A second full season aiming to “tap the well of inspiring women in our community who deserve to be heard” kicks off next Thursday night, featuring the state’s top law enforcement officer, the Girl Scouts CEO, and an economic development leader.
TSD is pleased to sponsor “Conversations with Women Making a Difference,” a discussion series focused on career and life issues launched last year by Wendy Scott of Blue Blaze Associates and Carol Arnott-Robbins of NEWS4Women. Last year’s three-event series drew more than 300 attendees, raising $5000 for the museum.
This year’s first “Conversation” takes place on February 6, 2020, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Delaware Art Museum. (Tickets are $35 through tomorrow, then $40, available here.) Arnott-Robbins will lead a discussion with Claudia Peña Porretti, CEO, Girl Scouts of the Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings, and Lossie Freeman, Director of Corporate Partnerships, Zip Code Wilmington. All proceeds from this year’s events will go to the museum and to the Fund for Women at the Delaware Community Foundation.
We caught up with Arnott-Robbins and Scott to learn more about their inspiration for the series, the lessons they’ve learned through the conversations and what is in store for this year’s programs.
TSD: Tell us about the inspiration for this series. Why did you launch it? What motivated you to put it together the way you did?
Carol: I founded NEWS4Women in 2008 to create opportunities for women to develop social and professional connections. Over the years, I’ve organized my events in a variety of formats. However, one consistent theme is that all NEWS4Women events are designed to support local nonprofits. These fun and empowering events have raised awareness about often lesser-known charities and raised thousands of dollars for their work in our communities.
Wendy: In 2018, Carol organized a NEWS4Women event at The Delaware Contemporary where she facilitated an unscripted mother-daughter conversation on stage with Sally and Sarah McBride. Sarah had begun to develop a national reputation at that point, but it was long before she announced she was going to run for office.
Carol provided some starter questions, although it was clear as the conversation unfolded that they were not sticking to any script. Sally and Sarah spoke candidly and honestly about their family journey together about Sarah coming to terms with her identity as a transgendered woman. The dialogue was sincere, heartfelt, and bravely revealing.
I’d attended NEWS4Women events in the past, but there was something extraordinary about that evening with the McBrides. The large standing-room-only crowd in that auditorium was enthralled. It was like watching Carol capture lightning in a bottle.
Afterward, I approached Carol about collaborating with her to create more experiences like that. She was surprised and pleased by my offer to help, and we immediately started planning a series we decided to call, “Conversations with Women Making a Difference.”
TSD: This is your second season – what were some of the surprises and/or key takeaways from last year’s Conversations?
Carol: There is an untapped well of inspiring women in our community who deserve to be heard. My own network is large, but oh my—what an eye-opening opportunity this series has become. From a global perspective, women are finding their voices all over the world. We’re excited to create a local forum where women can gather together and share their wisdom.
As our momentum grew with each Conversations event we held, it validated our belief that there’s tremendous interest in listening to women share genuine insights about their successes and challenges. People in our audience leave Conversations events feeling positive and energized.
Our first year in 2019 was a learning experience, and we adjusted details as we went along.
As we kick off our second year, we’re confident we’ve now developed a format that works for creating consistently high-quality events, and the wider community is starting to notice. For instance, all of our publicity last year was done word-of-mouth, so we’re very appreciative that Town Square Delaware and other media outlets have joined us in 2020 as sponsors to help promote Conversations with Women Making a Difference more widely.
TSD: How do you put together your panels? What kind of individuals are you looking for?
Wendy: For each panel, Carol and I aim to combine three women who have a growing or established reputation in their profession and together will create a stimulating conversation group. We define “Making a Difference” broadly. Each panelist we invite brings her own unique experiences to the stage, including leadership, or community service, or breaking boundaries in some way.
Part of our “secret sauce” is that we’re very intentional about including as much diversity within our panels as possible. Each group of three includes women in different phases of their careers, and representing different industry sectors, ages, races/ethnicities, etc. We’ve found that incorporating such a variety of perspectives leads to a quality and depth of conversation that is rare to hear at other events with panels of speakers.
TSD: What is your plan for this year – how have you constructed your events? Is there a particular theme or focus for the season or are each of the events a unique conversation?
Carol: One of the things that makes our events unusual and particularly engaging is that we’re having an unscripted, genuine conversation with influential women who come from all walks of life.
Here in Delaware, where it seems that everyone already knows each other, we’ve had panelists who had never met each other before that night. Even I, as the facilitator, sometimes find myself meeting women in person for the first time on stage!
We don’t limit our events to specific themes which allow our Conversations to be spontaneous and authentic. It’s actually beneficial not having a theme because none of us knows in advance what people are going to say or what is going to emerge. That being said, I do plan to weave in questions at all three of our events this year that will touch on the suffragist movement and the centennial anniversary of the women’s right to vote.
When I’m facilitating Conversations, I always start out each question with a quote. The quotes I choose may be as wide-ranging as Sheryl Sandberg and Madeleine Albright to Dr. Seuss and Glinda the Good Witch. Sometimes quotes from fictional characters spark the best answers!
Wendy: Carol’s exceptional skill as a facilitator is key to our success. She has the ability to ask thought-provoking questions and then guide whatever emerges. She’ll pick up a thread from one panelist and then toss the topic gracefully to another, inviting them to expand on it. The resulting dialogue is a true collaboration up on the stage, which then segues at the end into a lively question and answer period with the audience.
TSD: Your panelists represent diversity, but all of them are women. How does the Conversations series appeal to a broader audience, including men or young people just starting their careers?
Carol: Learning and being inspired by interesting people can appeal to anyone! The Conversations we create are designed to cut across gender, age, race, and industry sector. The majority in our audiences are women, but men are also joining in to listen and learn, right alongside grandmothers and teenagers. Some people arrive straight from work wearing scrubs and others attend in their power suits. Our catered receptions before each panel discussion always include a fascinating cross-section of our community mingling together.
TSD: You have several partners working together on this event series, ranging from a marketing agency, to a women’s resource organization, to an art museum, and to a philanthropic initiative. How important is collaboration in convening programs like this?
Wendy: Collaboration is crucial for our success. Each of the four partners shares a common goal to create inspiring Conversations with Women events and to support local nonprofits. We all bring something different to the table, in terms of resources, networks for reaching a wide audience, skill sets, and experience.
Proceeds from 2020 events will be donated to the Delaware Art Museum and to the Fund for Women at the Delaware Community Foundation (FFW). Our new partnership with FFW gives Conversations with Women more state-wide exposure. In 2019, the series raised $5,000 for the Delaware Art Museum. In 2020, FFW will also receive a portion of every ticket sold.
TSD: Is there anything you’d like the TSD audience to know about this year’s series that we haven’t covered?
Carol: We invite everyone to save-the-dates for additional Conversations with Women Making a Difference events later this year on April 23 and October 1. All events will be held at the Delaware Art Museum from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. These events are open to the public and include catered refreshments and networking.
To purchase tickets and for more information, go to: http://blueblaze.org/ or Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ConversationswithWomenDE/