##Photo by Kathryn Elsesser

Galvanizing the Future

Women’s leadership seminar inspires growth, collaboration, connection

By Tamara Belgard

Set in the courtyard of Willamette Valley Vineyards, with an inspiring backdrop of summer skies, ripening vines, birdsong and stunning views, more than 220 people gathered July 8 for the inaugural Women in Wine: Fermenting Change in Oregon. The subject of the day-long gathering, “Growing, Collaborating and Connecting,” featured lectures, panels, seminars and lessons to take to heart and head, regardless of gender.

Participants included winery owners, winemakers, managers, employees, distributors, students, press and others. While approximately 99% of the crowd was female, a handful of men joined the engaging conversation. Nearly every age demographic was represented, but Millennials dominated in sheer numbers, demonstrating their commitment to shaping the future.

Gretchen Boock, CEO of Wine by Joe, brought 13 winery employees to the event. She says she appreciated the effort of organizers to host speakers from outside the wine community offering new perspectives. Event Chair Briana Seely confirms this was part of the strategy. “We really wanted to fill a gap we saw in the Oregon wine industry,” she said. “In between the Oregon Wine Symposium, Pinot Camp and the IPNC, we recognized a need for an event that specifically supports women in the industry, up-leveling the professionalism and skillset by reaching outside the industry.”

Cheryl Strayed speaks at the seminar. ##Photo by Kathryn Elsesser

From the stage, Seely shared personal stories of her personal fears, inviting guests to challenge themselves, push outside their comfort zones. She explained how building courage helps navigate hurdles.

One of two keynote speakers, Meg Croften, former president of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts, encouraged everyone to recognize her own “True North,” treating the inner voice as a compass, always pointing in the right direction. She explained, “Self-reflection and life-long learning need to be a priority, across gender, position and organization. It is only by allowing ourselves time and space that we are able to grow.”

Croften also addressed managing time and achieving balance, a triad of mind, body and spirit. “You can’t borrow time, and time operates on a finite budget,” she said. “Think about whether you are happy with how you’re spending your time, and make moment-by-moment decisions to keep proper balance instead of setting over-arching goals.”

She also shared personal traits of an effective leader: optimism, humility, stamina and listening well. Croften also touched on legacies. “Think about the legacy we are each creating because, intended or not, we are all creating one every day.”

Deborah Steinthal, founder and managing director of Scion Advisors, a strategy consulting firm serving the wine industry, described how in the past, women had to self-inspire due to lack of mentors. She offered, “Women who dream become women who dare and then become the role models for the next generation of women.”

Do women define success differently from men? Sharelle Klaus, founder of Dry Soda, emphatically says, “Yes.” Women often strive for a life with purpose, one with balance and making a difference, whereas men tend to focus on power, control, achieving high salaries and climbing the corporate ladder. Keynote speaker and esteemed author Cheryl Strayed explained success should be measured by asking: “Did I do what I felt I was meant to do? Did I do it as well as I possibly could?”

What about leadership styles? Do women actually lead differently from men? Klaus says women tend to use a more communal, democratic style, valuing teamwork and collaboration more than their male counterparts, which doesn’t make them better or worse leaders, just different. Klaus also explored how women must realize when to be tough as well as when tough won’t work. She encouraged women to ask for the “world,” recognize their worth and negotiate for equal pay. She suggested removing emotion from the equation and breaking down arguments into facts. She continued, “The goal of this day is leave the room with commitments to make a difference, to have a courageous conversation, and to find a way to help one younger woman.”

Audience members appeared especially enthralled by Strayed’s speech. Wine veteran Susan Sokol Blosser introduced her as the Oregon Pinot Noir of authors, appropriately explaining how, like Oregon Pinot Noir, Strayed was a great author before she was recognized and achieved her fame.

Strayed brought to the stage humor, humility and honesty. She explained being a great leader entails trusting your clarity, cultivating your courage and harnessing your power. Those three values set a trajectory — the clarity leads to courage, which then transforms to power. She stressed power is not about domination; it’s about seeing what you’re capable of and conquering fear. She says, “Becoming a leader is about harnessing your power in a humble way.”

She also reminded the audience of the importance of the day: “Achieving gender equity means rewriting the narrative.”

This amazing event represented a small step on that road to retelling the story. As the audience readied to leave Willamette Valley Vineyards, a sense of refocused energy flowed from the courtyard. It was clear, everyone felt inspired to make a difference and establish their own individual marks, too. Message received.

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