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Town Hall Meeting with President Obama

Well, yesterday definitely goes down as one of the most memorable days of my professional career. I was quoted in the Washington Post, connected with the leaders of BlogHer and She Knows, attended a town hall meeting with the President of the United States and shook his hand at the end. You can read about how all this came about in my last post.

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I arrived at the event venue at 12:30 p.m. and was escorted in early to do a video interview for She Knows. I definitely felt a flutter of nerves when I walked past the presidential podium. I was very surprised by how small and intimate the event setting was.

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I was also surprised by how many people asked me what I was going to wear to meet the President. I told my mom that I didn’t want to feel like I was going to a job interview and that I wanted to look like myself. She pleaded and begged me multiple times to not wear yoga clothes. I assured her I would find a happy medium. (For the record, I was definitely not considering yoga clothes…)

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After the interviews and chatting with the She Knows and BlogHer team and meeting some other bloggers, I found my seat and we waited a little over an hour for the President to arrive. He was immediately at ease and set an informal, conversational tone for the meeting. He spent about five minutes addressing the crowd before sitting down with She Knows Chief Community Officer Lisa Stone who moderated the event.

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For the next 75 minutes President Obama alternated between answering questions from those of us in attendance and from Lisa that she brought to the table from women in the BlogHer and SheKnows online community.

He opened the discussion by inviting us to share the issues we are facing and what types of solutions would actually make a difference in our lives.

As I’ve been recapping the event with family and friends, my biggest takeaway is that it seemed that the women in attendance felt like they were heard. As I scanned the faces in the room I saw a lot of emotion, engagement and head nodding. President Obama was thorough in his responses to the questions posed and made a point to validate each person regarding their question/situation. He never seemed rushed and he related responses back to his own personal experiences in addition to political action, facts and data. It was apparent to me that he does care about the working class and “middle class economics,” as he has coined it.

In a nutshell, it all felt very human.

He talked about his own experience growing up with a single mother and the issues his grandmother faced with “glass ceilings” in her career. He also spoke of his support for his wife and his desire for her to be as successful as possible in her career and fairly compensated when she was in the working world because that in turn benefited their family as a whole.

“Let me tell you, now, Michelle would point out that First Ladies get paid nothing, so there’s clearly not equal pay in the White House when it comes to her and me,” President Obama said. “But before we were in the White House, I wanted to make sure Michelle got paid as much as she could! I want a big paycheck for Michelle! That wasn’t a “women’s issue” — if she had a big paycheck, that made us able to pay the bills!”

Questions were asked about everything from teacher pay to early childhood education and childcare to student loans to equal pay legislation and more. While nothing was super deep or groundbreaking, I do believe the event created an atmosphere of support and connection among women, which I feel is important in our current culture that so often turns to shame, competition and lack.

Specifically regarding the pay equality, the President shared that it shouldn’t be a political issue but as simple as right and wrong. If two people are doing the same exact job with the same exact responsibilities, they should be compensated equally. It shouldn’t even be a gender issue.

The meeting ended with one of my fellow bloggers Ashley Taylor who blogs at The Dose of Reality asking, “As the mother of two daughters, how do you suggest I best empower them if they will be paid less than a male counterpart with the same skill set and the same background?” I especially loved his response to this question and I think it was a nice note to end on.

“You’ve got to remind your daughters that things are not perfectly fair, but people who work hard can make it fair…The way things get better is by that next generation taking ownership and being inspired…We want them to feel like the world is wide open to you, you can remake this thing, ultimately at some point you guys are going to be in charge. And so we want to not send a message to them that somehow they’re limited. We want to tell them what I tell Melia and Sasha, there’s nothing you can’t do.”

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And then it was over and all the sudden everyone was standing and clapping and the President was right in front of me with an outstretched hand. He took several minutes before departing to interact with the crowd, sign a photo for a veteran and hold a baby. It was a special afternoon.

A big thank you to The White House, BlogHer and She Knows for putting this event together that allowed women to feel important, valued and heard. It is my sincere hope that women continue to band and work together to improve our lives so that we can thrive professionally and personally. And it’s also my hope that these important issues around equal pay, education, child care, healthcare, etc. as they regard women stay top of mind for those in leadership and policy making positions.

You can watch the full video of yesterday’s town hall meeting and read a written recap on BlogHer’s site. If you have time, I highly recommend watching the video.

{ 15 comments… add one }
  • 1
    Cassie April 16, 2015, 4:24 pm

    Congratulations on a successful meetup with the President! It’s wonderful that you got such a great opportunity!

  • 2
    Barbara April 16, 2015, 5:32 pm

    Wow, what an honor! I am not American, but I admire Obama so much. What a great experience you had.

