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  • Architects of Change

10/27/09 | Brenda Duran | 2 Comments

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Brenda Duran, Blogger

Coming to you live from The Women's Conference 2009 where an unprecedented 25,000 are gathering for two days of inspiration and transformation.

Money. Jobs. The Economy. These are the words that had women buzzing throughout the conference these last two days. Whether it was networking at The Night at The Village for jobs or attending sessions on how to manage money, women are sharing similar stories. 

These stories are about themselves, their husbands, boyfriends or friends who have lost their jobs and are facing financial challenges.

Many of them say they have been hit hard by the global recession and are facing the fact pointed out by USA Today earlier this year: that men are losing their jobs at a faster rate than women.

This buzz was also generated a week ago with The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything, which explored the reality that, for the first time in our history, half of all U.S. workers are women and that women are the primary or co-breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of American families.

“Women are at a point where they need to step up to plate right now,” said Carol Saucillo who attended the How To Manage Your Money in Uncertain Times session this afternoon.

Saucillo said although she has not been directly affected by the recession, her best friend and sister like thousands of women in the country right now are rapidly become the sole breadwinners. Both her friend and sister’s husbands are out of a job. 

Saucillo said she is planning on taking the information and tips on how to stay optimistic and manage money better during this financial turmoil back to both of them.

For Renee Janosch of San Jose, California, the conference is a great way to interact with other women and learn strategies for saving.

The goal is also to stay upbeat in order to take the optimism back home.

“I have been trying to get my husband motivated. I have a lot of friends in the same situation,” said Janosch.

The conference offers opportunities for women to think about ways to reinvent themselves, build strength during trying times and become smarter about their finances.

It also offers a place for women to share their feelings and frustrations and learn from one another. Pauline Morgan of Rowland Heights, California, who has been unemployed since 2007, says she will use the conference to touch base with numerous nonprofit organizations to find volunteer opportunities. “When I am here, I am on high. It’s definitely been an emotional boost for me,” said Morgan.

First-time attendee Diana Rodriguez, 24, a recent college graduate who has not been able to find a job, says the conference gives her the motivation to see past her present hurdle and plan for the future.

Rodriguez says it is a relief to hear about others who are facing the same struggle and know there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.

“It is really refreshing to be in a place where you can escape all the negative news about the economy and hear how to overcome problems and be a success,” said Rodriguez.

It is courage many women at the conference walked away with to face their shared reality.


When Jacqui Viale flew her mother Gayle Joseph from Philadelphia to Long Beach for The Women’s Conference 2009, she had one goal in mind: to show her first-hand the progress her own generation had made when it comes to women empowerment.

“Her generation was pushed down, there were not the same opportunities available for women back then,” said Viale, 44 of Long Beach. “I wanted her to hear all of these inspiring stories and have the same enthusiasm I have for the conference.”

The two are amongst the many faces of mothers and daughters here today sharing a special bond as they experience the conference together. Dozens of mothers and daughters are turning the extraordinary two-day event into quality time. They can be seen excitedly roaming the booths at The Night at The Village and during rousing standing ovations at many of the sessions.

Inside of the massive bookstore at the Village, Jacqui and Gayle browsed books together and were planning on their next session. The two admitted they were both blown away by playwright Eve Ensler and were embracing the energy and spirit in the Arena.

Gayle Joseph, 67, said she and her daughter have shared the same political and philosophical ideas for years. She knew the conference was the ideal place for them to reconnect and spark up new dialogue about each of their generations.

“I always tell her how my generation backed down a lot because we were intimidated, “said Gayle. “We started pushing out and now here we are. It has been great to see so many strong women gathered together.”

Today, Gayle and Jackie, two generations of Architects of Change, used the conference to link the past to the present.  Like so many mothers and daughters here today, it’s an experience of a lifetime.



Dora Medrano came to The Women’s Conference 2009 with a mission – to complete the circle that began earlier this year when she was going through what she calls one of the “most horrific ordeals” of her life – getting diagnosed with ovarian and uterine cancer.

She attended a seminar in April one month after being diagnosed led by today’s Day of Transformation speaker Dr. Martha Beck, life coach and author of “Steering by Starlight: The Science and Magic of Finding Your Destiny.”

“At the time, she helped me to plug into my own power and energy when I needed it the most,” said Medrano, a commercial producer from Malibu.

Medrano said it was the need for more connections with other women along with Beck’s name on the line-up of speakers that moved her to buy her first Women’s Conference ticket.

“There seems to be a resurgence of the female consciousness in our country right now, so I needed to be here,” Medrano said.

Today, Medrano’s cancer experience came full circle when she took in Beck’s advice during “So You Want to be an Architect of Change? What You’ll Need to Know About Your Journey Along the Way.”

Sitting in the packed Grand Ballroom, Medrano said she learned she had moved on from what Beck calls the “death and rebirth” square and was now six months later in square two of the personal transformation stage “dreaming and scheming” about the next step in life following the dramatic “meltdown” of her old self.

“Cancer can lead to social isolation and for a long time I wanted to write my own story so I did it and now I want to go on and help people get to a lot of the resources not readily available that I found out about,” said Medrano who started up a blog a few months ago.

