I have lived in Washington DC for almost 15 years now, and have been very fortunate to see, experience and learn from some of the best. This past Tuesday – June 14, 2016 – could top the list for me. I was part of the YWCA delegation – along with Tamara Smith (our amazing CEO!) at the first-ever State of Women White House Summit. We experienced a full day (when I say full… I mean almost 14 hours) with some of the greatest leaders and voices our country has to offer – all talking about issues that matter most to women.
I like to think I keep pretty good company – professionally and personally – but at the Summit, I was sharing a room with Vice President Joe Biden… Valerie Jarrett, Mariska Hargitay (Captain Benson for you L&O SVU fans), Connie Britton (I just loved Tammy Taylor… and Rayna James), Cecile Richards, Lilly Ledbetter, Patricia Arquette, Laurie Fabiano (President of the Tory Burch Foundation – Tory could not be there since her two sons were graduating from high school – and as she remarked by video – ‘if any crowd would understand that… it’s this one”), Warren Buffett, Kerry Washington (YES! Olivia Pope!), Nancy Pelosi (who I did not realize has been in the House for 30 years, as of 2017), Sophia Bush, Billie Jean-King, Shonda Rhimes, and Amy Poehler. OH – and… PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, FIRST LADY MICHELLE OBAMA AND OPRAH!
How ridiculously amazing is that line up? And – that’s only half… there were new names and faces I had not scene or heard before – and they were amazingly impressive. Take Mikaela Ulmer for example. She’s 11 years old, and the CEO of “Me & The Bees Lemonade.” Yes – an 11 year old CEO – and, did I mention she introduced the President? (Of the United States). Mikaela was stung by a bee when she was younger (yes, younger than 11) and hated bees…. until she started to learn more about them – which lead her to wanting to save them! So, she started a lemonade stand, and used the honeybee to help her – she’s selling her product in stores all over the country now. Amazing. Just Amazing. I also met Carla Walker-Miller – she’s native of Detroit, and was part of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women program – a program funded in larger part by Warren Buffett, helping women small business owners access the capital and resources they need to be successful. Carla had an energy idea – she knew there had to be better ways to save it – so she started her company to help others become more energy efficient in the office. She employs hundreds of Detroit residents, and after 3 years, has just won a $48 million dollar contract to make most of the buildings in downtown Detroit more energy-friendly by installing LED lighting. It’s just amazing what we can do as women – in particular – when supported, and these two were so inspiring.
One of my favorite things about large events like this – did I mention there were 5,000 of us at the DC Convention Center – is to take down the quotes and anecdotes that only we get to hear in person – here are a few of my favorites:
“Violence is a crime – pure and simple.” ~ Joe Biden
“If women were paid the full dollar we deserve, we would not have the poverty we do in this country.” ~ Patricia Arquette
“We know women can lead, so let’s put women in leadership positions.” ~Laurie Fabiano
“Discrimination is for losers!” ~ Barack Obama
“Our country is not just about the Benjamin’s – it’s the Tubman’s too!” ~ Barack Obama
“You knew your value.” ~ Oprah Winfrey (to Michelle Obama)
“Get to understand who you are, and like yourself.. because I like me!” ~ Michelle Obama
There was a synergy in the room all day that is hard to describe in words; it was a feeling of empowerment – of inspiration – of real promise. There was a collective feeling of pride – that we as women have so much to offer – and so many are trailblazing the path so that others can follow. But there is more work to be done – that is clear. I am walking away knowing that we must not stop now – that we need all our girls to think like Malia and Sasha Obama – to KNOW they can do whatever they want in life – to live each day not even thinking about barriers to their success. We all have a role to play in this – men and women – and I look forward to using my time and talent to help in making a difference. Because we know… WHEN WOMEN SUCCEED… AMERICA SUCCEEDS!
~ Shana Heilbron, Chief Development & Communications Officer, YWCA NCA