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.
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.
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…)
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.
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.”
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.