Being in the presence of thousands of women today, helped Medrano make a number of connections with other women and gave her the ultimate reassurance she needed to carry on with her mission of taking her blog further and begin research on how to build a fundraiser for cancer.

“I found out today, I am alright. I am on the right path,” she said.

Medrano said the she believes she will get through the cancer not only because her doctor told her she has “astronomically high percentage” of no reoccurrence but because she was reminded today how to stay in tune with herself and her needs by interacting with thousands of others.

At her first Women’s Conference Medrano saw the bigger picture.


A year ago, I set foot at The Women’s Conference as a reporter in search of a good story. In my quest, what I found was not just one, but hundreds of inspirational stories flourishing beyond the podium of riveting high-profile speakers. They were from women from all walks of life who trickled into the Long Beach Convention Center looking to make meaningful connections.

These women were both hungry for words of wisdom from the gamut of special guests ranging from visionaries and business leaders to authors, artists and pop culture icons.  And these women were eager to build bridges with others by finding common ground. The conference offered them this and much, much more.

I watched the instant camaraderie; the hope and positive energy flow throughout the conference. There was laughter; there were also tears. Within every corner the opportunity to become a true “Architect of Change” was within everyone’s reach - at the book signings, at the panels and the breakout sessions and online. There were countless ways to indulge in tips for self-improvement, health, money and life balance.

At the end of every session women said they were refreshed with a clear vision that enabled them to walk a bit taller and smile with a bit more confidence. Women seemed to be more self-aware of the next big step they would be taking in their life and this time around they were going for it after being given the tools needed to get there. The best part was hearing women talk about how they were going to take what they gathered and put it into action in their communities, in their family life and within their own long-term goals.

This year, the conference will continue to be the catalyst for change and create new inspirational stories that will continue to thrive throughout the year within this online community where information, dialogue and inspiration are abundant. For the first year ever, the conference will be a full two-day event that will welcome 24,000 attendees. 

The live webcast on October 27th ( 8 am – 7pm PDT) will make the highly anticipated lineup of speakers available to millions of women who cannot be present in Long Beach. It is the perfect opportunity to capture the true spirit of the conference with friends, family and colleagues at home or in your office. Today, you’ll be able to check out the latest conference highlights -- videos, photos, interviews and blogs accessible -- from Day One of the conference: A Day of Transformation, and Night at The Village.

I’ll be blogging from the conference for the next two amazing days about the women here and their transformative experiences. Expect lots of moving anecdotes. 

These conversations and more will continue 365 days a year – right here online. So join us. Tell us your story. You will feel a sense of renewal in the air, just as I did a year ago.

Brenda Duran is an award-winning writer who has reported on education, immigration and health. She has written for The El Paso Times, The Denver Post, The North County Times and The Long Beach Press-Telegram. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

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  • Life Balance
  • Health and Fitness

10/27/09 | Astrid Sheil, Blogger | 6 Comments

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Astrid Sheil, Blogger

Coming to you live from The Women's Conference 2009 where an unprecedented 25,000 are gathering for two days of inspiration and transformation.

Day 2: Afternoon Reflections

In the afternoon, the conference turned serious as it focused on the most universal of human feelings—grief.

If you watched the main session on streaming video, you had a chance to hear two extremely moving and powerful speeches about grief, healing and resilience. Katie Couric spoke eloquently about losing her loving husband, Jay, and then four years later, her sister.  Both died from cancer. After her standing ovation, Couric quipped, “Now, if just a third of you would watch the CBS Evening News…where are you guys when I need you?”

After Couric departed from the stage, Maria Shriver walked out slowly, stood at the podium, and delivered the most personal speech of her life. She got through it okay, but many of the rest of us—thousands of women in the arena—quietly wept as Maria described her ongoing and deeply painful walk through grief from the death of her beloved mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, eight weeks ago, followed by the death of her larger-than-life uncle, Senator Ted Kennedy.

When Shriver finished, she introduced the rest of the “grief panel” to the audience.  Susan St. James, actress and entrepreneur, lost her son in a plane accident. He was 14 years old. Elizabeth Edwards, senior fellow, Center for American Progress, lost her son in a car accident. He was 16. And Lisa Niemi, widow of actor Patrick Swayze, recently lost her husband and best friend of 34 years to pancreatic cancer, less than two months ago.

The conversation flowed as each woman offered simple, but profound descriptions of their journey through grief. Susan St. James said she wondered if she would always think of herself as “the mother of a dead child.”  Lisa Niemi described her sadness as being on a cellular level.  Elizabeth Edwards noted that it was important for people to talk about her son and to keep his memory alive. “He didn’t just disappear from the Earth.”

In the audience was another woman who knows a lot about grief. Valerie Sobel’s son Andre died of a brain tumor when he was 19. Valerie cared for her son for 470 days and witnessed helplessly as Andre slowly and painfully lost his battle with cancer. She said, “Caretaking a child that you know is going to die is a completely different experience. The grief is beyond anything you can imagine. “

Within a year, Valerie also lost her mother and her husband. To honor Andre, and to help other families experiencing the debilitating personal effects of a child with a catastrophic illness, Sobel established the Andre Sobel River of Life Foundation (www.andreriveroflife.org). According to the website information, “Seventy-eight percent of families whose child is diagnosed with a critical illness will experience divorce or separation. The ordeal of a child’s grave illness tests these families far beyond their endurance, and they become bankrupt financially, emotionally and physically.”

