I went to Chicago envisioning a certain type of conference experience. As a newbie to blogging, I desperately sought new tips and techniques for enhancing my blog’s look, function, and readership. Days prior to the flight, I read through all of the BlogHer Conference materials, highlighted which sessions I wanted to attend, and looked through the attendee list for bloggers I wanted to meet. The plan, goal and purpose was clear and prepared.
Once at McCormick Place, however, all of these shifted. Walking through the doors of the convention center, I assumed I was flying solo throughout the sessions. Of course, I would mingle, smile, and small talk, but was I really going to build strong connections? I was skeptical and kept my expectations low and my priorities straight a head of me. Then I walked into the newbie breakfast. It was immediately obvious that the women at this event were vibrant, intelligent, passionate women who were here in fact to make real connections to similarly competent and confident female bloggers. Excitement overtook my previous desires for skills like: search engine optimization and monetizing your email list. I decided then to go with my gut from session to session. Ending up in completely different places then expected, I had a blast. From Instagram Style, to Girls Coding, to how to use social media tools without being a tool, I got a smattering if blogging ideas and along the way connected with some pretty awesome gals.
The session that left the largest impression though was Sheryl Sandberg’s interview on Lean In and the LeanIn.org. In the morning prior to my cup of coffee, I rode the escalator up to the main floor of the convention center. Ahead of me was a woman in a crisp white suit jacket. In my hazy brain I thought, “Gosh that woman is quite peppy for this early and dressed immaculately,” as she leaned over to strike up conversations with those around her. As we disembarked the escalator and made our way to Starbucks, I realized that this friendly woman was Sheryl. She listened with great intention to the women around her and seemed genuinely interested in their personal anecdotes. In the later session, she maintained this presence which was captivating. While some find her message contentious, I found it inspiring. As a young female teacher, I am often confronted with gender bias about my career choice and I see this bias playing out in the halls of the school. Sheryl is accurate when she notes that the major corporations and government positions are filled by men. Case in point, Massachusetts recently elected its first female senator, Elizabeth Warren. While women represent an ever growing number of college graduates, women are still confronted with “or” statements. Do you want to be a successful business executive OR do you want to be a successful mom? “And” statements seem reserved for men. Society and the media do not often question a man’s ability to run a company and be a father. And here, I am reminded of the documentary MissRepresentation which focuses on “how the media’s misrepresentations of women have led to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence.”
Sheryl’s message isn’t that new. She believes in women and she is proud of where women are and she shed light on real inequalities that exist between the genders. And, in this post-feminist world, she is merely asking women to reflect on where they are and to ask themselves, “What would you do if you were not afraid?” It is quite a difficult question. I might answer it in the following ways:
(1) Live a little. Stop being so worried about what other people will think or how something might be perceived and just do it.
(2) Take more risks at work. Speak up about myself more and believe in my potential.
(3) Engage more authentically with those in power and not shy away from the opportunities to do so.
Sheryl noted in her interview that young girls are often described by parents, teachers, friends, etc. as bossy. When she asked the crowd, “Who here has ever been called bossy as a young girl?” 90% of the audience raised their hands. Instead she said we need to change our language and mindsets. Those little girls are not aggressive they are demonstrating “strong executive leadership skills.” Bias runs deep and starts early and what is most important is finding your voice, believing in it, and using it.
When I walked into BlogHer ’13 I thought I would get a quick dirty list of to-dos for my blog, but straying from this goal led me to more deeply reflect on what it means to be a woman and to lean in.