As a returning attendee to the annual Texas Conference for Women, I knew to expect an environment of game changers and norm-challengers, but I hadn’t processed the theme of this year’s conference until it was explicitly stated in the welcoming remarks: the power of us.
I was one of more than 180 women who attended the one day conference last Thursday from Rackspace, which was a sponsor of this year’s conference. Our leadership understands that in order for Rackspace to succeed, women need to succeed, and this conference is one of the many ways Rackspace invests in women.
By the end of the packed day, more than 7,500 conference attendees would be reinvigorated, ready to help their organizations create an environment of inclusion, while myself and the other Rackers who attended were committed to bring back what we learned to Rackspace with tremendous motivation and accountable action.
The day kicked off with a focus on wellness and intentions through a group meditation led by media entrepreneur and author Mallika Chopra. It was during those silent meditative minutes focusing on our goals, purpose, and community, that I first felt the immense potential in the power of us.
Power is defined as the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events. There were many examples of that influential power within the exhibit hall, with a lineup of fearless speakers and change leaders that included Anita Hill and Sheryl Sandberg, both of whom have amplified the voices of women in the workplace, culture and public policy.
Rackspace Senior Director of Integrated Marketing, Kelly Hopping joined a panel to share the ways she’s built resilience using stumbling blocks to propel herself forward both professionally and personally. Rachel Cassidy, general manager and vice president of Rackspace Professional Services, contributed to a panel focused on how to be taken seriously as a woman in tech or other male-dominated industries.
Rachel was joined by Sara Brand, founding General Partner of True Wealth Ventures, and Lisa Pearson, Chief Executive Officer of Umbel. The panel discussed well-known issues for minority groups in tech such as salary negotiation, bias and majority group advocacy. Their panel was part of the Emerging Professionals learning track, catering to young professional women seeking strategies from those who have successfully navigated these challenges.
When asked how to make it over one’s first professional hurdle, Rachel told attendees to “find opportunities that get you in the door, follow your passions…and raise your hand to take on more.” Adding nuance to that advice, however, Lisa noted that the ability to take on a lot of work can actually block women from taking on strategically valuable work, and so there are other times we need to put our hands down.
Each panelist said mentor and sponsor relationships have been key to advance their careers, and when faced with hardship or inequalities, showcasing their domain expertise helped earn the respect and partnerships needed to climb the corporate ladder.
Actress and keynote speaker Viola Davis described her rise out of poverty to become the most Academy Award-nominated African American actress in history. She spent years gaining education and credibility, all the while working to conceal the trauma of her childhood, being the daughter of an alcoholic, which led to her always feeling less than those around her.
“The effort that it took to hide the poverty,” she said, “was making me walk in the room half stepping. It prevented me from living a life bigger than me.”
Inspired by the vulnerability and ownership of her story, Viola encouraged us to answer our own call to contribute to a community and mission larger than ourselves.
As the day concluded, I understood that the power of us begins with embracing our individual stories. It’s a required first step to unlocking our full potential as the passionate experts we have worked to become, and gives us a platform to provide fanatical support in everything we do. It is as the African proverb states: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Want to join the community of Rackers who have committed to go far together? Check out open positions at Rackspace.