 Anne Swire, CEO of the Sobel Foundation said they had just received a substantial grant from Genetech to assist families who have children with cancer. “We often receive urgent requests from social workers at our affiliated children’s hospitals to help families in financial crisis due to the illness of the child,” she said. “Genetech’s generous donation will allow us to meet the needs of many more families.”

There was something sobering and cathartic about this afternoon’s session. Yes, it is hard to talk about grief. As Maria Shriver noted in her comments, “In the United States, we are grief illiterate.” Many of us get tongue-tied when we try to offer comfort to someone who has lost a loved one. But through conversation, compassion, and caring, we can help each other through the very darkest of passages that ultimately, each of us will experience.


Day Two: AM Reflections

Another exceptional morning at the Women’s Conference!  Not surprisingly, the energy throughout the convention center is electrifying, but apparently, the energy is pretty darn kinetic through the streaming video on the website! Text messages from friends in Portland, Denver, Houston, and Knoxville who are watching the conference online indicate they are feeling the energy, too!

It’s nearly impossible to capture the power of the conference in an itty-bitty blog. This is definitely one of those “the sum is greater than the parts” kind-of-event.   Instead, here are some of the more memorable quotes of the morning.

Host and Executive Producer, Discovery ID, Paula Zahn: “The Shriver Report has clearly detailed that we’re exhausted and overwhelmed, but we don’t have to keep that secret anymore!”

Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger: “When I have really tough decisions to make, I ask the Almighty…my wife, Maria!” And, “Maria is not only a beautiful woman, she’s smart and determined—she is the female terminator.”

Sheila C. Bair, Chairman of the FDIC: “The key to success is to be yourself and focus on the job at hand.”

Sir Richard Branson, Founder and President of Virgin Group: “We have to get into the mindset of providing more flexible work arrangements for people.”

Robin Roberts, Co-anchor, ABC News’ Good Morning America: “My mama always said, ‘Make your mess your message!’”

Katie Couric, Anchor & Managing Editor, The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric "I love the smell of estrogen in the afternoon."

Cheryl Saban, Author and Founder of the Women’s Self Worth Foundation: “None of us can afford to be muzzled—use the internal compass you were born with.”

Courtney from Oakland, CA: “This conference is teaching me that the only obstacle to success is in here” (she points to her head).

Nick Vujicic, President and Founder, Life Without Limbs: “The greatest disability is fear,” and “If you put your happiness in temporary things, your happiness will be temporary.”

Gayle Haggard, Author, “Why I Stayed”:  “Never write a person off. Whenever possible, choose forgiveness.”

Elizabeth Smart: “We’re never truly left alone.”

Here at the conference, thousands of women are learning that we’re never truly alone because we have each other.  

Stay tuned! More to come.



Day 1: Transformation with Dr. Martha Beck

With tears streaming down their faces, the two women walked arm-in-arm out of this afternoon’s keynote address by Dr. Martha Beck. They didn’t even know each other’s names, but intuitively they knew they had just shared a profound experience.

Beck, a monthly columnist for O and the author of several international bestsellers, began her session by talking about transformation. Square 1 of transformation is the stage where our identity has been taken from us, but we have yet to figure out whom we are and where we’re going.  She compared it to the incredible metamorphosis that a caterpillar goes through in order to become a butterfly. In her description, Beck said that once a caterpillar goes into its cocoon, it literally liquifies—completely changing itself all the way to the molecular level before it can recreate itself into a butterfly.  

In a very real sense, when we begin a cycle of transformation, we have to experience the disintegration of our old self before real change can take place. The meltdown can take many forms, but often it has to be cataclysmic—break up of a marriage, loss of a job, or a deep physical crisis like a diagnosis of cancer or a very sick child. For many of us personal shock sends us into the cocoon.

At this “Day of Transformation” Beck’s words resonated universally through the audience. She said, “Here in square one, we have a tendency to want to become bigger caterpillars.” In other words, we try to hold onto the status quo as long as possible. Maybe if we just work 80 hours a week instead of 75, we won’t get fired. Maybe if we subsume our needs, we can keep a failing marriage from coming apart at the seams. But of course, we are just fooling ourselves. When it is time to begin the transformation process, there is no capitulation or compromise that can divert the process. However, transformation can be delayed if we are unwilling to accept ourselves the way we are. The key to beginning the process is to “totally” accept ourselves and the reality of our situation.  We must surrender to the truth—the old way doesn’t work anymore, we can’t go back, and the future is unclear and unknown.

We have all experienced these dreaded feelings. Limbo is scary.  Not knowing is exhausting. Loss of identity can lead to depression.  Why would anyone choose to go through the process of transformation? According to Beck, we have no choice. This is a cyclical process and we all go through it at different times and for different reasons. But like the caterpillar, when we get through the four stages of (1) crash and burn, (2) expansive imagining, (3) this is harder than I thought, and (4) the promise land—we are forever changed and expanded. 

Back to the women walking out of the auditorium…why were they crying? Recognition and Acceptance. At the end of the standing ovation, one woman turned around and with arms raised over her head she powerfully announced, “I am liquid!!” It was a rallying cry—a recognition that it’s not only okay to be lost—it’s absolutely mandatory if we are going to transform into empowered women. The other woman burst into tears as she felt a huge sigh of relief and acceptance.  All the pain, fear, loss of identity and meaning she had been going through for more than a year was actually normal, which meant that she was normal. Hallelujah!

The two women hugged each other, introduced themselves and furiously began discussing their parallel journeys of transformation. Rita and Marlene exchanged cards and walked out of the session clearly stunned and enlightened by the experience. 


Astrid Sheil, Ph.D. is the Associate Chair of the Communication Studies Dept. at Cal State University San Bernardino. Originally from Washington, DC, she graduated from Georgetown University.

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A Transformational Moment in Our History

  • Maria's Post

10/15/09 | Maria Shriver | 9 Comments

Maria Shriver, First Lady of California

When last year’s Women’s Conference sold out in just a couple of hours, it hit me that something profound was going on with women. We’d program a workshop on caring for aging parents, and it was standing-room-only. We’d bring in speakers to talk about how to start up a business, and the rooms were packed. We couldn’t book enough sessions on empowerment, activism, and spirituality. All of them were filled, and people were asking for more. I wondered what was going on.

We decided we needed to learn some new, hard facts about today’s American woman. Who is she? How does she live? What does she think? What does she earn? What are her politics? How does she define power? How does she define success? What does she think of marriage? What does she really think of men? How does she want to live her life moving forward?

The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything breaks new ground by taking a hard look at how women’s changing roles are also affecting our major societal institutions: our government, businesses, religious and faith institutions, educational system, the media, and even men and marriage. And we examine how all these parts of the culture have responded to one of the greatest social transformations of our time. We look at where we are and where we should go from here.

For the first time in our nation’s history, fully half of the American work force is female—and mothers have become the primary breadwinners in nearly half of American families. That’s a sea change from 40 years ago. With more and more men forced to stay home due to unemployment, more and more women are bringing home the bacon. Women are more likely than ever to head their own families. They’re doing it all—and many of them have to do it all.  As you’ll read in this report, women have now taken their place as a powerhouse driving the economy.

As we move into this phase we’re calling A Woman’s Nation, women can turn their pivotal role as wage-earners, as consumers, as bosses, as opinion-shapers, as co-equal partners in whatever we do into a potent force for change. Emergent economic power gives women a new seat at the table—at the head of the table.

It’s a transformational moment in our history—much as the opening of the West, industrialization, the great 1960s civil rights campaigns, and the flowering of the Internet age have all irrevocably altered the fabric of American life. With working women now the New Normal, striving and succeeding in areas where they never have before, so many assumptions and underpinnings of our society are cracking open. The rumbling is shaking the ground in every corner of the culture, and many women and men are struggling to get their footing. The effect on every sector of our society will be deep, wide, and profound.

In 2009, women have more choices than they did 40 years ago. We’ve learned that while there’s much to cheer about, we still have a long way to go.  Women’s expanding role in families, industry, the arts, government, politics, and other institutions is altering the American landscape. Women are learning they no longer have to shoehorn themselves into one stereotype or another, but they can do so if they choose—or they can make it up as they go along.

It’s in this new world that I’m raising four children. I’m trying to teach my boys to understand that the women in their lives will work and will have independent minds. I’m trying to teach them not just how to hold the door open, but how to do their own laundry and make their own mac and cheese. I’m also trying to teach my girls how to advocate for themselves, be smart about their finances—and to look not for a savior, but a loving, supportive, open-minded partner.

We hope this report will help inform us all about this transformational time and ignite a national conversation about how our institutions need to adapt to the unfolding of A Woman’s Nation.

Here at The Women’s Conference website, we’ve invited influential writers, journalists, opinion leaders, educators and business leaders – men and women – to be part of that conversation. Pull up a chair at Our Kitchen Table to check out what they have to say. Visit The XX Effect: Generation to Generation to learn how women across the generations answer the question, "What Do Women Want?"

The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything is a study by Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress.

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When (Almost) Everything Changed

  • Family and Friend
  • Work and Money

10/15/09 | Gail Collins | 3 Comments

Gail Collins, New York Times Op Ed Columnist

When I was in college, people talked a lot about the "revolution," although I'm not entirely sure we would have recognized one if it happened in the front yard. This was back in the late 60s and early 70s, when everybody wanted to be a revolutionary, including the kids who were majoring in investment banking.

When we failed to actually create a political and social utopia, it didn't truly come as a big surprise. And some things worked out just the way we hoped -- maybe even better. I don't know if we would have dared imagine an African-American president who won his nomination after a hard primary battle against a woman.

And we would have been pleased to know that the United States of the 21st century would be a place where women worked as routinely as men did, and where young couples automatically assumed they would share the role of family breadwinner.

It really was a revolution. And we would never have imagined that that the country was going to charge right into it without ever asking who was going to take care of the kids.       

Back in the day, we were totally confident -- so confident that we hardly even bothered to discuss it -- that our futures would involve flexible jobs that allowed both husbands and wives to take time off or reduce their workweek without ruining their career opportunities. And that early childhood education would be available to everybody just the way elementary school education is.       

