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Women share secrets to success in arts, business

Mass. Conference for Women hits milestone

Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein has been a contributing arts & entertainment writer for the Banner since 2009. VIEW BIO
Women share secrets to success in arts, business
Producer, writer, “Grey’s Anathomy” and “Scandal,” Shonda Rhimes, speaks on stage during Massachusetts Conference For Women at Boston Convention & Exhibition Center on December 10, 2015. (Photo: Marla Aufmuth for Getty Images/Massachusetts Conference for Women)

“There are no mistakes. You will learn from everything,” said Kemal Harris, a top Hollywood power stylist, co-owner of Kemal + Karla, and costume designer for the Netflix series “House of Cards,” on the topic “The Art of Talking About Yourself: How to Position Your Value, Not Just Your Resume” at this year’s sold-out Massachusetts Conference for Women.

Attracting nearly 10,000 women, the Massachusetts Conference for Women was held on Thursday, December 10 at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. The one-day event, which has grown in size and scope since it was first held in 2005, featured 100 speakers and more than 30 workshops and seminars on the topics of leadership, career advancement and transitions, business and entrepreneurship, personal empowerment and finance, and more.

In addition to the sessions, the event also held small business roundtables on how to get a business off the ground, growing a business, and strategies for scaling it. Attendees were able to attend one-on-one coaching sessions in the “Coach’s Corner” as well as learn how to “makeover” their LinkedIn profiles, and have their resumes reviewed by experts.

The conference also offered a Health & Wellness Pavilion where discussions were held on “How to Flourish Under Stress,” “Building A Culture of Health in the Workplace,” and “Quick Tools to De-Stress During the Day and Sleep Better at Night.” The summit also expanded its reach by providing a “Young Women’s” program that was geared towards junior and senior high school girls.

Author: Marla Aufmuth for Getty Images/Massachusetts Conference for WomenFrom left, director, producer Robin Hauser Reynolds and enterpreneur, investor, writer Ellen Pao.


Kicking off the conference were noted guests Sophia Amoruso, founder and chairman of the online retailer Nasty Gal and New York Times best-selling author of #GIRLBOSS, and Tim Gunn, the Emmy-winning co-host and mentor for Lifetime’s “Project Runway.”

On the topic of mentorship and its importance in one’s career, during the opening keynote session Gunn said, “that a good mentor doesn’t tell mentees what to do. They should probe with questions.” As the keynote was winding down and attendees were getting ready to charge through the BCEC for the morning breakout sessions, Gunn added a little humor before leaving the stage. When asked the question ‘What should every woman do?’ he responded without missing a beat “Stop wearing leggings as pants.”

In the session “The Art of Talking About Yourself,” moderator Aliza Licht, who is the author of “Leave Your Mark” and formerly known as the “DKNY PR GIRL,” also offered valuable insight on the topic. She suggested that one of the ways to talk about oneself is through building a personal brand, and that the first step is to “figure out who you are, then write your bio in the third person.”

Once that’s done, you need to then ask yourself the questions ‘Are you adding value?’ ‘Are you curating your best self?’ and ‘What’s your visual identity?’ Licht stressed the importance of being an “über connector,” valuing your relationships and being “gracious with making introductions for others.” She said that by doing this you’ll be able to benefit from the “boomerang effect.”

Know your value

Other guests on the panel included Ivette Helal, vice president, HR, laboratory equipment division for Thermo Fisher Scientific; Nzinga Shaw, chief diversity and inclusion officer for the Atlanta Hawks; and Chantel Waterbury, entrepreneur, founder and CEO of the jewelry line Chloe + Isabel.

Panelist Kemal Harris, who has been obsessed with fashion since the age of four, talked about the role that fashion plays in one’s success. Throughout her career she learned to ask herself the question, “Who is the real me?” and to listen to her gut. One of her strongest pieces of advice to the audience was to “find that thing about you that makes you special.”

Author: Marla Aufmuth for Getty Images/Massachusetts Conference for WomenFrom left, founder and executive chairman of Nasty Gal Sophia Amoruso and TV personality Tim Gunn speak on stage during Massachusetts Conference For Women at Boston Convention & Exhibition Center on December 20, 2015.

Author: Marla Aufmuth for Getty Images/Massachusetts Conference for WomenGuests attend the Massachusetts Conference For Women at Boston Convention & Exhibition Center on December 10, 2015.

Helal stressed that preparation is key in any job interview and to know your value. One of the tips she offered in preparing for interviews was to use index cards to write down scenarios and situations. This has been key for her throughout her career. Ultimately, she said in preparing for an interview “it’s about being authentic.” She adds “you have to be you” and you need to “know your strengths.”

Shaw, who created her role at the Atlanta Hawks, is the first person to hold this position in the National Basketball Association. In a field that’s dominated by men, she was able to create this position by establishing herself as an expert in her field, having confidence, and by adding value to the conversation. “I have made myself an expert in the diversity and inclusion space,” says Shaw.

The best way of creating confidence Shaw says is “to be honest about what you know and what you don’t know.” She goes on to add that one needs to be able to self-assuredly say ‘this is what I think,’ to have mentors both in and outside the organization, and not to be afraid of being wrong.

Waterbury, who has been an entrepreneur since the age of 13, talked about the importance of “being aware of taking steps to build towards your goal.” One of the best ways to do this she suggested was by having short-term goals, such as a one-year, three-year and a five-year plan. She used this strategy in her quest to create her own company. She always wanted to design jewelry and so throughout her career, she was very strategic in her vision. By utilizing her experiences working for retail giants Target, Macy’s, GAP, Inc. and LVMH, she was able to launch her company in 2011, with the mission “of creating a social retailing platform devoted to empowering the next generation of female entrepreneurs.”

Rhimes reflects

The highlight of the day was “A Conversation with Shonda Rhimes” in which Rhimes, the creator and executive producer of the ABC hit series “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal” and executive producer of the network’s “How To Get Away With Murder,” spoke about her shows and a couple of recent episodes on “Scandal” that dealt with the issue of abortion, and with Black Lives Matter. When asked about the shows reflecting the times, her response was “I don’t ever think of the shows being message shows, issue shows. I just write what feels right.”

The noted storyteller also talked about her new book the “Year of Yes” (released in November), which chronicles her attempts to be more open and to saying “yes” to invitations and to everything that scares her. Her easiest “yes” to date was accepting compliments. She said “that became very easy, very fast.”

With sessions geared toward professional and personal development, the MA Conference for Women is a day for making connections, engaging with others, networking, and learning the tools, tips, and techniques to “live your best life.”