Top 5 Pearls Of Wisdom From Women of the Channel Leadership Summit West 2019

Donna Goodison, Gina Narcisi

‘What is important is that my journey could not have been possible without three very simple words, which I carry around with me every day. They are courage, dreams and success,’ says Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin.

Women of the Channel Leadership Summit West 2019 speakers this week shared lessons learned from addressing challenges head-on in their personal and professional lives – from combating prejudices in Hollywood and succeeding in the male-dominated National Football League to promoting workplace diversity, caring for aging parents and learning there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to public speaking.

Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin, NFL official Sarah Thomas and diversity promoter Michele Thornton Ghee joined technology executives in relaying their journeys at the leadership summit in Palm Springs, Calif.

Andrea Miner, director of consulting services, analytics and Internet of Things solutions for North America at Tech Data, relayed how she came to understand and accept the nerve-wracking process that she goes through before public presentations thanks to some insight about Elvis Presley and watching what some chief executive officers went through before their speaking engagements.

Beth McElroy, Red Hat’s senior manager of global partner marketing, spoke on how she and her mother adjusted after her mother moved into McElroy’s home.

“Thank you for being so raw and so real and just being yourself and putting yourself out there and…letting us into your world,” Allison Cohen, event director for The Channel Company, said following their presentations.

Beth McElroy of Red Hat On Taking Care Of A Parent

Beth McElroy was among the technology leaders who shared their personal challenges with dealing with an aging parent in a spotlight session at WOTC. The Red Hat senior manager of global partner marketing spoke on how she and her mother adjusted after her mother moved into McElroy’s North Carolina home.

After McElroy attended the Women of the Channel East in 2017 in New York, she took a train to New Jersey and loaded her mother’s belongings into a U-Haul truck to make the move. It wasn’t an easy overnight sell.

“The rest of my family was in New Jersey…and I lived in North Carolina, 700 miles away,” McElroy said. “I knew I wasn't going to get my mom away from her grandkids in New Jersey. I just didn't carry that much weight, as much as I have a good relationship with her.”

But when her nieces and nephews started graduating from high school and going to college, McElroy believed she stood a chance of convincing her mother to relocate.

“We had a lot of heart-to-hearts,” she said. “It was many, many conversations, and it really just required us to be very honest with each other. Her fears were that she was going to be a burden. My fears were that I lived alone for 18 years, and that I was going to give up independence and privacy. So we talked through a lot of scenarios. We played the what-if game.”

Her mother asked what would happen if McElroy met a man, and McElroy replied that most men her age have kids.

“That's what they bring to the table,” she told her mother. “I'm bringing you to the table.”

The hardest issue to tackle was finances, according to McElroy. Her mother broached getting her own apartment in North Carolina, but McElroy said she wanted to enjoy time with her mother while her mother was still capable of taking care of herself.

“I really wanted her to enjoy her retirement,” McElroy said. “I didn't want her to financially have to pay for a place when it wasn't necessary, but I understood her need to also feel like she was still contributing to something.”

McElroy took her mother’s rent checks, but secretly deposited them in a separate bank account that her mother could later tap as a nest egg if need be.

Dealing with household chores came a little more naturally.

“This isn't so much about a mother and daughter living with each other,” McElroy said. “I think it's just the natural course of living with anybody. I do want her to feel empowered. It's kind of a case-by-case basis, but we figure it out.”

The hardest thing for McElroy was realizing she was stepping into a different role. “I'm now the parent role, and she’s now the child role, and that's really hard to accept on both fronts,” she said. “She's having to adjust and learn how to let someone do things for her, and I have to learn and adjust to be the one to make the decision.”

Meanwhile, McElroy also struggled with her work/life balance while making sure her mother was settled, got to her doctors’ appointment and connected with a new church, and formed a new network.

Dealing with aging parents is an extremely personal decision, and there’s no right or wrong approach, McElroy acknowledged.

“What's right for you could be what I did -- have her move in and just have those honest conversations,” she said. “What's right is you can pay for a caregiver to take care of her. Whatever it is, just know that you only have one mother in this lifetime. Time is precious. So for me, I just kind of stand in gratitude that I have this time. I really don't look at it as a burden. I look at it as a gift. And you know, it's just paying it back.”

Sarah Thomas, The NFL's First Female Official

Sarah Thomas is the NFL's first permanent female official. She's also the first female official to ever work a major college football game, the first woman to officiate a bowl game, and the first to officiate in a Big Ten stadium. But being the first isn't as important as helping others get where they want to be, according to Thomas.

Thomas came from an athletic family and always played sports, which even earned her a basketball scholarship to college. Even though she encountered plenty of naysayers -- she joined several boy's and men's basketball teams and was "voted off" one team just for being female -- she never tried to justify her place in the male-dominated professional sports field.

"If you're going through life trying to prove people wrong, that list of people will never end. Stop doing it. Believe and prove to yourself that you belong," Thomas told the WOTC audience during her keynote address.

Actress Marlee Matlin Says Courage And Dreams Drove Her Success

Marlee Matlin, deaf since she was 18 months old, says courage and dreams propelled her to overcome obstacles and achieve success as an Academy Award-winning actress and activist.

