It came and went in a nanosecond, yet, this was our best experiential leadership event of the last ten years.
If you had told me ten years ago when my book Find your Inner Red Shoes (Penguin) was published that the idea seeded in the book would become the vision of a company and a movement, I would’ve thought you were dreaming. The truth is, I was dreaming. And the Red Shoe Movement’s experiential leadership event we host every year is part of that dream.
The book is focused on helping women understand that we mostly live up to an idea of success that we had no part in conceiving. We inherited predetermined notions generated in the countries, societies, and families we grew up in. So if we want to reach our ambitions, we need to first align our idea of success to what works for each one of us.
The symbol we used on the book’s cover was a pair of red stilettos because to me they meant “power with femininity” and that was the kind of success I wished we could embrace. To find our inner red shoes, our own power, and to pursue our goals without compromising our feminine side. Without imitating anyone else’s style. The book also promoted the idea of women supporting women, mutual mentoring, and self-agency.
As I was presenting the book in various corporate settings, a group of Ambassadors interested in fostering a mutual mentoring community, started getting together monthly. From that initial group came the idea to organize an event. We agreed that the world didn’t need any more traditional conferences where speakers and attendees seemed to be separated by several degrees of competency and expertise. We wanted an experiential leadership event where everyone felt they had something to teach and something to learn. Where everyone felt equally entitled to offer knowledge and ask questions.
That first event took place in March 2012 at the New York Times. And even though it looked very different than what we just experienced a few days ago at our 10th Anniversary Event, it had all the seeds for what became our annual Red Shoe Movement Signature Event.
Including the brilliant Co-Directors of the event, Annerys Rodriguez and Teresa Geovanna Pavlat, who this year welcomed a fantastic third teammate, Neus Tosi, and a unique team of volunteer Ambassadors who are always the backbone of this ocassion. A group of professional women and men who make sure everything runs smoothly while they have a chance to network for their own careers.
Ten-Year Anniversary Celebration
More than a conference or an event, it was truly a celebration. If there is something positive about the post-COVID world is that it has given all of us permission to be more real and honest with each other. It has made it clear that corporations can’t stand on the sidelines of social change and ignore the issues that matter to their employees, customers, suppliers and partners. That, on the contrary, they have a very relevant role to play to get us to a new era of sustainable life as the planet’s keepers. And that’s why I call it a celebration, because we celebrated life by talking both about our personal stories, and about the larger ones that bind us together regardless of where we live and operate.
#WingsOfCourage, our latest initiative to inspire women of courage to take a leap and reach for their career’s ambitions couldn’t be absent from our first Signature Event in 3 years. The inspiring wings designed for the Red Shoe Movement by visual artist Colette Miller, founder of the Global Angel Wings Project, were prominently featured so everyone could engage with the larger conversation we’ve been having since the initiative’s launch in March.
Two unique women share the morning spotlight
Part of the secret sauce of our experiential leadership event is that everyone who takes the stage interacts in a leveled playing field with the audience. Not only by answering questions, which is the traditional format you’d expect, but also by asking questions of the audience, and of other people sharing the stage.
After Susan Podlogar, EVP, Chief HR Officer, MetLife, kicked off the morning with an inspiring welcome, asking us to open our aperture and feel grateful for the chance to learn, the program got fully started.
We couldn’t have asked for a more intriguing pair for the morning Q&A. Zainab Salbi, Co-founder of Daughters for Earth, and a legendary activist bringing attention to women survivors of war, and now to the role of women in climate change solutions, and Samantha Skey, CEO, SHE Media. The focus of the interview was Subconscious ways that media and tech influence how we see each other. Zainab shared riveting details that dispelled stereotypes many of us have of women in areas such as Iraq, Iran or Afghanistan. With vivid storytelling and details such as women asking for red lipstick and fancy underwear as the simplest act of resistance, she introduced us to a world most of the audience had only seen through the eyes of mainstream media. Sam, on the other hand, anchored us on the commercial reality of how media works. How certain words (such as “uterus” or “Afghanistan”) are explicitly on a list to be avoided when placing advertising as companies don’t want to be associated with them. Therefore, certain stories never become visible enough for us to see the whole picture of the world we live in.
Mutual Mentoring Circles at the Core of our Experiential Leadership Event
The Mutual Mentoring Circles were once again at the center of our 10-year anniversary Signature Event. They’ve been at the core of our methodology and everything we do, from the Step Up Plus, our year-long leadership development program for women to our online and in-person events. This year we had two rounds of seven important conversations in the post-COVID era, where participants had a chance to alternate playing our two iconic roles: Expert and Explorer. Topics included: What’s driving your desire to change jobs?; The value of relationships at work; Your wellbeing as a key aspect of your ability to perform; and Being a global citizen to make an impact inside and outside your organization.
The Circles are facilitated by a group of specially trained Senior Executives who year in and year out have been an integral part of this experiential leadership event.
