Highlights from the Women's Fresh Perspectives Conference 2019
- by Maggie Mead
SAN ANTONIO, TX - As Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” blasted out of the speakers at happy hour, I looked over a sea of women and felt a surge of empowerment. The Women’s Fresh Perspectives Conference (WFPC), now in its seventh year, is an annual gathering of the dedicated women of the produce and floral industry at a conference designed to target the unique issues that women in the workplace face. The women in attendance ran the gamut from executives to produce industry newbies, but all of them were ready to get down to business and focus on learning, connecting, and lifting each other up.
As a first-timer at this event, I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I definitely felt like I had “NEWCOMER” tattooed on my forehead. But what I experienced over the conference was nothing short of inspiring, and I instantly felt welcomed into the fold. While I was hugely impressed with the conference—from the world-class speakers, to the stimulating breakout sessions, to the attendees themselves—I was curious how this year’s “I Will” theme compared to previous years. For this, I turned to the conference veterans.
“This year’s CGT Women’s Fresh Perspectives Conference brought together female produce and floral industry leaders from across our community to connect, have conversations about the challenges they face, and come away with strategies that will profoundly affect their professional and personal lives. Organizations that sent their female executives to this conference should expect them to come back stronger and more impactful to their businesses,” said PMA CEO Cathy Burns.
WFPC Co-Chair Leslie Simmons said it perfectly.
"It’s is my last year as Co-Chair; I’ve served three on the committee and two as Co-Chair. I am so proud of the work we’ve done and can’t wait to see what is to come. There is no other industry experience that compares to this. We’ve created this special place to ask the hardest questions. To be the most vulnerable and the most honest. To lift each other up," she shared. "This year, authenticity was front and center. The theme of 'I will' was a powerful through line that directed content and centered conversation on the 'active promises' we take back for ourselves, our companies, and the industry."
Returning this year was Superfresh Growers' Communications Manager Catherine Gipe-Stewart, this time as a new mom.
“Well, every year is excellent, and every year there is a different focus,” Catherine explained. “This year I am in a different place mentally at work, so I feel like one thing that's amazing is the conference meets me where I'm at. So for this one, let's be real, I'm a new mom, and that's heavily on my mind. This year is all about ‘I Will,’ and I really learned that I will state my needs and do them, which is something that I hesitate with.”
Without a doubt, my favorite feature of the conference, besides the women attending, were the speakers. Three in particular stood out to me.
Rachel Hollis—motivational speaker, blogger, and author of numerous bestselling books, including Girl, Stop Apologizing and Girl, Wash Your Face—was impossible to forget. Rachel kickstarted her session with an impromptu mini-Beyonce dance party, getting everyone on their feet. With her pentecostal preacher’s style, she brought an abundance of energy, but also a message: While we each walk our own path, we all must be ready to take chances to achieve success. Rachel’s’ position as a woman who blends motherhood and her professional ambitions together resonated particularly well with a crowd familiar with the struggle.
“I have a five month old and this is really fresh for me. So that was really empowering to know that the person speaking has been through what I've been through. And that's one of her images,” said Catherine. “I'm feeling a lot more pumped up. When I came originally I was feeling more curled up than I usually do and now I'm feeling more extended and open.”
The conference rounded out with a session with Carla Harris, Vice Chairman, Managing Director, and Senior Client Advisor for Morgan Stanley, and a gospel singer, no less! Carla imparted upon us her “pearls of wisdom,” as a way to determine our own “success equations.” She also stressed the importance of taking risks to show that you are comfortable with change, since, as she said, “keeping your head down does not keep you from getting shot!”
My personal favorite, however, was Grace Killelea, a top-rated speaker, CEO of the GKC group, TEDx Speaker, author of “The Confidence Effect,” and all-around all-star. She explained that particularly for women, success requires you to Show Up, Suit Up, and Speak Up. I was lucky enough to talk with her, and she spoke of the importance of events like WFPC.
Grace explained seeing women’s empowerment in the workplace as a global issue, and it was amazing to hear her describe us in terms of an untapped, but abundant, resource.
At happy hour, the sun was setting and the music shifted from Ms. Parton to Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family,” and I listened intently to the group of outstanding women I was sitting with. They were talking not just about empowerment, but of travel, family, and connections. These connections were truly the star of the show, and the women I spoke to at the conference only further solidified my curiosity for and reverence of this unique industry.
“I’d like to thank conference Co-Chairs Julie Lucido and Leslie Simmons and the program advisory committee for creating an empowering experience focused on the new forward-looking ‘I WILL’ theme that will help propel us all forward into successful futures," Cathy said. "Following WFPC in San Antonio, I can’t wait to be part of the next WFP offering in July.”
To stay in-the-know about the produce events that bring us together, keep reading AndNowUKnow.