Be sassy, aggressive, speaker advises women

Sometimes, you’ve got to be sassy.

That was the takeaway for many women after the second day of MGM Resorts Foundation’s eighth annual Women’s Leadership Conference.

“I was aggressive, in spite of being told by my boss that it wasn’t a good thing,” Soledad O’Brien, Emmy award-winning journalist and documentarian, told the 850-plus women who gathered Thursday in the MGM Grand Conference Center.

The message of empowerment ran strong through the day’s sessions Some speakers geared their talks toward the female crowd, while others put forth the opinion that focusing on gender will continue the problem.

Motivational speaker Fawn Germer thought it was vital for women to have gatherings like this one.

“It used to be that when women huddled, it was threatening,” Germer said. “Now, there’s this whole conference dedicated to it.”

Renee West, chief operating officer and president of both the Excalibur and Luxor, thought differently. She said in a morning panel that to make progress, men needed to be in the room as well.

O’Brien agreed that sometimes the fight isn’t about the competition — whether it be women or men — but about the system as a whole.

“It’s a story of human beings,” she told the Review-Journal. “Not just women.”

She has highlighted the plights of several demographics facing struggles in her documentaries “Latino in America,” “Black in America” and the soon-to-be-released story of veterans, “The War Comes Home.”

One documentary she produced is focused specifically on women, though. Lights lowered during the session and part of “Beyond Bravery” played, a tribute to female emergency personnel in New York City’s Sept. 11 attacks, who were scarcely publicized initially.

Many women were visibly affected by the video, but attendee Tammi Booth was touched in a way different from most in the room. Booth was a New York City firefighter — the first in her crew — until shortly before the towers were hit.

Half of her group died in the chaotic moments of rescue before the buildings collapsed. Now, she keeps that in mind and tries to inspire younger women to go after their career goals, even if they receive gender-based pushback.

O’Brien ramped back up the energy of the session after the somber moments and left the stage to a standing ovation. She later told the Review-Journal that although she doesn’t think the struggle is women’s only, she does think gatherings like this one are important.

Women can network more freely without feeling the sometimes-judgmental gaze of men, she said, which is crucial to becoming a professional and a leader.

O’Brien said there are also things a woman simply won’t talk about in the presence of men. Like the young women in Q&A sessions who ask her for advice on what they should wear for their first day anchoring a news segment.

“It’s not something they get a memo about,” she said.

Issues like that — which aren’t life-or-death, but can greatly affect a career — are why she thinks the solidarity felt during this conference is so important.

Soledad’s advice for women in leadership positions is to be both strategic and flexible. It’s not an easy balance, but it’s a combination that has helped her be successful.

“Genuine feminism is having options,” she said.

The energy she stirred up continued toward the end of the conference. Breakout session speakers kept their crowds laughing and cheering.

The conference was also successful from MGM Resorts Foundation’s perspective. Plans for next year will begin almost immediately, with a new goal of 1,000 registrants. The proceeds of this year’s conference will go to a nonprofit organization that focuses on the development of women.

That announcement will be made in March. Last year, $20,000 was donated to Safe Nest.

Contact reporter Annalise Little at alittle@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0391. Find her on Twitter: @annalisemlittle.

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