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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By Emily Paulson
December 1, 2015
Each year something magical takes place at Hamline University: the Women in Public Service Conference. This year’s event was no exception. As hundreds of (mostly) women gathered Nov. 13, you could feel the promise of inspiration in the air. We can do this.
The event started with coffee and a hearty breakfast. After making friends with other attendees, we found our way to Hamline’s music hall for a keynote address. This was followed by breakout sessions on social media, career building and cultural competence.
Next up? Lunch and awards. During lunch, we heard five-minute, inspirational stories from five different speakers. We cheered as women were recognized for the incredible work they do. A few rising stars were given awards for the impact they are having with 10 or fewer years of public service experience. One was recognized for a long career, devoted to putting the public first and making a lasting difference. This year’s lifetime achievement award went to the recently retired director of the Saint Paul Public Library, Kit Hadley. Read about her remarkable career here.
After lunch and awards, it was time for more breakout sessions on mindful leadership, navigating your career and responding to prejudice and worldview conflicts. A farewell and networking reception, refreshments and a chance to reflect and network with other attendees followed.
At the end of the day, I could not believe how many amazingly talented women took the time teach those in attendance. The conference aimed to teach, inspire and equip attendees with information, encouragement or tools to be successful in serving the American public. I can honestly say the conference did just that!
Walking away from all that energy was bittersweet. Behind me was such an amazing experience, but ahead of me was endless possibility.
While it would be impossible to cover everything, here are six of my takeaways:
1. There is definitely demand for women-specific events like this.
In just four years, this event has gone from serving a handful of local women to selling out weeks before registration is set to close. That means hundreds of women, and a few men, couldn’t wait to get in on this outstanding opportunity for personal and professional growth. Let’s make sure supply meets the demand, by attending, supporting and creating more events like this one.
2. Sisterhood is crucial.
Women need the support of other women. We need to gather and talk about our struggles and successes together. This is where the magic of the event really lived – in the sisterhood. The magic lived in the place where women were truly supporting other women. No competition. No judgement. Just a genuine desire and willingness to hear about the experiences of other women, help each advance in our careers and make a more lasting mark on the world.
3. Diversity and professional development are at the top of our minds.
Evident not only in the breakout topics chosen for the event, but also in the conversations being had around me, diversity and professional development are two of the things women find most consuming. How do I respond to bias? How do I build a better resume? What makes diversity powerful? What tactics should I use when negotiating a salary? These are the questions to which we wanted answers. I am happy to report we got them!
4. Network, then network some more.
Given the two facilitated sessions on career navigation, it’s no surprise how many speakers stressed to us the importance of networking. But networking isn’t only important to active job seekers. It is also an important part of engaging your community, supporting one another, continuing to learn, expanding your horizons and being inspired. Take the time to buy someone a coffee this week.
5. To lead well, be intentional.
Leading fearlessly and effectively doesn’t typically happen by accident. It takes mindfulness, thoughtfulness, strategy and the ability to listen well. If you want to be a leader, raise a leader or support a leader, be intentional. Think carefully about who you want to be, how you are going to make sound decisions and what goals you want to accomplish. Instead of skating along, hoping leadership comes naturally, keep each of these things in mind and become a leader on (and with) purpose.
6. Men should be a part of this conversation.
Aside from a couple of the event’s panelists, or close supporters of award winner, there were very few men present. I would guess it was fewer than five. In a group of hundreds of people, I’d love to see that number grow. We need solid male advocates in the public workplace because “women” in public service are a part of “people” in public service. We should all get behind a cause like that.
Altogether, this is an incredible event. For anyone in the Twin Cities for the fifth annual Women in Public Service Conference, I could not recommend it strongly enough.
My challenge to all of us is to create more opportunities like this in our schools and communities at large. Look for ways you might be able to facilitate conversations, meetings, events or mindsets regarding women in public service. We can do this.
For more details on the conference – a list of speakers, contact information, detailed agenda – visit the event page.
Author: Emily G. Paulson is a content marketing manager in Minneapolis, where she moonlights as an MPA student at Hamline University’s School of Business. She’s carving out a career in public safety and organizational learning, and believes in firm handshakes and shameless smiles. Contact her at [email protected].