The following article is cross-posted with the express permission from the blog The Lala. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda.
Did you know that there are more CEOs named John than female CEOs???
I didn’t either, at least not until National Girlfriend Networking Day.
On Thursday June 2nd, 2016 thousands of college women, mothers and daughters, and professional women nation-wide gathered to unite forces for National Girlfriend Networking Day (#NGNDay). For the past five years The New Agenda has brought together bright, smart, passionate, working women on the first Thursday of June. The New Agenda is an organization dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls by bringing about systematic change in the media, at the workplace, at school and at home. While the event is live in New York where I was lucky enough to be, it is broadcast nationwide. This year had the most viewers yet with women tapping in from Seattle, Los Angeles, Albuquerque, Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago, Charlotte, Richmond, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Hartford, Boston, Rochester and many more cities!
Amy Siskind is the president of The New Agenda, a friend, and role model to me. She encompasses the kickass, working woman, successful leader attitude that #NGNDay serves to promote and inspire. Amy starts the day with a bang.
The theme this year is finding your voice. Amy tells the crowd that this year, the goal is to be a top trender on social media using the hashtag NGNDay. Inside scoop: we made it to a top twenty trender on Twitter! Amy says that leaning in alone is not a solution, the antidote, she says, is networking with a purpose.
There are four women on today’s panel: Alexandra Billings, Ann Shin, Judith Browne Dianis, and Miki Agrawal.
“How did you find your voice?” Amy questions towards the panel…
Alex starts us off in a strong voice…
“I transitioned at 19 years old. This year marks 40 years of a love affair with my high school sweetheart and now-wife Chrisanne,” the crowd aw’s. “I was diagnosed with AIDS in 1986 when it was extremely prevalent,” she tells us how she buried lots of friends around that time who died from AIDS. “Now I am a professor of theatre at Cal State Long Beach. I had an inflated view of myself for the longest time which threw me into darkness. My spiritual divinity radiates from you. My voice is sung, written, and spoken, through you.”
Next is Ann, she is a journalist who experienced discrimination in her field when her stories were not picked up because she was a female competing with men…
“The voice of authority is male, but once I figured that out I hit my stride.” Ann talks about her grandmother and mother who were each suppressed in their own times. “I carried the weight to live not only my life but also their lives-I had the strength of women behind me, a drive for the truth, and to tell my story.”
Judith follows. She tells us that she is a civil rights attorney…
“I grew up here, in Queens. My mother was an activist. My first riot was at the age of three, that I remember anyway. I remember the chant-“We want a light, we want a light,” she chants for us, “we got the light,” she smiles. “I protested racism at UPenn but I didn’t listen to my story until much later in life-I didn’t take in who I am. God put me here to do what I do.”
Miki finishes the first round of paneling off, telling us she is an identical twin, and she has found her voice as a separate person, versus as a pair.
“We, we, we…who’s we? We did everything together, won every three legged race-we were in sync, we were both recruited to play soccer at Cornell together. I needed a way to differentiate myself. 20 months ago I started working with a coach for life, leadership, and more. The coach asked me what do I want?” Miki talks about how she grappled with her struggles, with so much that she had rooted deep down, “I spent time cutting the umbilical cord,” she jokes. “I was supposed to be at the World Trade Center on 9/11-it was my daily subway stop. But I slept through my alarm clock. It showed me that you never know what’s going to happen. I asked myself ‘what lights me up?’ It definitely wasn’t investment banking.” It was this self discovery that led her on the road to entrepreneurship. “I started Thinx-it protects from leaks and the patriarchy.-they’re period proof underwear.” This was the start of her journey- “The plight of human spirit is infectious,” she smiles.
Next Amy asked a question that if it isn’t already, is about to be very prevalent to most of us Lala girls-“what did you wish you knew when you were 22?”
“Streisand was never gonna win a directors award.” The crowd laughs at Alex’s first reaction to this next question. “Hollywood director, actress, in the industry since 1960. I say this because I didn’t know what I was up against. Men in California rarely wear clothes, they way I walked around for 19 years. Then I transition and when I’m a woman I’m told to “cover up.”
“As my body changed, I lost power.”
Alex talks about how she could no longer carry packages or light a cigarette, she couldn’t even sit down by herself without a man offering their assistance.
“The loss of power through feminization in America is taught. We’re not taught what we can do…only what we can’t.” Alex tells us she wish she had had the foresight.
“Listen intently,” she stresses, “Streisand and I have a story to tell, and I’m gonna tell it.”
“Hopefully the men will be in the room talking about power one day,” Miki chimes in, accompanied by room-wide agreement. Wouldn’t that be something.
Next Ann steps up to tell us what she wish she knew at 22.
“Don’t worry about money and security,” she begins, “it’s time to really fucking go for it. Young women have power-beauty, smarts-be aware of all that-it’s power.”
“I wish I realized my mother was wise,” Judith begins. “I didn’t listen. I left at 17 for college and never moved back-I was on my own. I discounted her as a woman, as a friend, and discounted her sage advice. When I got older, around my 30s, I started asking for advice. We discount our elders because we’re in different times, but we shouldn’t.”
Then Miki spoke.
“You are the average of the 5 closest friends you keep. I don’t need to spend time with people who don’t really light me up, I don’t need to be friends with people who don’t inspire me.” She told us that there are inspirers: people who light you up, and depleters: people who don’t.
“Eventually its death by a thousand paper cuts when there is a negative person in your life-then it’s time to go. Slowly give yourself space and time-find those who light you up, set out for someone who lights you up. You gain so much power in finding light in your life.”
People worldwide had Tweeted in questions that Amy read to the panelists, here was a good one:
Q: “What was your most successful strategy for being taken seriously in the workplace?”
A: “Let your freak flag fly. Be authentic to yourself, speak authentically-it creates the best you.”
Alas, Amy announced to the thousands of girlfriends nationwide that our time had run out. She tells her audience, “Lean In wanted us to be perfect but the system sucks! Behind every successful woman is a tribe of women supporting her. Men have networks as a birthright.” She explained that her purpose once a year is to bring recognition to the fact that we must all be connected.
The pillars of The New Agenda are
and they are empowering women to have these opportunities. If women supported other women we wouldn’t have these issues, Amy says.
The incredible advice, stories, and networking shared throughout the day resound throughout the room and have stuck with me everyday since the event. Not only is it important to surround yourself with supportive women, but also to have role models to which we can set our own trajectories towards achieving similar goals to these role models. National Girlfriend Networking Day provided both a network and role models, it even allows those two pieces to overlap-it’s the coolest when you can connect with a role model and The New Agenda is a platform for just that.
Lala girls, if we start building our networks now-think of what they’ll look like in a few years. Let’s make sure to be that supportive girlfriend to those around us and keep reaching for bigger and better. Maybe one day soon it’ll be a woman’s world thanks to gals like us <3
Author Kate Weiser is a college woman who shares her experiences and lessons learned at National Girlfriends Networking Day.