Hearing Vital Voices on International Women’s Day

“Just do great work because you love what you do.” ~Adrian Brown, COO Intellectual Ventures

I owe a lot to my mentors. They helped me choose a path, make connections, and adapt when I got stuck. My past mentoring relationships arose organically, so I was a bit skeptical of the  Vital Voices Mentoring Walk on International Women’s Day (Saturday, March 8, 2014). Could a meaningful relationship really arise in such a contrived environment? It sounded, well, a little corporate.

I signed up anyway because I like walking. Whatever my doubts, a long walk with an interesting woman sounded like a good way to spend International Women’s Day. My confidence flagged when I arrived and saw the agenda: the “walk” was only a third of the program, sandwiched between speeches and keynote addresses.

Fortunately, the keynote speakers were incredible. Susan Davis, Chair of the PR firm Susan Davis International, gave us the context: Vital Voices is an international women’s rights NGO, and the Seattle mentoring walk was one of 40 held around the world. It turns out that “Think Locally, Act Globally” could be the Mentoring Walk‘s motto.

But it was Adrian Brown who blew me away. The COO of Intellectual Ventures spoke eloquently about staring down stereotype threat in the business world, making bold choices, and remembering that “no one choice is forever.” Her advice on balancing work and family was refreshing: “You just have to do the best you can.” But her comments about finding a path most resonated with me: “Just do great work because you love what you do.”

With the stage set, we headed out for a very soggy walk to the Space Needle. My mentor, a business leader, provided the exact perspective I needed. One short walk was not enough to build a relationship, but I’m hopeful that I can reach out to her as I build Data Girl. I left feeling damp and invigorated.

Mentoring walks do not solve the big problems that women and girls face: eliminating the educational achievement gap, preparing for a trade, joining a union, and similar topics were not on the agenda. I talked to many talented women, but no plumbers or electricians. “Lean In feminism helps a particular subset of women with a degree of access and privilege, and leaves many women out of the conversation.

But it still has value. I was surprised at the racial diversity in the room on Saturday. A friend of mine lamented that she hadn’t been paired with a woman of color. She needs to talk about the tokenism and cultural incompetency at her lily white organization. Unable to find such mentors in her immediate surroundings, she’s looking further afield. Events like Saturday’s could help her make the connection she needs.

There isn’t one right way to do feminism. We have to tackle this giant from many different angles, and make connections across sectors. It’s not easy, but it’s work that’s worth doing. It’s what I love to do, and I hope to be great at it one day.

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