I spent Friday, September 14 at a conference, but this was not just any conference. It was missing the usual suspects: overly gregarious men in suits talking loudly into microphones; PowerPoints filled with statistics and twenty-year-old best practices; obligatory deli sandwiches or plated chicken; and the constant checking of time because surely, it’s almost over or at least time to sneak out.
This was a conference for and about women. It was about empowering women with the mindset to face and overcome personal and workplace obstacles, to see themselves in a different light and engage with like-minded women who share that inner voice whispering to them, “you can be the difference.”
The Know Your Worth Women’s Leadership Conference was founded with the vision of creating a “culture of empowerment among the women of our state.” The amazing women who created and initiated this conference “share in the aspirations for both personal fulfillment and opportunities to lead and engage in the workplace and community.” Born to lead is the mantra and it encompasses a woman’s personal and/or career path.
I’ve never considered myself a leader. Perhaps this comes from my continuing struggle with imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is when an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud. Accomplished individuals and high achievers often suffer from this psychological phenomenon. Depending on your background, personality and circumstances, the pattern may vary, but the result is the same – we feel our successes are undeserved and eventually someone will find out we’re not smart or talented or worthy and call us out.
My pattern of imposter syndrome stems from my childhood feelings of not quite belonging and it gained pace when I returned to college as an adult. While I excelled in my classes (graduating with honors), I was usually the oldest student in my classes which then lent itself to believing I was behind in my career. Imposter syndrome has been a loathsome bedfellow, one I’ve yet to completely overcome. I still tend to refer to myself as a late bloomer when receiving any accolades or acknowledgement for my successes, never fully appreciating my own worth.
I needed this conference. I needed these women. I met women who were transplants from Dallas and Atlanta, women who were from western Kansas, and women who had always lived in Wichita. I met women who worked for the government, nonprofits, small local businesses and large corporations. I met educators, biomedical and psychology students, executive directors, a photographer, an IT assistant, and a scientist. I sat next to women who believed in the power of handwritten cards; I spoke with women fearful of losing their jobs if they questioned the status quo; shared lunch with women who found their calling after volunteering for a local nonprofit and quit their higher paying jobs; and women in transition.
Some women arrived in their power suits while others found confidence and comfort in t-shirts and jeans. Some came in groups, some with a friend or co-worker, some of us alone. None of it mattered: where we came from, where we worked, what we wore or who we knew in the crowd. We were all there to learn, inspire, be inspired, listen, engage and support one another. The energy within the Kansas Leadership Center became palpable – buzzing through our bloodstreams and emerging through our laughter, our voices, our handshakes and hugs, our questions and our cheers.
The conference provided three Know Your Worth tracks: Workplace, Community and Personal. There were two sessions for each track and you could stick to one track or mix and match. I chose Rebel Thinking and the Art of Why Not with Janet Federico (workplace) and Breakthrough to be Extraordinary with Kara Hunt (community). What I soon discovered was that I wished I could have attended all six sessions!
We started the day with an informational and eye-opening morning address by Wendy Doyle, President/CEO of The Women’s Foundation, and we ended the day with a panel discussion from two of the most admirable and revered women in our community, Myrne Roe and Lavonta Williams, and two young women who are blazing their own inspiring trails, Lacey Cruse and Luisa Taylor. These women had us cheering, laughing and on our feet. Myrne stole the show.
The day went all too quickly and as I previously stated, I wished for more time, so I could experience each track, hear each speaker and add to my already burgeoning portfolio of takeaways from the day:
- “When we are asked, women serve.”
- When it comes to CEOs, there are nearly as many named John as there are women
- Women = 51% of Kansas population, yet only 25% in legislation
- “We always say why, turn it into why not.”
- “I don’t need a title to be a community advocate.”
- “When all else fails, start your own business.”
- “If you want to have 50, 60 and 70-year-old white men decide what your city is going to look like, then continue to meet here and do nothing.”
- “I want someone on our council who looks like me and understands me and the people in my neighborhood.”
- “What you fear has mastery over your life.”
- “I am who I am. I’m good at what I do, and nothing can stop me.”
Most importantly, I learned we were all born to lead. Even me. Whether it’s in our workplace, our homes, our communities. It’s time to not just make the change, it is up to women to be the change. We’ve tried it the other way for too long. So many women have already lit the trail, but the journey is long, and we have much to do. 189 women attended the Know Your Worth conference. These women are at the ready. These women are on the cusp of their own great histories.
Grab your torches, ladies. Meet us on the path.