By Lisa Crewe | Posted on January 11, 2024
Be Brave. Be Bold. Be Daring. This was the theme of this year’s Massachusetts Conference for Women – and the speakers, their inspiring messages and overall energy at the conference did not disappoint.
Once again, I was fortunate to join many of my Acacia and Cisco colleagues at this event. According to show organizers, this is the nation’s largest conference for women with more than 9,500 people attending! With an A-list of speakers on the agenda, it was hard to choose which were the best, so I’ll just pull out a few of my favorites:
Dr. Joy Boulamwini was the first keynote to take the stage. She is an artificial intelligence (AI) expert, founder of Algorithmic Justice League, a groundbreaking MIT researcher, a model and an artist. On stage, Joy shared her powerful poem “AI, Ain’t I A Woman” and talked about some interesting research she discovered around equality and AI. Through her research, she has shown that lighter skinned men are generally more easily identified by AI than people with darker skin. This creates bias in emerging AI applications such as facial recognition technology. As my colleague Victoria Fernandez pointed out, “Her work reminded us that for all the great things AI can provide, we need to consider how they are built and how this impacts different groups within our society.”
Another interesting presentation was from America Ferrera. While I knew her from her break-out roles in Ugly Betty, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Barbie – I did not realize she was also a long-time activist! America launched Poderistas in 2020, a digital lifestyle community and non-profit built to inform, affirm and inspire Latinas to leverage their power and transform their lives, their community, and their nation. She also co-founded HARNESS in 2016, a community of artists, influencers and grassroots leaders leveraging art and storytelling to power change and create a more equitable world.
America stressed the importance of women and leadership and our relationships with each other. As she stated, “Showing up for the women in our life creates a sense of sisterhood and a sense that we are not in this alone.” I could not agree more and was so grateful to spend the day with some incredible women colleagues!
The conversation with Margaret Atwood, two-time Booker Prize-winning Author of over 50 books, including The Handmaid’s Tale, was educational and entertaining. Her sharp wit and historical knowledge are evident in her writing. One of the inspiring messages she shared with the audience included “While you may not get a choice in making a bad environment way better, you do have a choice of keeping it from getting way worse.”
Connection and Inspiration
Colleagues Victoria Fernandez and Rachael Sozio both shared with me some of their favorite presentations. Victoria enjoyed Dame Jacinda Ardern’s presentation – who became the Prime Minister of New Zealand at just 37 years of age and has been a champion of woman’s empowerment. As Victoria pointed out, “Her discussion showed that you can be an effective leader with empathy and sincerity.”
Victoria also spent one of the breakout sessions listening to Jenny Odell’s presentation titled “Reclaim Your Time: A Tool to Revive Your Career.” Instead of providing tips on how to maximize your time, Jenny challenged the audience to consider the very construct of time itself. As Victoria recapped, “She showed the history of the time clock and how it was used to determine costs for laborers. This taught me to reframe the concept of time.” To make her point clear, Jenny gave an example of a flower blooming in February. As she explained, “When that happens, people often say the flower bloomed early, but the flower does not know it’s February. What the flower knows is it has gone through its own cycle and now it is time to bloom.”
One of Rachael’s favorite presentations was by Kimberly Brown who is a career + leadership expert whose mission is to help women and people of color navigate the workplace, make more money, and become industry leaders. Her presentation titled “Next Move, Best Move” provided a framework to help create a career strategy and determine what’s right for you short-and-long term. As Rachel stated, “the idea is to regain control so you can take a strategic approach for making your next best move.” Key takeaways included:
- Get clear on where you are coming from before you decide where you are going.
- Evaluate your past experiences to understand where you want to go.
- Establish a personal and professional brand that aligns with where you want to go.
- Put your plan into action and advocate for yourself in the workplace.
Massachusetts Women Leadership
As the Mayor of Boston, Michelle Wu is the first woman and first non-white person to have been elected mayor of Boston. The daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, she was also the first Asian American woman to serve on the Boston City Council.
Governor of Massachusetts, Maura Healey, is the first woman and first openly LGBTQ person elected Governor in Massachusetts history. She is committed to building an experienced, diverse team that is focused on bringing people together and delivering results for Massachusetts residents.
Until Next year
A big thanks to Cisco for being a sponsor of this conference and making our participation possible. We all left feeling bolder, braver and more daring….and we have the benefit of being able to attend the first National Conference for Women, a groundbreaking virtual gathering on March 14, 2024! As Victoria said after attending this year’s event, “We get further in life when we provide meaningful support for one another.”