Walnut Creek’s East Bay Women’s Conference ‘reimagined’ for 2021
By Lou Fancher
Risking a relevant but possibly overused sentiment — what a difference a year makes! — the words ring inexorably true when applied to the 2021 East Bay Women’s Conference’s five-part virtual speakers series.
In early March 2020, more than 600 people gathered in the San Ramon Marriott’s ballroom for the event presented annually (“The Wonder of Women” was last year’s theme) by the Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau in conjunction with John Muir Health and Stanford Children’s Health.
In hallways and small conference rooms, attendees heard about management skills and concepts including “loosening the grip,” “fidelity to self” and “grit.” Most amazing to recall is that attendees and presenters stood within inches of each other, shaking hands and sharing hugs, eating, laughing or hollering “hello” to friends and associates — unaware of what would in mere days become a full year of socially distanced sheltering in place and constant disputes about face masks.
Reconfigured this year as a multiepisode virtual conference that kicked off March 2 and continues the first Tuesday of each month through July, the event in 2021 earns its title: “EBWC Reimagined.” Keynote speakers appear via livestream and include Q&A sessions with online audiences. Interactive extras include networking and special sessions led by industry experts in marketing, leadership, mentoring, workplace inclusion, gender equity, mindfulness, work/life balance, health and wellness and other topics.
One question surfaced well before the event that reliably sells out months in advance had even begun this year: After an exhausting, Zoom-filled year and minus the astounding collective energy of hundreds of people in one room — most being highly successful, educated, confident, enthusiastic, entrepreneurial and street-smart women — could a virtual platform provide the same enthusiasm and chutzpah?
The honest answer was, “Of course not.” Wisely, the Walnut Creek Chamber’s Lynn Pauline, Shawn Filardi, the recently retired Senior Vice President Marcie Hochhauser and other staff organizing the conference recognized the impossible. Notably and to their credit, though, the reimagined five-part interactive video conference series succeeds by offering dynamic speakers appearing in sprint-like, intimate presentations and, by expanding geographically and over several weeks instead of one day, EBWC 2021 renders long-term benefits available to a broader audience.
One of the benefits of Zoom is that sold-out events like the conference are now accessible for procrastinators or people with too-full calendars or limited travel options. On-demand video playback makes it possible to watch all five events anytime for 30 days following each series date.
After introductory remarks from Julie Gordon White, the founder & CEO of Bossa Bars and the event’s emcee, Rabbi Jennie Chabon opened with Andra Day’s song “Rise Up.” Accompanied by guitarist Lisa Zeiler, the song and Chabon’s message to “make friends with negative self-talk, sit in discomfort” and “help each other to rise above with encouragement and loving gestures” foreshadowed the opening event’s frank but warm messages.
Moderator Allison Tabor introduced keynote speaker, activist and New York Times best-selling author Glennon Doyle (whose books include “Untamed,” “Love Warrior” and “Carry On, Warrior”). Asked about a chapter devoted to imagination in “Untamed,” Doyle’s newest book, she said an imaginative idea wasn’t a pipe dream, it was a place to find one’s marching order. Instead of “existing in cages” or “chasing pink bunnies” (sign up and check out the on-demand video to be in-the-know), Doyle said giving birth to imagination’s ideas is what women are intended to do as they shed shame, perfectionism or “I’m-fine” coverup veneers.
The memoir and Doyle’s conversation with Tabor delved into the author’s addiction to alcohol, motherhood, realization that her first marriage was a false scenario, the difficulties presented for confident women in society and the workplace and finding her new spouse and identity as a lesbian in a love-at-first-sight encounter with U.S. Olympic soccer gold medalist Abby Wambach.
“We know that the world is conditioned to not like a confident woman,” she said. “Every study on earth shows us that the more confident, the more bold, the more successful, the more joyful a man is, the more the world likes and trusts him. The more confident, joyful, happy and successful a woman is, the less the world likes and trusts her.”
Doyle said the problem is so pervasive that it infects girls and women, whom she said are conditioned to question other women even when they know doing so is harmful.
“We can resist by being bold, pumping up friends, realizing misogyny is internalized in even ‘raging feminists,’ ” she advised.
The most profound exchanges between Tabor and Doyle came when the author spoke about her reaction to her first positive pregnancy test. Sitting on her bathroom floor, ill from alcohol and having burned every bridge in her life, she remembered thinking and said in the presentation, “There could have been no worse candidate for motherhood on the planet.”
Attending her first AA meeting soon thereafter and expecting to hate it, she instead found surprising honesty and had the thought, “Oh, this is where they keep the honest people.” A woman in the meeting told her that being human was not about feeling happy, it was about feeling everything.
Tabor invited Doyle to offer encouragement to East Bay women in closing remarks. Doyle said that as we emerge from the pandemic, women taking themselves seriously and the country continuing a long-overdue racial reckoning and fighting institutional racism are paramount.
“Women have always been holding up much more than half the sky” while attempting to fit into places designed “without us at the table,” she said. Allowing imagination free rein and making sure women are a part of the rebuilding of cultural, educational, political, corporate and other institutions, Doyle said all women must work together to “break the false peace.”