But it didn't happen. And the tension between work and childcare is the one thing that restricts all the amazing progress that American women have made over the last 50 years.

It crops up all over. Girls outstrip boys all the way through college, yet they don't have the same earning power once they've been out in the world of work for a while. We still only have 17 women in a 100-member U.S. Senate, and one of the big reasons is that women who go into politics tend to wait until their children are older. They get a later start than men, and it's harder to make it to the top of the ladder.

I named my new book about what happened to American women since 1960 "When Everything Changed." But this, alas, is one thing that didn't.

Gail Collins, a New York Times op ed columnist, is the author of When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present. She was previously the Times editorial page editor, the first woman ever to hold that position.

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What Do Women Want?

  • Family and Friend
  • Work and Money

10/15/09 | David Gregory | 4 Comments

David Gregory, Moderator, Meet the Press

What do women want?  I’m asking as a husband, as a father, as a professional who works closely with women.  I ask it in the context of all that we are learning about the changing role of women in America.  I ask because I still don’t think I have the answer.

I’m blessed to be married to a wonderful woman who is successfully negotiating a path as mother, prominent trial lawyer and former business executive.  Our life reflects many of the struggles of modern couples: We both have careers, requiring a great deal of negotiation about who does what, set against the backdrop of shared, 50-50 parenting.

And yet, our life is more marriage than merger.  It needs to be if we are going to stay connected to each other as a couple.  That gets to the point of asking my question.  As the role of women changes, some of their basic desires do not.  Yet, I think many men are having a hard time keeping up.  We get that the days of “Mad Men” are over (my wife reminds me of this when we are watching the show), but we sometimes lose the complete picture of what the women in our lives need.

In my experience, women expect flexibility from their partners as they negotiate their lives. They expect an openness to reexamine traditional roles.  But women, and particularly working mothers, also are seeking reassurance about their path.  Many professional women want to know that they are striking a good balance between work and home.

The other crucial factor to a good relationship is staying connected.  In the Bible, God asks of Adam, “Where are you?”  So, too, as men we need to pause to ask where our wives are: How are they, what do they need and want?  Are we making the space for each other as a couple – time spent separate from the business of our busy lives?

The key is making the time to ask.  I don’t think I have all the answers, but if I’m trying to be the best husband, or colleague or boss I can be, I’m asking, “What do women want?”

Good shoes.  Right, that part I get.

David Gregory is the moderator of NBC News’ “Meet the Press.” He is also a regular contributor for “Today” and serves as a back-up anchor for the broadcast.  He is a regular contributor and analyst on MSNBC, and lends his voice and reporting to all NBC News broadcasts including coverage of special events.

David Gregory will be speaking at The Women’s Conference 2009.

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Random Thoughts on Progress, Women, The Media and Skinny Cigarettes

  • Work and Money

10/15/09 | Linda Ellerbee | 0 Comments

Linda Ellerbee, Television Producer, Journalist & Best Selling Author

In 1968, Philip Morris introduced a cigarette for women. Virginia Slims were skinny (everybody knows women like skinny, right?) and the copy line was “You’ve come a long way, baby.” Because I’ve worked as a television journalist since God was a lad, I’m sometimes asked about women in the news media and the progress we’ve made. When this happens, I always think of that slogan. And, just for a moment, I want to throw up.

When I started working in TV news in 1973 (five years after being told I’d come a long way), there were precious few women TV journalists. The only reason there were any was that the federal government — pressured by the women’s movement — had told the stations and networks they had to hire some of us. Of course, we had to be young, willing to work for less money, have faces that wouldn’t stop clocks, and, oh, I almost forgot — we sorta had to be single and childless. Girl journalist? Or Playboy Bunny with a notebook? Isn’t she cute trying to do a man’s job in those high heels? Also, we were expected to be obedient. Many of us were (are) not good at that part. It’s hard to be told to get aggressive about getting the story, then come back to the newsroom and say, “Yes sir” all the time — and keep smiling.

And so we fought back. Things got better. But better is not equal.

Remember all the silliness that surrounded Katie Couric’s promotion to Uncle Walter’s Chair? You could drown in such deep doo-doo. Recently, when Diane Sawyer was named anchor for ABC World News Tonight, the president of ABC News, on making the announcement, said that Diane had "more than paid her dues and waited her turn appropriately.”

Uh-huh. Haven’t we all?

Ah well. If young women starting out in the media today stand a better chance of being treated equally (including pay), it’s because they stand on the shoulders of the women who came before them, just as we stood on the shoulders of the women who marched and lobbied to get us in the door. Tomorrow someone will stand on the shoulders of today’s women, and not just those in the media. I believe we all stand on someone’s shoulders. So we must make sure our shoulders are strong enough for the next woman. It is our responsibility. It is the debt we owe. To the past, and to the future. All of us.

And it is still damned hard work. Progress almost always is. I keep a letter written to me by an 11-year-old girl. “Dear Ms. Ellerbee, when I grow up, I want to do what you do. Please do it better.”

The good news: In the end, we may not have come a long way, and we’re certainly not babies, but we are getting more equal all the time and, well, there is this. Few of us smoke these days. That must count for something.

