8,000 Women Walk Into a Room

Posted By Natalie Kay on December 18, 2015

Last month Philadelphia hosted the 12th Annual Pennsylvania Conference for Women. The Convention Center opened its doors to approximately 8,000 women for a one-day professional and personal development event on what matters most to women. Two attributes were undeniable: inspiration and optimism. Femininity was just table stakes.

Some of the region's—and nation's—most influential women were in one room for the day. With seven keynotes in all, the list included feminine power hitters from Alba to Steinem. Co-founder of The Life Is Good Company, John Jacobs, was also on the docket to balance the estrogen-filled line up. All of these folks have made an impact in the world and were there to share their inspirational stories with us—women in power suits, pearls and heels endeavoring to make our own mark on the world.

Keynotes took place at breakfast and lunch with breakout sessions and book signings sandwiched in between. The exhibition space was open throughout the conference with exhibitors in finance, food and drink, retail, health, politics, nonprofits and more [read: giveaways galore]. QVC, Inc. had a big showing with the Sprouts Inventors and Entrepreneurs Forum. Attendees could pitch ideas and receive instant feedback from a panel of QVC buyers and hosts, plus the chance to get their products noticed by the e-commerce giant. I’m pretty certain I witnessed at least two of the ‘next big thing’ … we’ll see if the products make their way to QVC and / or Shark Tank.

It would be nearly impossible to summarize all of the enlightening nuggets that happened and were shared during this gathering place for women who want to make Pennsylvania, and the world, better. In light of that, allow me to share some of my favorite moments of the day.

Liberian peace activist, Leymah Gbowee, was the morning keynote finale. Leymah was a social worker during Liberia’s first civil war, a war with much of the violence directed at women. During the country’s second civil war, she helped organize an interreligious coalition of Christian and Muslim women. Dressed in white, thousands of women staged pray-ins and nonviolent protests demanding reconciliation and the resurgence of high-level peace talks. This movement was pivotal in ending the war.

Leymah, who is also the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner, shared her story of passion and courage and the audience seemed to hang on every word. There in front of us was a woman that was unafraid to make a difference in a time of turmoil, a woman full of clemency and hope for those that cause turmoil. She reminded us of the importance of believing that most people in this world are good—a heartening sentiment as we respond to and cope with the horrific and senseless tragedies in Paris and around the world. Leymah’s conviction to transform the world by unlocking the greatness of women left us all in awe.

Co-founder of The Life is Good Company, and appropriately titled chief creative optimist, John Jacobs took the stage throwing Frisbees to anyone in his reach. He told the story about how he and his brother, Bert, launched the business with $78 in their pockets, selling t-shirts in the streets of Boston. Today, Life is Good is a $100 million company that spreads the power of optimism through inspiring art, a passionate community and groundbreaking nonprofit work.

Jacobs inspired us to choose optimism and to grow the good in our lives. Wearing a t-shirt that commanded all to ‘Spread the Good Vibes,’ he urged us to live life with purpose, engage, explore and have fun while doing it. “Try anything within reason. You’ll either succeed or learn. Take the failure out of it.”

That day at the exhibit hall I purchased a few Life is Good t-shirts splashed with mantras such as Fear less and Do What You Love. Love What You Do. That’s some inspiration because I haven’t donned a t-shirt since 1988.

At the end of the day I brushed elbows with feminist icon Gloria Steinem. And by brushed elbows, I mean that I bought Steinem’s new book My Life on the Road and during the book signing my lanyard got caught on her ultra cool studded leather jacket.

Steinem did what Steinem does best—encouraged women to believe in themselves, to push for equality and to embrace our fierce gender. Her ending quote has not left me: "Behave as if everything you do matters, because it might."

The day’s sessions, speeches and reflections were uplifting and emboldening. They reminded me that passion is hard-wired. Have a zest for life. Bring an infectious can-do attitude. Get fired up for work each day. Revel in possibility. Do the absolute best with absolutely everything. Make things better. Make a difference. Remember that we are all part of something bigger than ourselves.

Natalie is Karma’s Group Account Director and newly-minted chief optimist.