Updated: Mar 8, 2019
By Demetria Miles-McDonald, Founder & CEO of Decide Diversity, Louisville
It all started on March 24, 2016 at the 2nd Annual IWL Women’s Leadership Conference. The theme that year was "Readiness, Resilience, and Results," and it couldn’t have been a more accurate description of my experience. The day started like any other, but it didn’t take long to run into the then Executive Director, Maggie Anderson.
When asked how the day was going so far and what take-aways I had gained, I declared that I would be back the following year as a speaker. Maggie was shocked! I was shocked!
You must know a little about me at that point to truly understand how absurd it was for me to make that statement. At the time, I was an individual contributor in the training and development department of an organization and a full time PhD student studying Industrial and Organizational Psychology. I was just a "regular person" who had not dared to call myself a leader. I was new to working at the corporate level and had so much to learn. In the grand scheme of things, I was a nobody! Unrecognizable! Unimportant! The only public speaking I had done at that point was to my class or at church. How dare I proclaim that I would be the one sharing knowledge at the following year’s conference? Insanity!
Just when I hoped my outlandish declaration had gone unnoticed, Maggie asked if I would help her close the conference by repeating my comments on stage in front of hundreds of people I didn’t know, with zero plans to bring my dream to fruition. To say that I was a nervous wreck would be an understatement.
I walked up on stage with the lights brightly shining on me, walked towards the microphone, and with a small quiver in my throat said, “My name is Demetria Miles and I attended today’s conference on a student scholarship. This has been one of the best events for professional development that I’ve ever attended. I’ve met so many amazing people and learned extremely valuable information. In fact, this event was so great that I declare that next year, I will be a speaker on this stage.” I must admit, I was much more confident the second time I said it and the audience must have been just as enthused because I distinctly recall hearing cheers, hands clapping, and a thunderous applause. In that moment, I felt like Oprah after one of her best episodes.
After all the cheering had died down and the moment had passed, I had to think about how to bring this vision to life. Well, they aren’t called Integrating Women Leaders for nothing! It didn’t take long for me to integrate into IWL and my story didn’t end there! I’ve had the honor of working as an extended team member to bring the conference to life; as a committee member volunteering my time and talent to the organization; and last but certainly not least, I’ve spoken at every IWL women’s leadership conference since then, including an IWL Indianapolis conference and again at the upcoming IWL Louisville conference on April 25. Much has changed since that fate-filled day. I’m now a small business owner traveling the country teaching and implementing diversity and inclusion best practices.
For me, IWL has been more than a once a year conference. IWL has been a powerful resource for development that has pushed me outside of my self-imposed boundaries. IWL has taught me to challenge the world around me with strength and compassion. IWL has allowed me to try and fail and try again without making me feel incompetent. IWL has been an amazing partner and I can’t imagine what my life would have been if that glorious day in March 2016 wouldn’t have happened.
The theme for the 2019 conference is "Your Voice. Your Power. Your Time." and it couldn’t be any truer for my personal journey with IWL. In fact, every conference theme since 2016 has foretold an important milestone in my professional and personal life. In 2017, the theme was “I Got This” and it was at that time that I made the courageous leap from full time employee to full time entrepreneur. “I Got This” was the mantra that got me through rocky patches and down moments. In 2018, the theme was “Better Together” and while its original meaning was in reference to the power men and women working together in the workplace, it also served as a great reminder to me as my spouse and I celebrated one year of marriage. I’m not sure where 2019 will take me, but with IWL as a trusted partner, I know that it will only get better from here.
All it takes is one magical moment to forever change your life. Join me on April 25th at the 5th Annual IWL Women’s Leadership Conference in Louisville, KY. Your voice, your power, and your time will thank you for it!