Linda Ellerbee is an outspoken journalist, award-winning television producer, best-selling author,  breast cancer survivor, mother, grandmother and one of the most sought-after speakers in America. She is the co-founder of Lucky Duck Productions, which produces programming for Nickelodeon, ABC, CBS, HBO, PBS, Lifetime, MTV, Logo, A&E, MSNBC, SOAPnet, Trio, Animal Planet and TV Land, among others.

Linda Ellerbee will be speaking at The Women's Conference 2009.

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WE Act To End Violence Against Women

10/9/09 | The Women's Conference | 6 Comments


October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. You can help end violence against women.

DONATE YOUR USED CELL PHONES at Verizon's HopeLine and help victims of domestic violence become survivors.

MAKE A DONATION to the National Domestic Violence Hotline or the National Network to End Domestic Violence.
You can make a difference.


Escaping Domestic Violence: One Woman's Journey

In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we're bringing you the personal story of one women who escaped her abuser. With the help of a crisis shelter -- Interval House -- Janine got her life back and is now working to empower other women who have been affected by domestic violence. Here, she tells the story of how she went from victim to Architect of Change.

Janine’s Story
I grew up in a loving home where I was not exposed to abuse. Unlike so many stories where battered women have themselves grown up in abusive situations, I had not. I believed in every part of my being that I would marry my true love and live happily ever after.  

As a young and loving individual filled with dreams, I had no idea of the nightmare that I was about to enter when I married my abuser. Coming from a strong faith background and believing in the institution of marriage, I did everything in my power to make my marriage work. The abuse was devastating, physically and emotionally.  

During my horrendous marriage, I lived in constant terror, and the nightmare became progressively worse as time went on. When I tried to go to work, my husband appeared and bashed in my car. I lived as a prisoner, and finally it became so terrible that I made the decision that I was going to leave. 

I was depressed all the time and completely miserable, but most of all I didn't want my kids growing up in a violent home.  So I made the call to Interval House.  I remember clearly like it was yesterday.  The minute I walked through the door of the shelter I knew that everything was going to be okay.  I didn't know what I was going to do, but I knew that whatever road I ended up on, I was going to be safe and that my decisions were my decisions and not his.   


That was the beginning of a life that I had never dreamed possible for me and my two children (who were 21/2 and 31/2 at the time). With the counseling and support that I received I realized that no matter what, his actions were not my responsibility and that I could never change him.  I dealt with my issues and those of my children.  I learned to like myself again.  


After leaving Interval House’s emergency and transitional shelters I worked very hard to make a living for my children and me.   When I became strong enough, I began to volunteer regularly at Interval House’s emergency shelter to help others. My children and I became fixtures at the crisis shelters where I gave my time and shared the lessons I had learned with other women in crisis.  

I’ve now been on Interval House’s full time staff for the past 15 years doing a lot in the community as far as education and prevention, and sharing my story as well as speaking about the programs and services that Interval House has to offer.   

I'm so grateful for the chance to work at an organization that truly has more heart, passion, and dedication than anything I’ve ever seen in my lifetime.  When I look back at my life, I’m almost thankful for the experiences I’ve endured, because it was those tragic moments in my life that have made me the strong person that I am today, and that have given me a new focus in life.  If it had not been for Interval House, I truly believe that I would not be here today.  They gave me my life back and also made it a whole lot better and I could never thank them enough for just being there!

Interval House is an award-winning domestic violence agency providing comprehensive services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in over 60 different languages. Over 99% of Interval House staff and advocates are multilingual, ethnically diverse, and have been personally affected by domestic violence.  Interval House’s innovative programs have been recognized with over 400 awards, including three Presidential Awards, two California Governor’s Awards, and the U.S. Department of Justice Award citing Interval House as a “model” domestic violence program to the nation.

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"Expect the Unexpected:" A Mother's Story of Breast Cancer

09/30/09 | Mary Ann Wasil Nilan | 3 Comments

Mary Ann Wasil Nilan with her kids kercheif
Mary Ann Wasil Nilan & Her Three Children

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, I could not have begun to predict how my three children would respond.  I was barely able to digest all I would have to endure, and had I been forced to make a prediction about the personality of each child and how they would behave in the coming months, I would have failed that test.
Betsy had just turned 13, Mary was only weeks from turning 12, and Eddy had just celebrated his 10th birthday.  I promised them I would always be honest and told them we would “kick breast cancer’s ass” together.  I allowed -- encouraged -- them to use this irreverent little phrase at any and all times.  The first time that one of the elderly women at our church cornered my kids when she thought I was out of earshot and whispered gloomily, “How’s your mother?” my son responded (way too enthusiastically), “Oh, our Mom is kicking breast cancer’s ass!”  I remember thinking to myself, “Swell.  Well at least he was smiling when he said it, and if it makes him feel good....”
Expect the unexpected.
When I “invited” my children to assist me with the post-surgical drain popping out of my chest in the days following my initial surgery to determine lymph node involvement, they reacted exactly the way I expected them to: Betsy smiled sweetly with her big wet blue eyes and said, “Of course, Mommy, I’ll help you.”  Mary looked at me, horrified, then put up her two fingers to make a cross as if warding off a vampire, screwed up her face and screeched, “Oh, gross, don’t show me that, no way, not me!”  Eddy stared blankly at me with his green eyes from under his freshly shorn crew cut and simply said, “Huh?”