Robert Abreu, VP, Global Head, Tech Risk for Corporate Solutions, Goldman Sachs
Ali Curi, President, HPNG & Podcaster Producer/ Host, ION, a FinTech company
Lauren Díaz, Director – Program Management Office, Sustainability & Special Projects, Goodwin
Roxanna Flores, SVP, Human Capital Operations, UnivisionTelevisa
Cosette Gutierrez, Executive Director, LUCA (Latino U College Access)
Annalisa Paliyenko, Global Learning Partner- Americas: Global Program Manager – Interrupting Unconscious Bias, Hitachi Energy
Cheyenne Van Cooten, Global AWS DEI Leader, Worldwide Commercial Sales/Global Startups, Amazon
Over the years we’ve built a community of veteran Facilitators who have accompanied us at the different events. This year we missed: Lily Benjamin, Johanna Torres, Lucía Ballas Traynor, Stephen Palacios, Jola Kordowski, Zuania Capo, and Joseph Di Giovanni.
It was hard to miss the fact that throughout the day we had many, many small and big conversations that were much deeper than what we had in the past. And this, at an event known for honest conversation, is saying something.
Vulnerable like never before
Many of these stories played out on stage as people spontaneously burst into tears as they shared very personal challenges. From Annalisa Paliyenko, who talked about the human chain of Ukranian people standing for Iranian women in the U.S. to Carla Dodds, who revealed her childhood struggles with bullying because of her two different sized feet (due to medical malpractice). In a perfect example of what our community has come to symbolize, Samantha Dong, Co-Founder and CEO, ALLY Shoes, our event shoe sponsor, custom made a pair of red stilettos for Carla who will never have to buy two pairs of the same shoes ever again.
Lots of Surprises Throughout the Experiential Leadership Event
There were surprises sprinkled through the day. People who had received red shoes during early registration picked them up at MetLife in the morning. And every guest received a copy of the book that started it all, our 7 RSM Principles and a charm, and the men got one of our RSM Signature Ties designed by Cyberoptix. They feature the ampersand, the most inclusive sign in our language.
Angelina Paris gave us a touch of France with their delicious hot chocolate and surprised us after lunch walking into the main room with a huge red Meringue Pyramid, and red-hearted balloons to the beat of Happy Birthday. And who can forget the unbelievably realistic chocolate shoes and bears with red ties that Cacao by Cipriani made for the executives who took part of our program?
We also gave away a lot of extra pairs of shoes by ALLY Shoes at the event, and a very complete haircare products kit by Erenzia as a giveaway! We even featured a powerfully inspiring video by Project SAM — a project that uses the love of soccer to teach young teenagers about different cultures, and how we people have more in common than different.
The Icing on the Cake: Special Citation by New York State
The room hadn’t quite recovered from the joyful moment when Julissa Gutierrez, Chief Diversity Officer, New York State, presented the Red Shoe Movement with a Special Citation by Governor Kathy Hochul, highlighting the power of the #RedShoeTuesday campaign and “in recognition for their efforts to uplift women in positions of power, putting them front and center in workforce development, and building upon their strong legacy of trailblazing women throughout New York State History.”
Executive Circle: A Unique Multi-Way Conversation
This year, the topic of the Executive Circle was Let’s reimagine the workplace, and we had a stellar group of executives asking each other questions and sharing insights. They asked questions of the audience and they responded the audience’ questions. This dynamic —always surprising to attendees— fuels the self-empowerment each person feels as they walk away from a day full of these kinds of interactions.
We were joined by:
Carla Dodds, VP, Head of Industry, Financial Services, Penske Media
Julissa Gutiérrez, Chief Diversity Officer, New York State
Nancy Hom, VP, Chief of Staff of Internal Audit, MetLife
Eugene Kelly, VP, Global Head DEI, Colgate Palmolive
Jorge Quezada, VP, People and Culture, Granite Construction
Facilitator— Ali Curi, President, HPNG & Podcaster Producer/ Host, ION
Nothing Is Possible Without Our Partners & Sponsors
Finding the right partners who are really committed to gender equity, diversity and inclusion is key. We appreciate the long term investment it takes to move the needle. We are extremely grateful for MetLife‘s role as a host and lead of our experiential leadership event for 8 of the past 10 years. Their state of the art location, their dedicated and passionate team who have championed us for a long time make a huge difference. Thank you Dr.Cindy Pace, VP, Global Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, Annerys Rodriguez, Ellen Mullan, Bonita Haskins and the many others who are an invaluable part of our community. We are enormously thankful for Colgate-Palmolive, Spotify, Bristol Myers Squibb, ALLY Shoes, Morgan Stanley, Granite Construction, Angelina Paris and Cacao by Cipriani for being part of this year’s celebration and for the many years of support. Thanks to our media partners who helped us promote the event: HPNG, Asians in Advertising, Association for Talent Development and BizNet Latina.
Here’s to You
I have to say it was one of the most moving moments of my career. Like many people in our professional community, particularly, women entrepreneurs, it hasn’t always been a bed of roses. There have been times when I doubted whether we could continue pushing forward when female advances in leadership seemed to take one step forward and two steps back. Not too different from women’s rights and human rights in the U.S. and the rest of the world. There have been times —there still are times— when it was an uphill battle for people to understand DEI is not a nice to have but a moral and business imperative. And yet, my network, this global community has repeatedly lifted me up, and has had my back. They had helped me get up every time I fell, and they have helped me stay strong whenever I wavered. There’s no better feeling than that.
So here’s to you. For your enthusiasm and persistence; for the many ways you support women’s ambitions; for helping amplify their voices. Most of all, here’s to your commitment to continuing fighting the good fight together.