Fifteen years ago, when I worked for Martha Stewart, we attended the annual Employee Meeting in a cavernous hall in New York. After finding a seat, hundreds of us settled and awaited the keynote address by none other than Darla Moore.
At that time, I was in the very early stages of my career. I was a “mere girl” from the Deep South who arrived in New York with a law school scholarship (that I subsequently gave up out of a longing for more creative work) and an innate confidence I can thank my parents for. No other connections. No relationships to call upon to advance myself. And no one really taking me seriously – after all, I was a bleach blonde with a Southern twang and looked half my age.
When Darla entered the auditorium that day, I remember a quiet blanketing the room. You could have heard a pin drop. From head to toe, she was immaculately dressed and groomed. She wore leather driving gloves and was the epitome of Southern class. I was wowed in an instant. Without saying a word, she had already commanded the room. Her presence was powerful. She went on to speak, and before it was over, she had won the crowd.
Fast forward to this past Wednesday night. I had the opportunity to hear Darla speak for the second time in my life. This time, I’m much more advanced in my career, back in my hometown of Greenville, South Carolina, and at a lovely event honoring Greenville Women Giving’s 10th Anniversary Season. Darla gave the keynote, and again, captivated the room with humor, intellect, and a forthrightness that is her unmistakable signature. She was simply terrific.
The crux of her talk centered around the idea that, as far as women have come in business and in community life, they are still underestimated. When significant achievements in commerce, culture, and community are made, if they are made by a woman or group of women, they are looked upon as “women’s achievements”, rather than great accomplishments on their own merits, regardless of gender, race or what have you.
I’m a prime example of a “mere girl” who’s done some things, is attempting to do more, and certainly hopes and plans to make a greater impact throughout my life wherever I can. Yet, I pick up on people’s surprise more often than you’d think, when they realize I’m a woman, or they realize I’m in my 30s, or they realize that I can sit at a table of leaders and address (or debate) them as peers, or when they realize I run a great business, or when they realize, for example, that my husband “works for me” instead of the other way around.
I don’t take offense, and the times that I have felt slighted, karma has always come in to save the day eventually. So, this mere girl has high hopes for not only Greenville, not only South Carolina, but also women in business everywhere.
Five things that have absolutely made the difference in my life and path:
- Belief from a young age that I could do anything that I set my mind to. My parents never, ever allowed me to believe that anything was off limits to me. Even when I was terrible at something (uh – track and field, for example), they always let me believe my best would take me far.
- A strong, tight circle of female friends who are kicking butt and taking names at what they do. These includes an international lawyer in London, a top attorney in South Carolina, an incredible interior designer, a co-founder of a major tech brand, a professor, and several highly accomplished women in my field – marketing and communications. With these women as my best friends, I am surrounded by an aura of support, safety, and mentorship that is like rocket fuel to my soul.
- A few lucky breaks. The fact that I gave my law school scholarship back and had no job waiting on me in New York, at the age of 20, is – by all standards – scary. Yet, in two weeks’ time, someone took a chance on me. Not just anyone. The founder of the For Dummies-brand series of books, John Kilcullen, hired me to work for his company, Hungry Minds. And from there, a year later, I landed my dream job at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, thanks to my resume bypassing Human Resources, and landing fortuitously at the top of a stack of mail for the Chief Financial Officer, Jim Follo, who had just returned from vacation. The envelope with my resume was the first piece of mail he opened. And then, when Martha herself realized I was a strong writer, and allowed me to draft speeches for her. That was incredible. And then, when I fell in love, moved back home to Greenville to get married, with no job on the horizon, another visionary of his time, Jim Anthony, stumbled across my resume and called me, asking if I’d like to be part of community on the rise called The Cliffs. This was right before the real estate boom.
- The ultimate security blanket – a healthy, loving marriage and family. Anyone who knows me well knows that my marriage is the number one joy of my life. It was literally love at first sight. David, my husband, has been there with me through everything – and I mean everything. He’s Flourish’s Director of Operations, and at home, he’s our household’s CEO. There are too many ways to list that his partnership, love and support have enabled me the freedom to really make Flourish flourish. He also makes me feel awesome about myself and my abilities, yet is the first one to keep me in line when I may have strayed too far beyond the boundaries of acceptable risk.
- A positive outlook and a deep faith. I cannot stress how important this one thing is. The attitude with which we face the world is a force that can work for us or against us. The more grateful I am, the more positive outcomes I see. The more collaborative I am with others, the greater gains we make. The better I treat those around me, the better life I have myself. And, the key realization years ago that very little in this life is within our control, I consequently give a lot up to God, and know that it’s in far better hands than my own. I’m able to bounce back from failures, and get up every time I fall down.
So, for all of you mere girls reading this, the glass ceiling may not be shattered, but you hold within you ways of making a mark on this world. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.