Over the weekend the Utah Women and Leadership Project hosted the fall session of She Talks Utah a leadership speaker and dialogue series. Five inspirational women from around the state spoke on this season’s theme: Finding our voices and the courage to use them. Each speaker had a unique take on what it means to tap into one’s unique voice. The evening was a powerful reminder of how difficult it can be for women to first, identify their authentic voice and second, to have the confidence to have it be heard.
Brooke Walker, host and executive producer of Studio 5 KSL TV shared her journey in broadcast journalism. She recounted a story from early in her career. When she was given the chance to cover breaking news on the air it was scary and exhilarating. In that moment, her producer directed a terse question at her, “Kid, can you do it?” She could, and she did, and she continued to all the way through an Emmy-nominated and award-winning career. “Validate your own voice,” she says, don’t count on others for your confidence.
Shannon Hales, a NYT best-selling author of over 25 books, including the Newbery Honor award winner Princess Academy, continued the theme of self-validation. Her vulnerable and heartfelt presentation captivated the audience. She shared her youthful goals and that of wanting to be beautiful, which eventually fell by wayside when she realized the difference between “do” and “be.” The aspiration to write and become a mother were far more fulfilling than statically being beautiful. As a successful author, there were still people and messages that pressed certain expectations. For example, not working once she became a mother. “I’ve been fed so many lies by so many people that just weren’t true,” she says of having to choose between parenting and working. “I love both. And I can do both.” Indeed, she does, claiming that the naysayers motivate her to continue to do both.
Another woman that successfully does both is Vanessa Quigley, Co-founder and Chatbooker-in-chief of Chatbooks.com and mom to seven. She started Chatbooks with husband when, in a heart-wrenching moment, her preschool aged son confided in her that he didn’t want to grow up as he clutched a “yearbook” his teacher made for the class.
She saw the value in physically holding onto cherished memories, despite others telling her that print was dead. At times it felt and sounded crazy but she kept going. “Be you while being persistent in your vision,” she said. Authenticity is important, is resonates with others. Even though she’s never felt like the most “techy” woman it doesn’t matter to Vanessa. There are no rules about what you have to be in order to succeed, “Make the role your own, just be you.” Amazingly, 70% of Chatbooks’ staff are women, 98% of those are mothers.
Another inspiring example of authenticity is State Senator Deirdre Henderson, and Senate Rules Chair. Her life in politics started when she was willing to make phone calls to delegates for Jason Chaffetz’s Congressional campaign. Her assignment quickly evolved and eventually grew into a campaign manager positon. The exciting, fast paced world of politics can be terrifying. However, the way Senator Henderson would never cut herself off from opportunity due to fear. “Fear is never a good reason to do something,” she says. Rather than lauding perfection she says, “There is bravery in failure, you must be willing to fail.” She ended by reminding the audience of the importance of using your political voice.
Finally, Jenny Oaks Baker, Grammy nominated and Billboard No. 1 performer spoke about drawing on her faith to develop her balance being a mother and performer. She encouraged women to absorb as much education and training to prepare for unexpected obstacles in life, “I would encourage everyone to try and receive all the training and education possible to develop yourself to be ready for whatever life may throw at you. Take advantage of all the opportunities for study and growth that you can find.” She wasn’t sure about where her career would take her, so she took classes and developed
skills in many areas to maintain a well-rounded resume. When impostor syndrome rears its ugly head draw on your experience and ambition to push through. Jenny wrapped up the evening with a powerful solo on the violin, accompanied on the piano by her 14 year old daughter.
You can watch the entire speaker series here.