Last week 180 business women descended on Noosa for what has long been a favorite event in my calendar, the Commonwealth Bank Women in Focus annual conference. I’ve attended a number of these previously (you can read my summaries of the 2014 and 2015 events here) but for me this years event was particularly powerful.
There was a lot of raw emotion on display, both on and off the stage, as women opened up about the challenges they had faced, or were currently living through. Other delegates were quick with their offers of support, both practical and emotional, making it clear this was a safe environment to share what was really going on in your life and business. Day 1 of the conference was also R U OK day, and it couldn’t have been a better place to be having the real and important conversations that that day is all about.
Glimpsing snippets of peoples lives through social media feeds makes it easy to feel like you know what’s going on in someone’s world, but we all know at some level that those feeds tend to be more of a highlight reel rather than the full documentary. Having the courage to stand up in front of your peers and say that while some parts of my life are going great, there are also some things that I’m actually finding really really tough and could do with some support on isn’t easy, and the big takeaway for me from this year’s conference was the immense value that is created by providing an environment where people feel safe to do so.
I heard Brene Brown speak on the power of vulnerability a while ago – she’s done a great TED talk that you can watch here and it really impacted the way I thought about the topic. Letting people know when you need help or are unsure of the right path is not a sign of weakness, it’s actually incredibly powerful, and allows you to lead in a much more authentic manner.
A previous Women in Focus conference provided me with the opportunity to ask for help at a time when I was really struggling, and I’ll always be grateful to the women who had my back then and listened to me, gave me a hug, a bit of tough love, and a plan to work through. It meant the world and truly helped, but that happened off the stage and I think the big difference this year came from having that vulnerability so publicly visible and the encouragement that provided to others to share their own needs and concerns.
Thank you to the Commonwealth Bank and the Women in Focus team for creating a space where that sort of sharing and support is possible, and to the speakers and delegates who shared their vulnerability so publicly. I’m sure you have truly made a difference in the lives of so many of the women who attended this year’s conference just as you did in mine a number of years ago.