Highlights from the 2017 Women’s Power Summit™

It was an extraordinary three days in Austin, Texas at the 2017 Women’s Power Summit™, a biennial event convened by the Center for Women in Law. Over 340 leaders from the private and public sectors came together to celebrate women’s power and advance women in the workplace and the legal profession.

This year’s speakers included influential leaders of our time, including activist Gloria Steinem, Senior Advisor to President Obama Valerie Jarrett, journalist Tina Brown, former U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe, ABA President Linda Klein, and former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer.

The atmosphere was powerful yet welcoming, honest, and supportive. The women and men showed vulnerability and tenacity both on and off stage. Conversations around this year’s theme, Power Plays That Matter, were diverse and continued with vigor at breaks and over meals. Participants inspired the audience with their “Manifesto Moments,” stories of how they are using their power to advance women.

Powerful women make power plays. They lead, own the responsibility for making a positive difference for all women, and achieve results within their organizations. Here are seven takeaways we learned that you can use to make a power play:

1. Link up and empathize.

Gloria Steinem said that to achieve gender equality we must “link” with each other, not “rank” each other and create hierarchies. “If you want people to listen to you, you have to listen to them. If you want people to see you, you have to see them,” she said. When you are in the same space, you can empathize. Coming together develops understanding and relationships between people.

Understanding and empathizing with your constituents, Olympia Snowe said, is critical to being successful in elected office. Valerie Jarrett and hostage negotiations expert Chris Voss suggested that doing both develops the trust that is needed to achieve your goals. Likewise, to allow women to move forward faster, Melanne Verveer said women must “band together” and use their collective power.

2. Be intentional and purposeful with each step.

Panelists encouraged the audience to use their power to place women in positions of authority. For instance, tell your outside counsel’s managing partner and boardroom recruiters you want diversity. If you are a judge, implement a procedural rule to allow less experienced lawyers to speak in court. You have the power to create the stepping-stones to women’s advancement. Use your power.

3. Create psychological safety.

Diversity is important but insufficient. You must have diversity and inclusion. To create inclusive women’s initiatives, panelists emphasized the importance of creating a culture in which all women feel valued, not marginalized. A speaker revealed that her gender and ethnicity made her feel like the “other other.” When you create a culture of psychological safety, women and women of color will feel comfortable displaying the full extent of their talent and power.

4. Just do it. Just say it.

Jarrett encouraged the audience to speak up and take risks. Ask for the job. Say “yes” to opportunities that present themselves. Be comfortable with the uncomfortable. Power lies in action, not waiting.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.” Don’t wait until you have perfect credentials for the boardroom or the courtroom. And in taking action, U.S. Army Lt. General Flora Darpino said you will make mistakes, and you have to pick yourself back up. Texas Law Dean Ward Farnsworth said, “Leaders will be criticized. All you can do is choose what you will be criticized for.” Doing nothing does not protect you. “Silence is not golden,” Steinem stated.

5. Harness the power you (already) have.

Writer Alice Walker said, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” Steinem highlighted that power lies in language. Own your words. “Own your right to self-identify,” she said, and say who you are. Linda Klein reminded us that power lies in our profession. “We are privileged,” she stated. We already have many of the skills to advance further and are in positions where we can be persuasive. Jarrett found from her experience of coming into government from the private sector that power lies in being the outsider and having a different perspective.

6. Arm yourself with data, and hold people accountable.

Whether you are trying to increase the number of women in your organization or negotiating your salary, do your research and know the numbers. This information acts as a benchmark and helps you know where to start. Knowledge is power.

Know the value of your position in the marketplace so you can hold the company accountable. “Accountability works” when you want to increase the number of women, said Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management Professor Lauren Rivera. “Appoint someone who has a high status to hold top management accountable.”

7. Practice self-care.

Steinem said women must engage in “radical self care” and learn to treat ourselves as well as we treat others. We have challenging careers. We must prioritize care for ourselves to sustain our power.

What power plays will you make? Let us know. Send us your Manifesto Moment.


For more highlights of the 2017 Women’s Power Summit, visit CWIL’s Twitter page @CWILnews and follow #PowerSummit17.