Well over 1,000 supporters crowded into a ballroom Thursday for the 34th annual Texas Women’s Foundation luncheon.
Amplify Women was the key message.
But it wasn’t just anybody in that room at the Hilton Anatole that got the full impact of that lesson. It was the large crowd of teenagers and college-aged women in the adjacent ballroom who were watching a live stream of the event.
Renowned author, journalist and judge on the new Project Runway show Elaine Welteroth, who told numerous stories that resonated with the younger attendees, finished her keynote conversation with a bit of sage advice for the younger women just starting their professional careers.
“When people say no to you, you’re going to stew,” said Welteroth, “And you’re going to think you’re in the wrong place.
“But you’re in the right place. And you are taking inventory of all the things you won’t be when you get the opportunity to be the leader.”
Welteroth has been there, done that. In 2012, she was the youngest person ever appointed as editor-in-chief at Teen Vogue magazine as well as the first African-American to have the post of beauty and health director at a Conde Nast publication.
And on Thursday, she captivated the crowd at the Texas Women’s Foundation luncheon, the largest fundraiser of the year for the organization charged with empowering women in the workplace and advancing their leadership and economic opportunities.
The event, presented by the Dallas Mavericks, sent a powerful message to women of all ages that business opportunities are everywhere, and it’s up to female executives to make sure that those doors remain open – and become more plentiful – for the next generation.
World of Dance’s M.O.M (Mind Over Matter) Crew injected an energetic punch to open the event with a heart-thumping performance by one of the Dallas Mavs’ newest entertainment teams.
M.O.M CREW is a nonprofit organization and is not your average dance team. The team was created to encourage moms and women everywhere to chase their dreams, regardless of what obstacles they may face. The ladies have performed on So You Think You Can Dance, America’s Got Talent, and other network television shows and will showcase their skills during halftime of selected Mavs games this season.
Mavericks CEO Cynt Marshall and Texas Women’s Foundation CEO and president Roslyn Dawson Thompson both got the proceedings going before lunch was served and ramped up requests for donations.
“It takes all of us together to amplify women and make a place and a space for future women leaders – and we have a roomful,” Marshall said, referring to the several hundred younger women watching the event on the live stream.
Southwest Airlines offered a free round-trip ticket systemwide for all donations of $1,000 or more. By the time lunch ended, more than 60 of the attendees had come through on that offer.
Welteroth had a wealth of experience to offer to the attendees. She has been one of the most influential young female executives in any business. She hit particularly close to home for a lot of women at the event with a memory from early childhood, which also paid homage to her mother, who was also a big influence on her first book, More Than Enough.
The book gives insight to barrier-breaking, identity and race for those seeking to claim their own spot in the business world.
“My mom is everything,” Welteroth said. “What you’re going to get (in the book) is a whole lot of wisdom from my mother.
“I remember vividly being asked in class to make a family collage. I was excited and going through the magazines. And everyone else is started. And I’m still flipping trying to find someone who looks like my mother, or me or my brother.
“And at that very moment, it was the first time I recognized that I was different. At 3 years old, I certainly didn’t know (what that meant). I just knew I didn’t like the way it felt. So that was a little bit of a dilemma.
“And I just decided I would do what everybody else was doing. I’d cut out white people. So I made my white-paper family.”
Welteroth said that her teacher tried to help and found a picture of a black person in a magazine and said it looked like Welteroth.
“She didn’t look anything like me,” she said. “So I kept going and I came home with this white-paper family. It didn’t go over so well with my mom.
“She sat me down and pulls out Ebony magazine and invites us to redo this family (collage). At the time, there was no way I could know how significant that was in terms of reframing shame into pride and who I actually am. I put that on my wall and it was literally the last thing I saw when I went to bed and the first thing I saw when I woke up.”
That was the beginning of a strong-willed life that has led Welteroth to numerous high-profile positions in the health-and-beauty-magazine world.
On Thursday, she mostly wanted to emphasize that strength among women is the key to improving the situations of tomorrow’s leaders.
Many of whom, she said were watching in the other ballroom.
“The responsibility is on all of us to learn how to talk about race in a respectful, responsible, enlightened way,” she said. “The burden is not only on us. It’s shared.”
She then likened it to any other situation in which a minority of any sort might be in.
“If you’re the only woman in the room, the youngest in the room, whatever that thing is that makes you different, if you lean into that perspective that you bring, you have the power to change the culture and change the conversation from the inside of the organization,” Welteroth said.
“The transformation that everybody saw (in me) was a result of the transformation internally first. You cannot change the stories unless you change the storytellers first.
“The onus is on you to open the door for others.”