Wide Awake: The Empowerment Series
7 years later, we’re still talking

On one of the very first nights of our women’s empowerment series – so this was in 2015 – the then-dean of Temple Law School told a story about sitting next to one of the school’s donors at a dinner. At some point, he reached under the table and put his hand on her thigh. She was the dean.

As appalled as I was at what she described, I was so happy. This was exactly why we started the women’s empowerment series.

There was a loud gasp from the audience. My jaw dropped, and I asked her to repeat what she said because I just couldn’t believe it. “You’re the dean,” I said.

She knew that. But that night, it didn’t matter. And that’s what was so great about her sharing the story. In the audience, there were lots of women who had experienced something similar, and they didn’t think women in her position had the same experience. I didn’t either. I mean, did I mention she was the dean?

In the years since that first panel, we’ve had many more women tell personal stories that they normally wouldn’t share with a lot of people.

One physician talked about how during an admissions interview for medical school, the doctor told her she would never get in because she was just there to find a husband. Another executive laughed telling us how she filled in her husband’s name and phone number as their kids’ emergency contact for school. And on the few times school called, her husband would say, “Isn’t it weird that they always call me?” A nonprofit CEO described how she felt when a colleague called to tell her she was passed over for an award because she didn’t have kids, and the committee felt she had it a little easier than working moms.

Another woman remembered being called stupid by her town’s mayor at a public meeting. And a TV reporter told us her news director had asked what her bra size was. A panelist who wore a hijab said when she graduated college she was told she would never get a job “with that thing on your head.” Another woman explained how she would buy a coffee cake from a bakery, wipe off most of the powdered sugar to make it look homemade, wrap it in tin foil and send it in to her son’s school for the bake sale.

Night after night, year after year, the panelists made all of us feel like we were girlfriends out to dinner. Forget that there were about 200 of us there, and forget they didn’t really know any of us. It didn’t matter. They let us in on some of the most personal, significant moments in their lives. And when people share like that, you are grateful. Because you know they are taking a chance that you won’t mock them or judge them or hate them. And no one did. In fact, I often call the women’s empowerment series a giant love fest. Because you can feel how much all the women in the room support each other. It’s such a great, great feeling.

It’s funny, at the end of every panel, someone would come up to me and say, “Oh, that was the best panel yet.” (Many women attend every panel, year after year.) The first time it happened, I was surprised, because I hadn’t felt that way. But then at the next panel, someone else told me the same thing. And then at the next panel, different person, same message. I finally realized women in the audience were impacted differently by the stories from each panel. If you have kids, the bake sale story is hysterical – and relatable. If you don’t, the you-have-it-easy story hits a very personal nerve.

As we enter our 7th year of the women’s empowerment series, I’ve realized we are doing exactly what we set out to do: bring lots of women together to just talk, to share personal stories so other women can learn from them. The whole inspiring love fest part? We never planned for that, but what a great surprise.

I hope you’ll join us for this year’s Women’s Empowerment Series, which begins on Sept. 21 at The Mansion. (We’ll be following all state and CDC guidelines.) 

September 2021
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