“You know it’s all girls in there right?” chuckled the security guard, after staring at me up and down. I felt so violated.
I first entered the Raffle Room, where 80 percent of the prizes didn’t apply to me. Can this jewelry coupon last for 5 years, for my imaginary future girlfriend? Can a dude pull off this scarf? While staring at this room filled with…woman stuff…I started to question my rationale for coming today.
I have always been proud to call myself a feminist, and my most recent boss, Wendy, changed my life. I came to the WWIB Conference because I believed in what was happening here—but I had no idea what would actually happen here.
Then, she spoke.
“Confidence, council, and a can-do attitude.” The three Cs to professional success. Without context, this advice could have come from any conference, panel session, or interview. On this occasion, it came from the Deloitte CEO, Cathy Engelbert.
“Use competition to drive confidence. Listen more to become better at thinking-on-your-feet. Attack work with grit and passion. Be fearless and fierce.” This advice all felt so universally relevant and important; everyone could benefit from it.
More advice from speakers throughout the day poured out in a swift deluge. Through each session, I found myself ferociously scribbling notes and nodding my head at so many points. I forgot that I was the only man in these panel sessions, because it honestly was not relevant to the advice being given. I didn’t hear some strong message on social advocacy; I heard a strong message of hope and ambition.
When I walked away from the Wharton Women in Business Conference, my biggest takeaway was this: the most empowering thing in the world is to see others like you achieve that success. While the advice itself was universal, the speakers’ presence themselves radiated as the real empowering motivation. I wish more men were there to see this point, break the stigma, and champion the cause. So many of my classmates came up to me throughout the day and said “so many guys wore those 22 shirts this week, but where are they now?”
Here’s what happens when people find out you’re attending something with a “label”: they stop seeing you as an individual and start seeing the bigger thing you identify with. Oh, you’re a Christian? Oh, you’re a Republican? Oh, you’re Wharton? But honestly, we’re all just people, and entirely too human. We’re constantly learning and figuring out what we want, what to believe in, and who we are.
We have opinions and beliefs, but so many of them evolve over time and with experience. We constantly move forward. And I hope to challenge some classmates to not disregard a possibility because it does not fit a label you’re associated with right now. We need people from all sides to understand the challenges of any issues. We need to force ourselves to keep trying, keep understanding in hopes that, just maybe, we can come a bit closer to where we need to be together.