  • 3
    elizabeth April 16, 2015, 7:27 pm

    That is strange that so many people asked you what you were going to wear. You look great! That shirt color is just right for you, who makes it?

  • 4
    Liv @ Healthy Liv April 16, 2015, 8:52 pm

    I’m so excited for you that you got to go to such a cool event!

    I’ve been learning a lot about the gender wage gap recently and it’s so interesting that a big part of it is because women tend to not be as forceful when negotiating salary. I was reading an article for my public policy class where a study even found that employers consider confidence and boldness in men to be an attractive quality, while not so much in women.

    Very interesting, and so cool that our generation gets to be a part of making some change happen 🙂

  • 5
    JennyV April 16, 2015, 9:06 pm

    While I’m not overly impressed with our current president, I know I would be quite honored to be part of that conversation. Congratulations to you on being invited and quoted in the Post!

  • 6
    The Dose of Reality April 16, 2015, 9:12 pm

    It was SO fantastic to meet you Jen! I am not 100% sure that I am not going to wake up tomorrow and have this all be a dream, because it still feels so very surreal! I appreciate the blog shout-out here! Thank you! :)-Ashley

  • 7
    The Dose of Reality April 16, 2015, 9:15 pm

    It was SO fantastic to meet you yesterday Jen! What an incredible experience…I keep expecting to wake up and realize this is all a dream, because it still just feels so surreal. Beyond honored to be surrounded by such amazing women yesterday. Together, we can definitely change the world! Thank you for the shout-out here! :)-Ashley

  • 8
    Shari Beaubien April 17, 2015, 12:05 am

    I’m so thrilled that you got to attend this event, Jen! More importantly, I feel like they made an excellent choice in selecting you. You deserved to be there, for sure. 🙂 It makes me feel proud that you represented all of the women in this country who have big dreams and goals and strong work ethics to back that up. When one of us succeeds, we all do. Way to go, girlfriend!

  • 9
    tara April 17, 2015, 1:29 pm

    what a great recap !!! i know this might sound silly but what struck me when reading this was the comment about life not being fair and there is nothing you cannot do. Just because you might get paid less than a man or have to work twice as hard to get that promo or deal with stupid questions like what are you wearing….doesn’t take away from the accomplishment at all ! Do not misunderstand….pay should be fair, you shouldn’t be sexually harassed in the workplace, etc. I guess sometimes what i think is i’m not a success until i’m paid the same as the guy next to me or i can “perfectly” balance work and home like i see on tv (or like the guy next to me) does NOT in any way take away from the fact that i accomplished project X. Sometimes i think (at least speaking for me) that i forget that and think until everything is super equal that there has been no progress. Well there has been ! My great grandma was 1 of 5 women who worked as a secretary in a manufacturing plant for most of her life. she used to tell me she did so because one day she looked down and my grandpa had holes in his shoes and she had to send him to school in the winter like that cuz there was no extra money for shoes. The next day she went and got a job. I cannot imagine what she went through in the workforce and how much things changed from her life to mine. She constantly told me i could be whatever i wanted and would think my current work problems are cake i’m sure ! She was big on women supporting women and i hope i have a piece of her spirit in me.

    This is my rambly way of saying….lets push for better (always) but lets also celebrate where we have come from and that we got “here” on the backs of hard working women (and supportive men) and as you say Jen – who knows how far our daughters will get if we come together and support one another. you make me FULL with girl power today. My grandma would LOVE you! : )

    • 10
      lisa April 17, 2015, 4:42 pm

      What you said about your great grandma brought tears to my eyes. What a wonderful woman and God bless her and you.

  • 11
    meredith @ The Cookie ChRUNicles April 18, 2015, 5:47 am

    So I want to say congrats and omg what am experience and how wonderful but I am sitting here laughing and relating way too much to your mom begging you not to wear your yoga clothes lol —- my mother would have done THE EXACT SAME THING! She is always trying to get me to expand my wardrobe just in case I need more variety for random pop up events and tries to enforce BLAZERS AND SWEATER SETS. When I needed an outfit to wear on Dr. Oz, shopping with her for that in the 24 hours before the show was quite an experience lol. But seriously, congrats – such an experience to be a part of!

  • 12
    Amy April 18, 2015, 1:56 pm

    Congrats! What an awesome opportunity!

  • 13
    Lisa Stone April 20, 2015, 11:45 am

    Amen Jen: “It is my sincere hope that women continue to band and work together to improve our lives so that we can thrive professionally and personally.” I couldn’t agree more — and I’d like to loop our male allies into this working group, given the role us breadwinners play in taking care of our entire families.

    Thank you for this wonderful recap — and now, if we could just continue the listening that happened at #ObamaTownHall — at the local, state and national level. Here’s to discussion and even disagreement — of the civil variety!

    Best,
    Lisa

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