Betsy was the do-gooder eldest, Mary, the outspoken second daughter, and Eddy, my checked out son. But guess what? Their initial reactions – and my expectation of each -- did not reflect how things played out. 

I would never have predicted it, but Mary eagerly became my nursemaid – reminding me at the appointed hour to follow her to the bathroom where she measured the fluid, documented it in the chart the doctor had given me, and cleaned and flushed the drain.  I didn’t even want to look at this paraphernalia, and here was this twelve year old who had told me in no uncertain terms that she would NOT be helping me in this department, taking care of me as well as, if not better than, an adult – and willingly. Lovingly.
Expect the unexpected.

My kids came with me to pick out my wigs.  I purchased two, one just like my hair pre-chemo, another long and straight, similar to my daughters’ hair.  They giggled and the girls loved the thought of us looking alike.  But by late afternoon, Betsy’s bravado and enthusiasm had abruptly worn off, and suddenly her face seemed to crack into ten different pieces as she fell into deep sobs. All the fun from wig shopping vanished in an instant.  It had been too much for her.

Expect the unexpected.

I didn’t fight my own feelings, and I encouraged them to explore their own, as well.  I told them repeatedly there were no rules when it came to how they felt and what they needed – whatever they were, the feelings and the needs, they were real, and no matter what, I supported and loved them.

There is no fighting the emotional riptide that comes with a diagnosis of breast cancer. The minute you surrender yourself to it, it actually becomes, dare I say, easier.  Having no expectations – or expecting the unexpected -- allows you to live in the moment.  Like a riptide, in order to survive it, you must swim with it, not against it.  

My children and I were never ready for my diagnosis.  What they were ready for was the evolution of themselves – into stronger, more resilient and ready-for-the-unexpected individuals.  I never expected that. 
Did I give them this gift?  I would like to say, “Oh, yes, of course, it’s all about the incredible mothering I’ve done…,” but that would be quite a stretch.  It’s actually all about letting them transform when they need to into the people they need to be.  

Incredible mothering means encouraging, supporting and loving your children during this transformation.  

Expect the unexpected, you incredible mother, you!
Mary Ann Wasil Nilan is a mother to three teens, a breast cancer kickin’ survivor & health activist, and the executive director & founder of The Get In Touch Foundation.

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You Can Change the World: How to Get Started

  • Architects of Change

09/22/09 | Patty Stonesifer | 10 Comments

Patty Stonesifer, Chair of the Board of Regents for the Smithsonian Institution

In the 13 years I spent starting and leading the Gates Foundation, I saw hundreds of enormous problems – some right here at home in Seattle and Los Angeles, and some far away in Bangalore, in Botswana, and in countless communities around the world. 

The pain and devastation left by AIDS, poverty, poor education, unequal rights, tyrannical or unrepresentative government and other maladies was easy to identify. But harder to put a finger on was…”Why?”  Why did these big problems still exist? Why wasn’t more being done to solve them?

In thousands of hours of listening and learning I came to believe that the biggest problem wasn’t severe poverty or disease. No, the biggest problem was our failure, individually—you, me, our neighbors—to take seriously our shared responsibility to act, today, to change the problems we see. 

You can’t change everything. I can’t change everything.  Even Bill Gates can’t change everything. But that is no reason to allow ourselves the luxury of inaction.

We do care. So why don’t we act? I think the answer is simple: We either don’t know where to start, or we don’t believe that what we can do – as one person or even as a small group – can really make a difference.  

The truth is, each of us can make a huge difference. Probably one of the best parts of working in philanthropy was the opportunity to see how one person could make a lasting impact on the world from the ground up.

Paul Farmer, an American doctor and anthropologist, co-founded Partners in Health, an organization that delivers life saving medicines to the poor in Haiti. Paul combined his heart for the poor with his medical training to create a new avenue of hope. His work has now grown to include programs in Peru, Russia, and parts of Africa.

Paul’s work has translated into millions of lives saved. But no less heroic is the commitment of the individual grandmother who walks miles in India with her grandchildren to make sure they are vaccinated to help stop the cycle of disease in her family.

Here’s another example from the Northwest: Back in the mid-90s Trish Millines Dziko and Jill Hull Dziko were walking their dogs around Lake Washington when they realized they both shared an interest in helping kids of color in their neighborhood. Jill focused her energy on education, and Trish was passionate about introducing more kids to technology. Their shared interests eventually led them to create Technology Access Foundation, which today provides a mix of afterschool and middle through high school programs for thousands of minority students around Seattle.

These individuals have little in common except one important shared trait: Each understood that they had to start – somewhere – with what they had to make a difference.

So I want to share some of the things I learned from them with you.  Because when I first wanted to make my own contribution, I didn’t know where to start, either. But they and thousands like them showed me the way. I often encourage my friends with the words of one of the greatest teachers of all, Mahatma Gandhi: “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

If we want to change the world, we have to start with ourselves.  

Starting with ourselves means doing some self inventory. Here’s a way to begin – analyze and answer three questions:

  1. What do I value most? (Whether education, universal health care, or something else.)
  2. What is the gap between today’s reality and the value I hold most dear – and why?
  3. What issue can I work on that could be the “bridge” between the world we have and the world I want?

