23rd DRC Women’s Business Conference: Preserving Relationships, Boundaries Key in Personal Success

Dave Moore, Staff Writer

Identify and guard those “no do-over” moments in life.

Don’t compete with others – strive to be the best version of oneself.

And always preserve important relationships, even in today’s politically divisive environment.

Those are a few of the takeaways from the Dallas Regional Chamber’s Women’s Business Conference, which drew more than 1,000 attendees to the Hyatt Regency in Downtown Dallas on March 6. The event, in its 23rd year, also honored Oncor’s Debbie Dennis as recipient of the Athena® Award, and SMU’s Ana I. Rodriguez as the YPL Athena® Award recipient.

Lead off keynote speaker Stacy London – perhaps best known for her TLC show “What Not to Wear” – discussed her spiritual journey as she progressed from Senior Fashion Editor at Mademoiselle magazine, to a television personality, to a social media trendsetter.

“I burned out… both mentally and physically,” London said. “Wound up having spine surgery, losing a friend to suicide, losing my dad (to cancer), I just lost another friend to cancer three weeks ago.”

She said those experiences, over time, have given her a new perspective. She’s working on a book about grief.

“This has given me the opportunity to see why things need to go deeper,” she said. “We… tend to gloss over the things that are really hard, somehow thinking that life is always meant to be good, right? We need techniques and methods to empower ourselves, and to empower others.”

London said that those experiences have led her to conclude that competing with others is self-defeating and that there’s a lot going on behind the concept of fashion.

“The one thing about ‘What Not to Wear’ that always bothered me was that we were we were making people over in a way that we thought was palatable to everybody, and the fact is there is no ‘everybody’ to be palatable for,” she said.

“You have to be the best version of you,” London said. In other words, people should dress in a way that works to their advantage, whether they’re aspiring to be a dominatrix (vinyl) or even a corporate lawyer (pinstripes).

“I think of clothing as armor – as protection against people who could make my mood worse, or to hide that I don’t really want everybody to know I’m in a bad mood,” she said. “I wear something cheery and happy, and it lightens me and the people around me.”

Fellow keynote speaker Anne Chow – the first woman of color to hold the position of CEO at AT&T – kept in the theme of being true to oneself.

Chow, CEO of AT&T Business, said a key to becoming the best version of one’s self is to try a variety of things, and to follow where curiosity leads.

“Try new things to find your strengths,” she said. “What if you don’t like it? Guess what. Some of the best decisions I’ve made have been from doing something and realizing I hate it, or I’m terrible at it. Because then I know I’m not going to put myself in a situation where I’m going to fail or I’m not enjoying what I’m doing.”

All the while, Chow added, women must battle their cruelest foe of all: their inner “Mean Girl,” which battles their inner, encouraging Girl Boss.

“You’ve got to tell that Mean Girl to shut up,” she said. “I find that as women, we are our own worst enemy, aren’t we? I we think we just psych ourselves out. So, the next time when you hear those voices in your head, when you get that sick feeling in your stomach, tell your Mean Girl to go away.”

A parting piece of advice from Chow: Set aside time for people you care about. Chow told those attending that in the course of raising her children, she established “no do-over moments,” which included attending back-to-school nights. She defines those moments as those that individuals will remember, or regret missing, their entire life.

“Perhaps one of the most important pieces of advice I got from a female executive at the time when I first got promoted to be an executive, was ‘Do not miss that (back-to-school) night,’ because it is a night when you connect with all the teachers and the principal, just in case you need them,” she said. “That is such an important night because you then get a flavor for what your child is about to go through. That is in a no-do-over moment for me, OK?”

Chow said she’s missed board meetings and customer meetings to attend back-to-school events for her children.

“I have missed some serious stuff to make back-to-school night,” she said. “Have I been 100 percent perfect on my no-do-over moments? No. I’m probably about 90 percent. Not bad. Can’t control everything. But know what your no-do-over moments are.”

She said co-workers and managers needn’t know the reason(s) for setting aside blocks of time for loved ones, adding that women tend to overshare about their personal lives.

“Nobody needs to know your business,” Chow said.

The final session featured a discussion between Beth Silvers and Sarah Stewart Holland, who host the “Pantsuit Politics” podcast.

They agreed that lecturing friends and family members on politics isn’t an effective way to change minds.

“The prioritization of relationships… is huge,” said Silvers. “That’s key in business and family and politics.”

Holland added, “We have to be in a relationship to influence each other. When we’re keyboard ninjas, out there, trying to yell at people on Facebook and Twitter, we’re not influencing them positively.”

The pair acknowledged that political prognosticators often guess wrong about election outcomes, then predicted that someday, the U.S. will have a female president. They reflected on Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful bid in 2016. Clinton has recently discussed the difficulties she experienced running for president as a woman.

“When we say it’s difficult for women when they run for office, are we reinforcing the idea that it’s hard? Are we reinforcing the idea that America isn’t ready for a female president?” asked Silvers. “That conversation needs to be paired with the idea that we really want to see a female president. I think that’s powerful, and that needs to be part of the conversation.”

Presenting sponsor for the conference was Jackson Walker LLP; the Athena® Award was sponsored by Wells Fargo; the YPL Athena® Award was sponsored by Thomson Reuters. Decade sponsors included Accenture, BKD CPAs & Advisors, Oncor, SMU Cox School of Business, and Topgolf. Century sponsors were Copart, Options Clearing Corporation, People Performance Resources, LLC, and Simmons Bank.