• Olivia Graham

When Women Come Together

Yesterday I had the privilege of experiencing the 2020 Watermark Conference for Women in Silicon Valley. I say experience because as opposed to attending as one of the 6,500 ticketed exhibitors, I was able to see this conference through an entirely different lens as a volunteer. Watermark’s reputation is known far and wide as an organization that champions and brings together powerful women. There is no question as to whether or not they walk that walk, even if you only tune in via live stream; the impact of the women they bring together speaks for itself. That all being said, having spent a single day somewhat behind the scenes as a volunteer gave me a new and deep appreciation for the true power and possibility available when women come together.

In general, attending an industry conference, especially one of this scale, with such accomplished and inspiring speakers, can be overwhelming. When you are one of 6,500 people trying to get a great seat in each session, before rushing straight to the next one, while taking notes and photos or finding time to network, you don’t necessarily have the time to pause and feel the impact of what is happening around you. The people who make these events run smoothly are certainly no strangers to running from one room to the next. It’s what we were looking for that changed my perspective on the day. Below are a few lessons that I took away from my day behind the scenes.

  • What attendees see when they show up to an event the day-of, is the tip of the iceberg. What they see are a beautifully prepared venue, visually appealing programs and speakers who deliver expert level presentations. That one day is the result of months of tireless effort from more people than you can imagine. The packed schedule offers exhibitors to choose which sessions to attend, opportunities to network, amenities to get some work done. Not to mention lunch, swag bags, interactive attractions and chances to meet with the talent they had to schedule, coordinate and book. Successfully hosting a conference for 6,500 attendees, at least 50 speakers, along with convention center security and janitorial staff is an incredibly difficult and remarkable feat. It is not possible without truly powerful and considerate communicators.

  • Pat Mitchell is the Editorial Director of TedWomen. She is also an award-winning CEO and Producer, not to mention activist and mother. For those who are not familiar with all of the groundbreaking work this leader has done, I can’t recommend enough taking the time to learn about her work. Pat, by all means, is the ideal speaker and inspirational guru for a conference of this caliber. I didn’t get to hear Pat speak on a panel, but I did get to see her during the lunchtime keynote. What stuck out to me was her role in the conversation. Pat, who is beyond accomplished and has a meaningful story to tell, was not sharing her own. Instead, she was moderating the keynotes with the other two speakers. What could be more meaningful and fascinating than watching a woman like Pat Mitchell asking to hear stories from other groundbreaking women?

It is clear that the women who are brought together to share their experiences with you on stage or in panels have endless wisdom to impart. People come from far and wide to hear the likes of Megan Rapinoe and Indra Nooyi speak. What not everyone may realize is that you can find women like this on the stages of course, but they are also the ones holding the clipboards and talking into the radio organizing the next segment. Events like these just don’t happen without the sheer dedication of women like the ones who managed the volunteers. One of the most impressive and powerful women I met yesterday was named Amy. She didn't participate in any of the Breakout Sessions and wasn’t on stage for the Keynote Luncheon. Instead, you could find Amy in a small room on the bottom floor in the corner of the conference center. She was the ring-leader quickly and quietly directing volunteers to where they could lend helping hands. She made sure we all were fed and included, all while sharing her own incredible stories of the unbelievable things she's seen in her role. She didn’t ask for thanks or recognition, but in truth, she was one of the most powerful women in the building. It’s because of her coordination, consideration and communication that the other women in the building had a platform on which to share their stories.