Last year’s inaugural Fortune Most Powerful Women Next Generation Summit was a fantastic experience (you can read about it here), so when I was fortunate enough to be invited again this year I jumped at the chance.
With more than 50 speakers scheduled over the two days there was going to be no shortage of learning and inspiration to be had, and with a diverse mix of female leaders in the room ranging from those with executive roles in big and small businesses, entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs and founders, we each took different messages away.
I’m sharing some of the things that resonated most deeply with me here, but I’d encourage you to read the many articles you can find about the event via the @FortuneMPW Twitter account as this is by no means an exhaustive summary.
We’ve been encouraging more teleworking in roles that can accommodate this in our businesses of late, and it was fascinating to hear from Michelle Lee, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director at the US Patent and Trademark Office that 84% of their workforce works remotely. This is one of the key ways they compete with tech companies and start ups for talent, and has been very successful. Michelle also encouraged us to think about the legislative and regulatory strategy of our businesses, saying that disruptors almost inevitably run into challenges as they encounter rules that were designed long before their businesses were conceived. Rather than railing against this, she encouraged us to take a proactive approach, engage early and often with government and be part of shaping the conversation and developing the solutions.
She also gave us a timely reminder that the most valuable assets of many companies today have shifted or are shifting from tangible to intangible, with brand, algorithms, and the underlying technology that drives service offers replacing traditional asset classes like inventory.
From a health perspective, Cindy Whitehead, the co-founder and CEO of Sprout which has just brought to market the first ever FDA approved drug for women’s most common sexual dysfunction, flagged the importance for everyone to be prepared to be their own advocate in the management of their health, and insist that their needs are important and deserve to be heard and acknowledged by care providers. This was reinforced by Anne Wojcicki, co-founder and CEO of 23andme, the testing company giving consumers access to their own genetic information in language they can understand.
As a huge Soul Cycle fan, I loved both the opportunity to meet CEO Melanie Whelan and her recount of a conversation that suggested fitness trackers should be viewed as the gateway drugs to a health addiction, and recognised for the opportunity that creates. One of the quotes that has stuck most firmly in my mind from my time in San Francisco actually comes not from any of the speakers or delegates, but actually from the Soul Cycle instructor who took my early morning Tuesday class and told us ‘Forget about it faking it till you make it, fake it till you become it!’ Words to live by as so many of us still struggle with the challenge of ‘imposter syndrome’.
On a completely different note, Abby Wambach spoke about the inequality in pay rates experienced between men and women’s sport, an issue that is very much at the front of our minds and one that we are trying to do something about changing via our sponsorship of the Brisbane Heat WBBL. Now that Abby’s made the decision to retire she’s determined to do something about addressing this so future generations of sportswomen don’t suffer the same fate.
One of the speakers I took most away from was Kat Cole, who started her career as a Hooters waitress and is now group president of Cinnabon’s parent company FOCUS Brands. Kat told us that an ability to balance confidence and courage with humility and curiosity transcends roles and drives success regardless of your industry. She also challenged us to shift our thinking from learning from our failures, where it’s often relatively easy to identify what went wrong, to applying an equal focus to unpicking successes and learning from them. She proposed that learning from success is actually harder than learning from failure as it requires more analysis and work, but is absolutely to build a success ‘muscle memory’ to drive future wins.
Kat was also one of many speakers who told us about the important role social media, and Twitter in particular, plays in their lives and business activities. A collaboration between Wicked good cupcakes and Cinnabon came about through Kat’s response to an initial tweet from an entrepreneur starting out in the cupcake business, while at dinner we’d also heard how Alyssa Milano moved from her initial view that sharing through Twitter was ‘dirty’ to viewing it as a powerful tool that can change the world. She told us you used to need a leader to create a movement, but now through social media a moment can create a movement. Abby Wambach took a more light hearted approach, telling us she was using Twitter to socially shame herself out of her muffin addiction!
Capturing the insights coming thick and fast saw our devices chewing through their battery life in no time, so Meredith Perry’s news that uBeam’s initial product release of the technology that transmits power over the air to charge electronic devices wirelessly is slated for the end of 2016 was very welcome!
These were my top take outs from the event, but there is so much more that I haven’t touched on at @FortuneMPW, and of course one of the things that can never be quantified is the value of the conversations you have, the friendships you form and the energy and inspiration that results.
Thank you Fortune Magazine for putting on this event and bringing this great group of women together, I’m so appreciative of the opportunity to be part of it.