Women’s Leadership Conference for Practitioners

Women’s Leadership Conference for Practitioners

While most of my attention these days seems to be on the scholarship side of women and leadership, on Thursday, April 13, I was fortunate to attend a women and leadership conference targeting practitioners.  The conference, the 38th Annual Simmons Leadership Conference, welcomed a capacity crowd of more than 2,000 at the Seaport Convention Center in Boston.  The conference was hosted by Simmons College in Boston (my alma mater) and the major corporate sponsors had huge numbers of employees and customers at the conference. 

The conference’s theme was “Leading with Purpose” and I listened to many amazing women who have personified the theme.  There were four keynote speakers, who along with senior executives from the sponsoring companies addressed the entire group.  We each also had the opportunity to attend two “small sessions” – the two I attended were in amphitheaters and standing room only!  I’ll share a few of the comments that struck me throughout the day!

·        Karen Quintos, from Dell, advised us women to surround ourselves with people who want us to succeed.

·        Dawn Frazier-Bohnert, from Liberty Mutual, observed that leading with purpose should include not only our personal purposes but also what we can do to help others achieve their purposes.

·        Nina Tessler, one of the keynote speakers and former CEO of CBS Entertainment observed:

o   Failure is part of the formula for success

o   Consider the portability of skills

o   Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know”, observing that asking for help takes courage.

·        Diana Nyad, another keynote speaker, who achieved her purpose, swimming the brutal stretch of sea from Cuba to Key West at the age of 64 (she’d tried multiple times and failed as a much younger woman), advised we are never too old to chase our dream.

·        A corporate panelist (I didn’t note which one) on the business panel I observed addressing Leading with a Purpose spoke of the inevitability of change happening and reminded us that, while having a plan is important, it is also important to be able to recognize and take advantage of unanticipated opportunities when they appear.

·        Marlee Matlin, another keynote (signing and using a translator), who is an Oscar-winning deaf actress, reminded us that, if we will it, it is not a dream and advised us to focus on our abilities, not our disabilities.  She also shared the huge role other people can make in our lives by sharing the important roles Henry Winkler (the Fonz) and his wife have played in her life.

·        Jade Simmons a maverick from the world of classical music was so mesmerizing as she spoke of living as a maverick that I didn’t take any notes!  What impressed me was that, when she realized she wouldn’t stand out as a classical musician, she defined a space for herself as a story-telling musician and has continued to redefine herself and create new opportunities.

·        Dionne Von Furstenberg, the closing keynote speaker, shared her stories of creating opportunities, and, sometimes after temporarily wildly succeeding, when those successes came to abrupt ends, moving on to identify new opportunities, using her previously acquired skills in new ways.

As I reflected on what I’d heard and related it to my scholarly work, I found my research focus repeatedly reinforced.  Each of the keynote speakers discussed the importance of sharing our stories (I am currently focused on autoethnography) and spoke of perseverance, resilience, the important roles of the other people who want us to succeed, and pursuing our purposes – moving on when we realize that what we are doing isn’t moving us towards our purposes.  These themes were consistent with the findings of my research teams as we have focused on women's leader identities and leadership aspirations.  Spending the day listening to women leaders was stimulating!

Perhaps some of you will be interested to know that the second annual Simmons International Leadership Conference is being held in Geneva, Switzerland October 25 – 27, 2017.   Speakers at the conference are to include:  Julia Gillard, former Prime Minister of Australia; Mary Robinson, former Prime Minister of Ireland; Sahar Hashemi, entrepreneur and co-founder of the Coffee Republic; and Tan Le, entrepreneur, co-founder and CEO of EMOTIV.   You can learn more at http://www.simmons.edu/leadership/international.  This conference is conveniently scheduled 10 days after the International Leadership Conference (ILA) in Brussels, Belgium that takes place October 12 – 15. The ILA conference theme is Leadership in Turbulent Times and more information is available at http://www.ila-net.org/.   I expect many of you have joined me in submitting proposals to this ILA conference.  As University of Phoenix scholar/ practitioner/ leaders focused on Women and Leadership, perhaps we should all attend both conferences!  





Lynne Devnew's picture Lynne Devnew | April 17, 2017 8:17 am MST

The Nexus of Theory and Practice

I just read a short piece written by Cynthia Cherrey on the nexus of theory and practice:  http://intersections.ilamembers.org/member-benefit-access/interface/staff-corners/2017apr13.  Her article is an imaginary conversation on the topic between Kurt Lewin and Leonardo DiVinci.  

Whom might we imagine having this conversation on the nexus of theory and practice related to women and leadership?

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Lynne Devnew



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