women in business

How Women Rise: We’re still talking about It – Mary T. O’Sullivan

By Mary T. O’Sullivan, MSOL

“Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.” — Mark Twain

Since September of 2022, I have attended three completely different Women’s Conferences: September 2022, The RISE Women’s Summit; December 2022, The Massachusetts Conference for Women; and March 2023, Bryant University’s Women’s Summit. Each has its own tone and direction, but the themes don’t seem to differ very much. 

“Breaking Out: Empowering and Encouraging Each Other”, “Reset. Renew. Reconnect.”, “Moving Forward Together: Me, We, Us” are samplings from recent conferences. The theme that seems to emerge most frequently is that women need to support each other, and take care of ourselves to move ahead. But I’ve noticed that while the audience loves hearing these themes, things never seem to change.

In her recently published book, Rising Together: How We Can Bridge Divides and Create a More Inclusive Workplace, Sally Helgesen promotes instilling “a culture of belonging”, which means making room for everyone, including other women, in our circle of power.  In her keynote speech at this year’s Bryant University Women’s Summit, she made the point that often women complain that “it’s not fair”, we need to understand we have limits, and “you can only do what you can control”, calm down and “stop overthinking”, and admonished the audience to “stay curious”. She also emphasized that women are “way too hard” on ourselves and each other, and women need to reach out and use their “grapevine” – the equivalent of the “Old Boys’ Network”.  Her remarks held the audience spellbound, as if they had never heard such words before.

At the December 2022 Massachusetts Conference for Women, Viola Davis echoed a familiar theme, “There is no political idea, no business idea, no artistic idea, no idea in general whose objective should not be connection – human connection. If we can’t move forward together, we can’t move forward at all.” Her powerful, passionate speech rang through every fiber of the 10,000 women in the room. Her voice stayed with me throughout the day, however, it struck me that many women returned to their “factory reset” once her talk was over. In coaching for two hours that day, the stories women were telling were not of connection, but of isolation, and having to do most things all alone.

The stated mission of The RISE Women’s Leadership Conference is to “bring discussion, thought leadership and connectedness across a diverse and broad range of …women.” The keynote speakers reiterated over and over how important it is for women to connect and stay connected, to experience a sense of “belonging”. (The “B” in DEI & B). I had to wonder once again if that message would stay or be forgotten soon after.

Both Sally Helgesen and her co-author, Marshall Goldsmith coined a term I found fascinating. It’s known as “forgetter”. We become “forgetters” when we are enthused and even entranced by a thought, idea, experience, or encounter – only to “forget” it all once the day passes. Forgetting provides the path to keep people locked in place. Forgetters reflect on their experience with fondness, and think, “what a great idea”, but ideation is only half the battle.

To engage, empower, move forward, connect, support, and help each other calls for action; doing, rather than thinking. It’s one thing to grasp a whole new mindset, and quite another to put it into action. Are we swimming against the tide, or are we surfing the waves? We hear the right words, those words we want to hear, but so little action seems to be taking place. That’s why we’re still talking about it.

“Pay less attention to what [people] say. Just watch what they do.” — Dale Carnegie

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Mary T. O’Sullivan, Master of Science, Organizational Leadership, International Coaching Federation Professional Certified Coach, Society of Human Resource Management, “Senior Certified Professional. Graduate Certificate in Executive and Professional Career Coaching, University of Texas at Dallas. Member, Beta Gamma Sigma, the International Honor Society. Advanced Studies in Education from Montclair University, SUNY Oswego and Syracuse University. Mary is also a certified Six Sigma Specialist, Contract Specialist, IPT Leader and holds a Certificate in Essentials of Human Resource Management from SHRM.