PLEN Seminar Experience Taught Me How To Better Advocate, Lead, and Pursue My Passions!

I have not posted a blog entry recently, but I have a good excuse.  I was attending the Public Leadership Education Network (PLEN) seminar, Unlocking Nonprofits: Innovations and Careers!  For anyone who is not familiar with PLEN, I highly recommend you check out their site.  http://plen.org/

Cedar Crest College regularly sends a handful of students to PLEN seminars, and I was lucky to be one of the ones chosen this year.  While I will be covering some of the information I feel I received from this truly enlightening seminar throughout the week, I want to offer an overview.  PLEN is a nonprofit dedicated to empowering women as leaders.  They seek to connect women in top level roles throughout various areas of health, science, nonprofit, advocacy, government, and other agencies with high-achiever undergraduate and graduate students wishing to make their mark on the world.  PLEN provides multiple sessions with a panel of women, who not only detail their own experiences navigating their career path to reach their current positions, but who also inspire students to seek out their passion, to work hard, and to never give up.  This was one of the most inspirational experiences I have had.

These sessions were broken up by practical workshops to help students build better resumes, to enhance their LinkedIn profiles, and to gain necessary networking and interviewing skills.  Overall, I feel I walked away from this seminar with more than I could have expected.  From the pages of notes that are filled with detailed information from each speaker, to exceptional quotes, and a feeling of enhanced self-confidence, I believe PLEN went beyond the experiential, into something life-changing.

The seminar was off to a rocky start initially, because of the snowstorm that hit the east coast.  Below is a picture of Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. where PLEN headquarters is located.

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That was just the beginning, but PLEN was able to continue the seminar despite a few speakers who were unable to make it.  We also had to miss a planned field trip, but they filled that time with an activity that was also rewarding, and gave us a chance to think about the use of social media marketing as a tool in nonprofits.

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Our keynote speaker, Caryl M. Stern, President & CEO of UNICEF was one of the most incredible women I have listened to.  She spoke about her own family, and how she made decisions about her career, that while unusual, were exactly what she needed to get to a place where she was satisfied.  One quote that really stuck out to me was, “Don’t be afraid of lateral moves today to get where you want to be tomorrow” (Stern).  While we tend to think of how we can move up the career ladder, sometimes we need to stay on the same tier while moving to a different career or organization.  We should in fact, follow our passions because that is what will make us feel complete at the end of the day.

Caryl Stern was just one of the many speakers who left me with great ideas, plans, and thoughts to mull over.  The women who dedicated their time, helped to make a change in the lives of the students who attended.  Based on the wonderful group of women who attended with me, I believe they will take this knowledge and use it to make a difference in the world.  This is one thing I can say I have take away from PLEN, every person who spoke fanned the flames of passion I have for advocacy, and this passion will lead me to initiate necessary social changes.  This goes to show that as I move into a career in advocacy and leadership, I can do the same for others, and if we all did this, our world would become a much better place.  This is just one of the many bits of information I took away from PLEN.

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I will carry this experience with me, and continually look back at what I learned so I can apply these lessons to my life as my path shifts.  I will also build upon the networks that were started and hope they lead to valuable connections.  And, I will continue to work towards my goals to make a difference in the world one step at a time.

Below is a picture of the great group of women who attended this seminar, it came from the PLEN Facebook page which I have linked below.

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https://www.facebook.com/plennetwork?ref=br_tf

Thank you Cedar Crest College for your support and for sending me to this seminar, and thank you PLEN for all of the hard work that went into planning.  I was also chosen to receive a PLEN scholarship, and for this, I am truly grateful!

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Empowering Women Series: Confidence and Assertiveness

Women have spent years being pushed down when they try to rise up.  Being assertive as a women leads to people calling you “bossy” or saying you “nag”.  These terms do more harm to the movement of empowering women, yet they continue to thrive.  If a man is assertive, he is strong and confident.  There is never any question when a man challenges a poor job offer with a negotiation.  In fact, it is expected.  Women will typically shy away from negotiating.

Whatever terms are used, the problem begins early and needs to be addressed early.  Young girls and teenagers need to know that they can do amazing things if they believe in themselves and are willing to take chances.  These girls are impressionable and with the proper influences, they can flourish.  Schools are strapped as the economy is still trying to bounce back, and this can lead to fewer resources in the schools to help push young women to succeed.  While a small percentage may have the guidance to do well and apply for college, others fall through the cracks.

