On Tuesday, August 28th, just under 1,200 women and men gathered in downtown Indianapolis for the 9th Annual IWL Women's Leadership Conference. It was a full-circle moment for me as I was able to attend this year with a group from my company, High Alpha. I am just over 1 year into a role as a marketing associate with High Alpha, a Venture Studio in the heart of downtown Indianapolis. Hard to believe that just a few years ago in January 2015, I kicked-off a 9 month internship with IWL.
As a sophomore in college, I had never had a formal internship. I was already a culprit of changing my major twice, and truthfully had no idea what a "marketing and communications" internship would even require. I did know, however, that I was passionate about equal opportunities for women in the working-world and was terrified of the possibility that i wouldn't get the opportunities I dreamed of post-graduation. The mission of IWL felt empowering and the organization was showcasing tangible actions that companies and employees could take to get conversations going about equality and women's leadership.
So, I reached out. I'm really glad that I couldn't find the original "cold" email I sent to Executive Director back then, Maggie Phelps, but something about that email was professional enough and I was asked to come in for an interview. What ensued was a 9-month journey that exposed me to an incredible professional experience, great mentors, and most importantly, a lasting network and community in Indianapolis.
Stepping into my first IWL conference as an attendee was surreal. The conference has grown tremendously with a sold-out crowd, but I think it's grown in other ways, too. A word to describe this year's conference might be: Fearless.
It's scary to talk about a lot of things in the workplace. I'm very outgoing, and I have been lucky to have my first "real world" role be with a phenomenal company, but it's still overwhelming how scary certain conversations as women can be.
This fearless energy was evident right away with James Loduca, Salesforce's Director of Equality Programs, kicking off the conference with a bold, vulnerable, and real conversation about the diversity that exists in our world, the lack of of representation and opportunity that often exists, and why celebrating this diversity is one of the most important and fearless things we can do to better our workforce and world. A spirit of bold, fearless energy continued throughout the day with every keynote and main-stage panelist bringing not only great insight and perspective on their specific topic, but also authenticity, honesty, and fearlessness to share their story, celebrate success, and call for change.
Conferences often can provide a one-time energy boost- leaving attendees feeling passionate and excited about the topic at hand, but not truly knowing how to carry that energy out into real life. IWL does a phenomenal job of centering a conference theme and sessions around tangible takeaways, ideas, and action items.
With the theme, "Now is the Time" there is a clear intention that action starts now. Every session I attended incorporated real-time next-steps. I was able to walk-away from the conference more informed about a host of relevant topics as well as with a handful of next-steps I can take to improve my executive presence, focus on achieving a personal goal from my to-do list, and more.
To be truly fearless is never going to come naturally for me - and I live with an amount of privilege in this world that absolutely allows me to be more fearless than many others. Our world in 2018 can be disappointing and unnerving at times, but seeing organizations such as IWL taking strides to be fearless in the authentic content and impact they can bring to an event, a business community, and even city - I am hopeful that more and more people will continue to take fearless steps in the workplace. My career is just beginning and I am excited to see how our workforce will continue to evolve with diverse perspectives, equal representation, and safe and positive work cultures. Now is the time to be fearless and take that first step to a more authentic and equal workplace. Thank you IWL for continuing to be an important part of my leadership journey.
Paige Haefer is a Marketing Associate at High Alpha. She is also part of the 2-year entrepreneurial program, Orr Fellowship, and a proud Butler University alum.