Admittedly, it’s been hard to find the words to summarize our experience at this year’s Colorcomm Conference. The sentiments that continue to come to mind are “deeply intimate”, “groundbreaking” and “breakthrough”. Of course, the conference drew a smaller crowd based on it’s Hawaiian location, but it was clear that the women who made the investment to attend came prepared to do the work it would take to understand how best to break through the concrete ceiling (it’s not glass for women of color), take our careers to the next level, and more importantly, protect our spirits so that we don’t arrive at the next destination broken by the process.
The mood was different this year. Charged with emotion. Perhaps it was the spiritual backdrop and beauty of the Island of Maui, but there was something in the atmosphere that almost immediately connected each of us and required us to dig deep. There was no shortage of “aha” moments within each session and often you’d see women huddled together to hug, cry and edify each other. It became almost the norm to see women grouped holding hands and sharing personal testimonies. It’s one of the reasons our PN-sponsored session, Fearless Dialogues, was such a breakthrough moment for attendees. The session was offered on the last full day of the conference so all of the previous intimacy created did well to prepare us for Dr. Greg Ellison to push us into uncharted territory of self discovery. Attendee feedback applauded it as the “best session of the conference” with multiple requests to feature it again next year with more time to dive deeper. I’m so proud of that moment. It uniquely demonstrated our values and brought into bright, technicolor view that Porter Novelli isn’t your average agency.
Attending the conference undoubtedly broke me wide open, exposing truths both familiar and unfamiliar. Like many woman of color, I’ve struggled throughout my career to share my passion and unabashed love for this industry while being marginalized, underestimated and unfairly characterized as angry, abrasive, aggressive and too ambitious (something I’ve coined as “the awful A’s”). The battle left me weary, and many times, hopeless. Truthfully, it wasn’t until I arrived at Porter Novelli that I was pushed to operate within the fullness of self and given freedom to let “this little light of mine” shine. Even still, at this year’s conference, I learned I was still holding on to some of the trauma experienced trying to exist and work in a world that isn’t designed to support girls, and both directly and inadvertently, keep women of color out altogether. It was while holding Soon Mee Kim’s hands and staring into her eyes during “Fearless Dialogues” while asked, “Why are you here” and “How did you get here” that the levee broke. In that moment, while Soon Mee humbly allowed me the grace to bare my soul, I let go of all of the “stuff” I didn’t know I was still carrying. The chips on my shoulder. The feelings of worthlessness and intimidation that come from years of not being invited to the party and being immediately discounted when you arrive. The need for outside validation. The constant insult to injury in always walking into a room where no one else looks like me. The years of watching others applauded for my work, seeing subordinates promoted over me and watching colleagues with systemwide reputations of bad behavior and marginal performance at best ascend to senior ranks. I let it all go. Every woman in that room let it all go. If only for a moment, we were free. And that freedom created a renewed strength to push toward our goals. The energy of that moment was beautiful and it was ushered by none other than Porter Novelli.
There’s been such a heavy weight lifted thanks to the experience found at Colorcomm Conference. And thankfully, that sentiment isn’t unique to me. It’s shared by every attendee. We each return to our respective companies healthier, ready to tackle work and interpersonal challenges, ready to shine unapologetically and ready to command the respect due. Here’s what I know for sure: the future is femme and woman of color have no plans to be left behind. The sessions, intimate discussions and relationships formed during this year’s conference facilitated a critical step in our shared trek to success: healing. We each learned that before you can climb, you first must release the weight holding you back.