Open, Meaningful Conversations at the 3% Conference
I’m afraid of a lot of things. As an anxious person, I am no stranger to worst-case-scenario thinking, black & white thinking, “what if” thinking…lots of thinking, lots of time spent mentally predicting outcomes and existing with my legs tensed or jaw clenched (or both). Thankfully, there’s yoga. And therapy. And laughter. And friends. And the 3% Conference. Not necessarily in that order.
Fear as a topic threaded through many discussions at the 3% Conference. Fear of missing out on career opportunities when deciding to have a family. Fear of asking questions, asking for help, being perceived as needy. Fear of being at the forefront of change and screwing up. Fear of retaliation when reporting sexual harassment.
What I found remarkable about this conference is that right off the bat, I felt safe. This almost never happens, because anxious person + 1,000-person event = internal stress at minimum. But thanks to good organization and communication, I had the information I needed to know about what to expect over the 2-day conference. I knew there was a place I could go to take a call or take a break. I saw programming that not only addressed concerns I’ve been storing in my head, but also acknowledged and alleviated those concerns. For example: the program “Non-Linear Is the New Normal” was subtitled “many women pause, downshift, and relaunch their careers.” Many women. Normal. A solutions-oriented approach to discussing family and career. Women on this panel talked about how hard it was to ask to drop down to a 3 or 4-day a week schedule, but that their companies supported them and they were so glad that they did – and they continued to work hard, were promoted and still able to grow their career. I cannot tell you how comforting and how inspiring it was to hear this.
What I also found remarkable about this conference is how open the panelists and participants were to talking about their feelings, their fears, their concerns. There were authentic, meaningful conversations. There were tensions, people holding each other accountable in acknowledging progress that still needs to happen. Rarely did I think the person on stage wasn’t being straight with the audience. This was possible because everyone felt safe; the lack of fear allowed for vulnerability, for authenticity, for productive disagreement, for truthful observations. It allowed powerful women like Judy John (CEO Canada & CCO North America, Leo Burnett) to be able to talk about missing family events for work events because, “it’s this fear that if I don’t show up when I’m asked, I won’t be asked again” and Kerstin Emhoff (Co-Founder & President, Prettybird) to tell us about a really terrible experience with sexual harassment. It allowed me to see that I have to acknowledge, love, and address my fear, that I have nothing to be afraid of, and that asking for help and not having all the answers is normal and expected. It allowed me to see that we need to keep fighting for ourselves and what we believe in, even if it makes us scared or uncomfortable at times.
The 3% Conference showed me what is possible when fear isn’t in charge: connection, trust, hope, momentum, and profound change. That’s worth a damn.