Natural Products Expo East might be the place where the best new natural and organic products are unveiled each year, but some of the biggest surprises exist far beyond the show floor. Peppered in between display booths and networking events are serious learning opportunities, and I was faced with the task of choosing only one to attend during my one-day visit to Expo East in Baltimore.
I let timing choose my session, Women in Leadership: Discovering the Natural Mentor in Yourself and Others. My expectations were fair-–I thought I might get a leadership pep talk, and hoped that I wouldn’t fangirl too much if I crossed paths with the highly accomplished (read: rock star) panelists.
It didn’t take long to realize that I couldn’t have been more wrong about this session’s purpose. What I assumed would be a simple lecture in how to be a good leader turned out to be a serious and heartfelt look into the formal mentor/mentee relationship, the emerging power of women as entrepreneurs, and the important benefits of empowering women in the workforce on both a personal and professional level.
The guest panel included marketing VP and consultant Joan Boykin, chef and educator Ann Cooper, and natural living advocate and author Sara Snow, with corporate development pro Ellen Feeney at the helm as moderator.
The combined background and expertise of the panel was clear, and as each member spoke, she commanded the full attention of the room. Not because each spoke to us as experts, but because she spoke to us as women, professionals, mothers, equals. (Friends, even?)
As a former employee of a large corporation, I leaned in when Joan offered advice about sharing secrets to success and not being afraid to help other women up the ladder. As a mother, I related to Chef Ann when she spoke about the role of women and asked the question, “How DO we do it all?” As someone whose career has gone in a million unexpected directions, I simply wanted to hug Sara when she described today’s non-linear career path and encouraged us to embrace the idea of reinvention as we roll with the changes life and family bring our way.
Were all those words meant just for me? It sure felt that way, but no. I’d be willing to bet that each attendee left feeling more passionate and empowered for having been there.
After a short time of listening to these highly accomplished and even more compassionate women speak, it became very clear to me that I not only need to find a mentor, but fill that role, as well, when the time is right. Because as Joan Boykin said repeatedly throughout our hour of learning, mentorship is a gift that benefits both sides. In the natural/organic field or any other, chasing career goals may lead to success, but chasing career opportunities, like the chance to pay our wisdom and experience forward, improves not only the workplace, but leaves the world a better place as a whole.