A new all-female annual symposium had its inaugural event yesterday in New York City. More than 400 women turned out to hear what high profile female leaders had to say about future roles for women. The idea for the conference was conceived a year ago at a White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood dinner when, Sarah Brown, wife of the former UK Prime Minister sat next to Dee Poku, former head of International Marketing at Paramount Pictures. Together they decided on the theme “Women Inspiring Women”, and wanted to invite prominent women from the fields of politics, philanthropy, media, fashion and the arts. Donna Karan and Arianna Huffington jumped on board as co-hosts, and, quicker than you can say “Just do it,” they did it and, voila! A conference hosted for women, by women.
It was a day full of activity with networking sessions, panel discussions, a fashion show and finally finished with a cocktail party and performance by Estelle on the roof of Skylight West. The mixture of Celebs and CEOs included Tamara Mellon, Aerin Lauder, Diane von Fustenberg, Christy Turlington, Queen Rania of Jordan and Melinda Gates.
The Observer sat in on one panel called “Business as Usual,” moderated by Hearst Magazine Chairman, Cathie Black. A variety of topics discussed included the idea of the work and personal life balance, which the panel generally agreed was impossible to achieve.
Some of the advice was surprising, “Try not to always be in the office,” said the CEO of (RED) Susan Smith Ellis.
Make-up CEO, Bobbi Brown added, “I’ve gotten some of my best ideas on the ski slope.”
The head of JP Morgan Asset Management, Mary Callahan, had this to say to women in their 20’s “Work really hard, play hard, you can sleep later.”
Surprisingly accessible, a large number of the high-powered panelists stuck around after their slots and chatted to the other invitees. Wendi Murdoch, was seen chatting to organizer Dee Poku and LA-based former actress, Amanda de Cadenet. Despite a rather intimidating group of women, the large British contingent lent a feeling of coziness to the day that at times made the talks feel like dorm room discussion. Still, business cards were handed out with relish.
Bobbi Brown said, of the conference, “I’ve just met such interesting people.”
Update, 9/23, noon: An earlier version of this post referred to Ms. Ellis as saying her best ideas came on the ski slope. It was Ms. Brown who actually said this.