“What is important is that my journey could not have been possible without three very simple words, which I carry around with me every day: They are courage, dreams and success,” said Matlin, who won the Best Actress Oscar at age 21 for her role in “Children of a Lesser God,” her first feature film released in 1986.

When critics including her former boyfriend and co-star, Oscar winner William Hurt, questioned her Oscar-worthiness, Matlin for the first time in her life felt handicapped.

“I nearly gave it all up right there,” Matlin said. “But, fortunately for me, I had just enough courage left. More importantly, I was sober.”

Matlin left what she says was an abusive relationship with Hurt and turned to friend Henry Winkler and his wife for support.

“He helped reinforce the notion of dreams can come true, if you just have the courage to follow them,” Matlin said. “And he did it with a quote that said, ‘If you will it, it is not a dream.’”

Despite her initial success in Hollywood, she found work still was tough to find in a city where prejudices and stereotypes run deep, Matlin said.

“I soon realized that nothing was going to happen unless I make things happen for myself,” she said. “I set up meetings with agents and producers, many of them who'd never even met someone who was deaf. Soon I was pitching ideas for movies and TV series. And then, like Henry, I formed my own production company to be in charge of the projects and my business and the direction of my career. Most importantly, I refused to back down when there was a barrier in my way.”

“Courage plus dreams equals success,” she said.

Michele Thornton Ghee, Executive, Author And Speaker

Diversity is who you are, inclusion is what you do, said Michele Thornton Ghee, an author, speaker and executive vice president of business development for Endeavor Global Marketing. Diversity is hugely important because it translates directly to more revenue, she said during her keynote WOTC talk.

Ghee served as the vice president of BET Networks for seven years, CNN's director of multicultural sales for more than six years and an account manager for The Weather Channel, where she was the only African American woman leading a national television sales team.

Diversity, which includes gender, race, religion, sexuality and even location, breeds innovation, Ghee said.

"We have power, and we don't use it,” she said. “When [women] walk through a door, a company is 35 percent more successful. Gender diversity is good for business."

Andrea Miner of Tech Data

Andrea Miner has been doing keynote speaking presentations for the last 10 years in her role at Tech Data, sharing her tech industry insights on stage before big audiences and with her senior leadership team.

“Some tough audiences with some tough topics,” said Miner, director of consulting services, analytics and internet-of-things solutions for North America for the Clearwater, Fla., company. “And the things that people…have been saying for the past 10 years or so are ‘how do you do that?’ ‘How do you get up and talk in front of that many people? I can never do that.’ I always want to answer the question. I always want to say…what exactly my process is.”

“Anything that you see somebody doing that you think is hard, or you wouldn’t be able to do, there's so much that goes into it that we don't get to see.,” Miner said. “For me, I couldn't always do this kind of thing.”

When Miner had a show-and-tell assignment in second grade – the “easiest elementary school speaking assignment ever” -- she practiced, but when it came time to stand up in front of the class, she started to cry, sat back down and never said a thing.

“I went through elementary school, junior high and high school doing a variation of that,” she said. “I would make up some reason why I couldn't do it, or I would beg for an alternative assignment, so I never had to speak in front of a group.”

But things changed for Miner when she decided to major in business in college and saw how many presentations would be required.

“I found the more I did them, the less scary it was and the better I got at them,” Miner said. “When I finished college and went on to get a job in business, I had more opportunities to do presentations to larger audiences. People thought that I was good at it, and they said that I seemed confident and very natural. I thought, well, it's not natural, and I don't feel confident, and this cannot be my thing, because it's too hard.”

Getting glimpses of other people’s pre-speech preparations and mindsets changed her perspective.

Miner was watching a documentary film about Elvis Presley late in his career, when he already had done hundreds of successful performances. Presley was filmed backstage having a “complete panic attack, a total meltdown, Miner said.

“The most interesting thing about it to me is that nobody around him really seemed bothered by this, so this was obviously part of what happened for him before he performed,” she said. “The next scene was him on stage performing as we know him – charismatic, confident, clearly doing what he was meant to do.”

When Miner was in investor relations, she worked with CEOS whom she believed should be natural speakers by virtual of their roles.

“That wasn't really the case,” Miner said. “They prepared too, and they put a lot of effort into it.”

One of the CEOs told her the trick was being “so prepared that they think you weren't.” Another CEO would format his own presentation, moving around the photos and choosing the fonts so he better connected and became more comfortable with the material. Another CEO would have his employees ask questions that they thought his audience might ask.

“All three of them were able to stand in front of people and seemed very natural, but it was the result of the work that they put in,” Miner said. “The process looks different for everyone.”

Miner now accepts her own worries and self-doubt as part of her process.

“If I could ask you guys to consider one takeaway from what I've said, it would be that really the difference between that person that you see doing whatever that hard thing is for you… is that they were afraid, and they did it anyway. We all have the power to decide that we're going to do whatever it is that's hard for us. We're going to dig in, we're going to lean into it, we're going to be afraid, we're going to do it anyway and then come out and succeed.”


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