorite because it not only speaks to me, but is very focused and a cute idea. Every blog post gives three tips: how to be smarter, how to be prettier, and how to be (less) awkward, and let's face it, who doesn't need that in their life? t had been working with Molly previously on a partnership with theSkimm so I even got to meet her and I got a picture!
With the end of that panel, came the revelation of two more HUGE additions to the Smart Girls Group! There's going to be an app so I can take SGG with me wherever I go!!! Next, they are starting a live web series, with talks by experts, tutorials, etc. which I can't wait for! Can you tell I'm excited?
After a few (okay, a LOT of) cupcakes from Baked by Melissa, lots of hugs, and, of course, a huge picture of the shoe group, it was time to say good bye. It's not over, because these girls are my sisters and the inspiration sparked in me during those two days will never die, but it was still sad to see it end. Is anyone else ready for next year???
I also managed to track down the still-smiling and energetic Emily for a picture!
Believe me, I have soooo much more to say about the conference in general so stay tuned for Smart Girls Conference: the Afterthoughts, coming soon!
Inspired to be,