At what point do we as a society say enough is enough?  When do we finally work as communities in bolstering the young populations to become leaders.  If we can reach these girls early on and provide them with opportunities in business, leadership, science, math, and medicine, we may see more young women, with a voice, ready to make a difference in the world around them, and beyond.  It takes confidence to put yourself in front of someone and to say “I have what it takes to be successful.”  I know because I struggled with this for many years.  I did not believe in myself until I was guided by the wonderful people in my family and at Cedar Crest College.  It took me longer to get to this path in my life, but once I found my inner strength, I was not letting go.  This is what we need to do, help young women find their inner strength.

We can make a difference now.  Many of you have children, are educators, or work in community outreach.  Use your influence to help the children you are connected to to find what they are passionate about.  Help them to realize their potential, and push them to excel.  You may not change the world, but you may change a life, and that person may change many lives, and the ripple effect can continue. This first step can make all the difference.

Empowering Women Series: The Truth in Numbers

I want to start this series by looking at data to determine where the weaknesses lie for women around the world, and specifically, in The United States. To empower women, we have to figure out how the structures of society, the marketing strategies, the government and private businesses, and perceptions weaken them. We cannot begin to fix a problem without understanding it. Moreover, even when we do understand it, we can only fix it one step at a time. The process for change is usually a long one, but with attention, the steps become larger, and the number of people involved in implementing change grows. Many organizations release campaigns as a catalyst for transformation, and one, which was recently brought about at the UN, is called HeforShe. If you have not seen the incredibly moving speech presented by Emma Watson, I have provided it for you.


What we need to understand is that women and young girls are typically brought up to see the world in a certain way, to embrace emotion instead of toughen up, to be weak, to not argue, and to do what we are told. The list continues. Boys are taught to be assertive, to be strong, to not cry, and so much more. We are all capable of the same things, with a few exceptions; yet, we force ourselves, and our children into specific roles, which could ultimately hinder us from becoming successful. If girls cannot grow up as assertive, how can they forge their way into a position as president? If boys cannot express emotion, how can they connect with patients as a therapist?
What does the data say? When studying the world overall, the website for The UN Women, looking at available data, finds that “Between 15 and 76 percent of women are targeted for physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime” (UN Women, 2012). These numbers vary greatly across countries because the underdeveloped countries see more violence against women. We know young women are at a higher risk of being assaulted, but the numbers are staggering, “Worldwide, up to 50 percent of sexual assaults are committed against girls under 16” (UN Women, 2012). There are girls suffering from genitalia mutilation, and, as seen with the current crisis in the middle east, marriage and assault for girls as young as age 7. Human trafficking, which has found its way into even highly developed countries, has become an extremely profitable industry.
What these numbers show us is that violence is prevalent against women, and this creates an element of fear. If women are treated as objects, not provided an education, and expected to conform to inequality, how can they rise to fight or even know they have something to fight for?

The United States

          While we are free from much of this in The United States, there is still a high level of assault and abuse, sexual harassment, and inequality in the workforce. While The United States celebrates a society built on principles of equality, the numbers show otherwise. Women are finding their way to the top, but not in the numbers that should be expected.
In The United States, according to The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), one in four women will suffer from domestic violence in their lifetime (2007). Even more alarming, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (Rainn) reports “an American is sexually assaulted every two minutes” (2009). These numbers show how much abuse and assault against women is a part of our society, and it does not even address child abuse or emotional abuse. With statistics like this, it is easy to see how so many women still do not speak up in a job when it could lead to promotion, or how women may feel intimidated in a board room full of men.
What do employment statistics show for women in The United States? According to Employment Law for Business, while “47%, nearly half of the workforce, is female…women earn 75% as much as men at all levels of educational attainment” (Bennett-Alexander & Hartman, 2012, pp 344). We know that more than half of college students are women, yet, “3 to 5 percent of top managers are women” (Bennett-Alexander & Hartman, 2012. pp 347). These statistics are alarming, and something needs to change. There are various opinions on why women make less, and why fewer women hold top executive positions, and we will begin to explore this from an educational perspective tomorrow. If you would like to see me add something to this discussion, please comment, and please feel free to join in and discuss this important issue in the comments.

References

Bennett-Alexander, D. D., Hartman, L. P., (2012). Employment Law for Business. New York:McGraw-Hill. Print.
RAINN, (2009). Statistics. Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. Retrieved From https://www.rainn.org/statistics
UN Women, (2012). Fast facts: statistics on violence against women and girls. UN Women. Retrieved From http://www.endvawnow.org/en/articles/299-fast-facts-statistics-on-violence-against-women-and-girls-.html