Next, think carefully about how you can use your money, time and voice to make an impact on this issue.

  • How can I use my money on this issue? Consider a range of options – personal giving is certainly part of it, but so are our spending habits, the companies we choose to support, or harnessing our entrepreneurial skills for others.
  • How can I use my time on this issue? Is there an hour or two in your week that could benefit others? What about how we spend our time learning or reading? Is there a way to design a vacation that has both pleasure and purpose?
  • How can I use my voice on this issue? This is perhaps our most valuable asset, and yet we often neglect its power. How can our voice impact our family, our friends, groups, how our media covers an issue? What about our vote?

The biggest problem in the world is that we – you, me, our neighbors, our coworkers – don’t make full use of what we have to help others.  We have what we need to build the world we want.  But we’re wasting it.  That's the biggest problem in the world.  How do we solve it?   

We solve it by beginning.

Now start doing it.

“I slept and dreamt that life was joy
I woke and saw that life was duty
I acted – and behold – duty was joy.”

Rabindranath Tagore

Patty Stonesifer is the former CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She now serves as a senior advisor to the foundation and is the chair of the Board of Regents for the Smithsonian Institution.

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Why Do Women Volunteer?

  • Architects of Change

09/10/09 | Astrid Sheil, Ph.D. | 10 Comments

Astrid Sheil, Ph.D.

As of this year, September 11th will be recognized as National Day of Service and Remembrance. In this post, Astrid Sheil examines what motivates her -- and women in general -- to volunteer and "pass it on."

“You’re doing what? Are you crazy?” That was the response I got last week when I mentioned to a colleague of mine at Cal State University that I had volunteered for The Women’s Conference in October. She looked at me incredulously and said with a less than subtle hint of sarcasm in her voice, “You?? You -- who are writing a textbook and complaining about how far behind you are in producing chapters?? You -- who have consulting projects stacked to the ceiling? You -- a single mother of two kids?”
The truth is, I could not not volunteer. This got me thinking -- why do women volunteer? (I was going to say why do busy women volunteer, but then I realized, that’s redundant -- all women are busy!)
I had a few unformed ideas, but I decided to use a lifeline first and call my psychologist friend, Dr. Val Hannemann, in Flagstaff, Arizona.
“Val!” I caught her out of breath, as usual. She was hauling hay to feed her four horses. “Hey, I have a serious question for you -- why do women volunteer?” She took a few gulps of air, leaned against her fence, and replied, “Oh, there are as many reasons as there are horse flies on a salt lick.” There’s a charming analogy, I thought.
Val continued. “Women volunteer to make social contacts and expand their sense of community.” I liked that concept -- expanding their sense of community.
Val rambled on. “Women like to hang with other women who have similar interests. So for example, if you have a passion for scrapbooking and you can volunteer at a scrapbooking convention, you’re going to feel like a pig in --” “Mud?” I replied quickly and then asked, “What are some other reasons?”
I could hear Val reaching into the recesses of her Jungian-trained brain. She said, “Women are hard-wired to be engaged in their communities. Volunteering connects women. They share, they compare, and they adopt new strategies to make a difference in the world -- their world.” This certainly explains why The Women’s Conference is growing exponentially. Women from all strata and walks of life are coming to this year’s conference to share, compare, and adopt new strategies on how to be -- as First Lady, Maria Shriver describes it -- “Architects of Change” in their own lives and in the lives of others.
Thanking her profusely and wishing her the best with her hay bales and salt licks, I then called my 80-year-old Puerto Rican mother in Miami. “Mom!” I said, “I’m writing a blog for The Women’s Conference and I want your perspective of why women volunteer.” There was a long pause and then she said, “Hija, why are you riding a frog?”
“No, mom, not a frog—a blog…and I’m not riding it, I’m writing it!!” I shouted into the cell phone.  Carrumba!
Once I got mom past the blog part (which took way longer than I care to disclose), her answer to why women volunteer was simple and sweet: “We volunteer because we get back more than we give.” And then she added the kicker: “You feel better about everything because you are part of something bigger than yourself.”
Last year, I watched the streaming video online from my office in San Bernardino. (The Women’s Conference provides a webcast of the events for women who aren’t able to be there in-person.) I saw thousands of women listening to Governor Schwarzenegger and Chris Matthews wax rhapsodic about their wives. Even through my 13-inch monitor, I could feel the energy of the crowd, and I was mesmerized. There was no doubt that I would attend this year, but then something came over me when I visited the website -- and without hesitation, I signed up to be a volunteer.  I have never felt better about any decision I have ever made.

The momentum is already starting to build and I can’t wait for the conference to begin. Look for me down on the floor of the main hall.  I’ll be the 6 foot tall blonde Puerto Rican helping to turn up the wattage of possibilities for all women, who like my mother and myself, want to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

If you want to volunteer in your community, visit www.serve.gov to find out about opportunities.

For those of you who can’t attend The Women's Conference this year, join us online by visiting our homepage on October 26th and 27th.

Astrid Sheil, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of communications studies at Cal State University San Bernardino. Originally from Washington, DC, she graduated from Georgetown University. She will be covering the The Women's Conference in October.

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