When I first learned that IBM was combining their Pulse, Innovate and Impact Conferences into one mega-conference, I was prepared for a week of learning, conversations with customers and partners, networking opportunities, and of course an egregious amount of walking around the Mandalay Bay and MGM Convention centers. InterConnect 2015 delivered on all accounts; however, the Women’s Networking Panel & Reception, hosted Tuesday evening at the MGM, stood out to me as a source of some of the more memorable moments and valuable takeaways that I received while at InterConnect.
After a full day, attendees were treated to smiling faces and glasses of wine as we entered the conference hall. The “wine down” period preceded the panel discussion and afforded us some time to relax and mingle with fellow women in technology. The panel itself was comprised of six women who accomplished great things in both their professional and personal spheres.
Panelists assembled in front of an audience of over 200 women and several men and talked about the importance of women making themselves a priority. Wine in hand, the panelists began their presentations in a sequential lightning round style session, featuring six short talks followed by Q&A. Sandy Carter and Marie Wieck led the panel, with Sandy kicking us off:
The IBM General Manager for Ecosystems Development began her talk by presenting the theme for the session, which was, “Make yourself a priority.” Armed with an illustrative metaphor and witty visual aids, Sandy stressed, “In planes and in life, it is important to put your mask on first!”
Her talk boiled down to three crucial points:
- Don’t feel guilty about saying no. Don’t let guilt or feelings of obligation lead you to overcommitting yourself to the point where YOU are no longer one of your own priorities.
- Give yourself permission. In this day and age when work so conveniently fits into our pockets, sometimes it’s hard to find the off switch. Sandy reminded us that it’s OK to give yourself permission and to take a break from everything every once in a while.
- Make yourself a priority. In her words, “Self-care doesn’t mean you’re selfish.”
The IBM General Manager for Middleware was up next. Marie began by debunking the myth that you can have work-life balance every day. As she pointed out, things come up, priorities are in a constant state of flux and not every day will be in balance. She stressed overall balance and recommended putting everything on your calendar – from conference calls, to soccer games, yoga and dinner dates. Visualization is a powerful tool and helps you to recognize where the deficits are.
But how do you determine when to say no to those unexpected obligations and asks that pop up? “Make it on their time instead of yours,” Marie advised. She suggested turning the tables on that partner who’s notorious for scheduling impromptu emergency calls on Friday afternoon by telling them that you’re unavailable Friday afternoon but would be more than willing to meeting first thing Saturday morning. When faced with a Saturday morning call, more often than not, that emergency will be able to wait until Monday.
The IBM Vice President of Industry Cloud Solutions and Social Business Marketing spoke next. She continued to build upon the principle of making yourself a priority with her thematic talk that centered on perseverance and self-empowerment. Maria, who is a dedicated fitness enthusiast, shared the story of a time when her life balance was upset to the detriment of her health and fitness. After recognizing the misalignment, she shifted her priorities. Maria emphasized self-empowerment with the importance of reminding yourself the power of AND rather than OR (e.g., you can be a business woman and a mom and fitness instructor).
The IBM Commerce, ExperienceOne Omni-Channel Tech Strategist at IBM and an IBM Master Inventor boasted an impressive resume and served as the panel’s millennial generation representation.
Lisa had three pieces of advice to maintain yourself as a true priority:
- Exercise and invest in yourself.
- There is never a good time to have a family, so if that’s on your list of priorities – make it happen.
- Find something you’re passionate about outside of work. Lisa has self-published a children’s book via Kickstarter that teaches kids how to count to 10 in binary. Hobbies are a great way to make yourself a priority, she said.
IBM Chief Accessibility Officer was next to last and served as comic relief; her unabashed and unfiltered talk put us in stiches while still giving us valuable perspective. Frances recounted her journey to the United States as a 19-year-old exchange student. Since then, her life has taken many unexpected twists and turns.
Cultural, personal and professional pressures presented themselves in abundance, but in accordance with her own advice, she stayed true to herself. Knowing what you want is important, Frances advised, even if it’s against social norms or customs. That being said, she stressed the importance of a supportive ecosystem. It makes sense that if you have the right people in your corner, staying true to who you are will be a much easier task.
The SMB Group Partner was last to speak, but she still managed to bring a fresh perspective to the table. She was the only non-IBMer on the panel, which seemed to fit her message of staying true to yourself and not conforming to others’ expectations and definitions of success. Laurie stressed the importance of a creating your own definition of success and finished with a metaphor, likening her journey through life to a GPS. “Make the best of it, whatever comes your way,” she said, “because there’s going to be a lot of twists and turns.” She suggested that we become like a GPS system and keep recalculating for your own life and path.
Following a booming round of applause, the Q&A delivered a couple of additional points that are certainly worth mentioning. One individual asked how to go about addressing work-life balance issues, especially in the context of corporate cultures that are currently less receptive on ways to address the idea. The audience member was advised to be unapologetic in her requests. Marie Wieck said that women too often harbor an unnecessarily apologetic nature and the overuse of the phrase “I’m sorry.” Marie also pointed out that it was important to note that work-life balance is not a women’s issue and stressed the need to broaden the discussion to include our male co-workers, advising us to keep dialogue open.
The second question addressed an area where I and some colleagues struggle: the dreaded promotion or raise request. Typically, men approach this with confidence, and women were advised to do the same when asking for more. The panel pointed to the HP study showing women will apply for a promotion or job when they feel that they possess all of the qualifications, while men will apply having only achieved 60 percent of the qualifications. Knowing that’s how the game works helps put women on a more equal playing field. As Marie pointed out, learning is part of the experience, and you have nothing to lose but a no – and the alternative is a yes!
After the event was over, we were treated to a reception, and I chose to make myself a priority with ample amounts of sushi, fine cheeses and good conversation with fellow women in technology.