Report from Convention by Valerie Taylor

October 10, 2022
Written by: Valerie Taylor

This was my first CREW Convention, first flight and first time out of state since the pandemic, I was more than ready to have new experiences. 

The flight was the first leg of my new experience, with a storm over Chicago the pilot politely lets us know we will be circling around waiting for it to blow over. After watching a lot of red circles on Flight Tracker, we had to go fuel up off course to St. Louis. Whatever it takes to get there, I thought. As babies are screaming and complaints are flying around, I kept meditating and trusting I will arrive when I am supposed to which I did, extremely late but just fine.

The first day was a whirlwind of getting registered, meeting up with my fellow East Bay CREW mates and choosing what sessions to attend. Over 1500 successful empowered professional women had taken over the entire Hilton. I felt a deep belonging being in such a supportive environment. Chicago look out- here we come. 

I connected with our current president, Kelly and DEI Director, Jenna and we went on an architecture river tour through downtown. It was not until I was sitting on this boat, feeling the sun on my face and seeing the lively city and all its hustle and bustle did I truly feel landed in Chicago. The city felt alive, and I was right there for all of it. A piece of my heart fell in love with the river, the buildings and the history and I will be going back!

Later that evening our East Bay Crew mates met up at the Marketplace. There were so many people! I found Malinder and she showed me the ropes where to strategically enter to win gift cards and handbags galore. I ran into Stephanie and several other East Bay friends, eating, drinking, and sharing about our lives in between perusing the vendor tables. We took silly photos, ate, and laughed. I met so many people. I kept wondering how normal this felt in so many ways and yet was so new after 2 1/5 years of no big events. I felt alive in a way I did not realize I missed until that night.

We all met and ate while attending Jill Donovan’s talk about getting unstuck. As I listened to her journey, I realized that in my own life I have had many layers of getting unstuck and that my life now is less about what I have and more about what I do not need. Jill brought to light that joy, passion, and courage can come through unexpected circumstances and situations. This couldn’t be truer in my own life and hearing Jill share helped me reflect on my time with CREW, how I have gotten close to many members and have been so very wrong about the stories I have created in my head about myself and others. This continued to be shown to me throughout the convention. I was in the process of unsticking from my head and landing in my heart.

That evening we all met up and played ping pong and Jenga with our NorCal CREW members. There were many laughs and photo ops while we all played the longest standing Jenga game in history. I kept thinking about Kelly’s message and theme for the year “We build together” as I snapped pics of all of us building this huge stable tower, cheering each other on. 

I attended LaTonya Wilkins’ Culture of Belonging While Leading Below the Surface session in the afternoon. She shared so many tangible ways to bring people in, ask questions that are open ended, and how to actively not shut down when offended or hurt. A main take away is that learning to listen helps us learn. Not talking is powerful. How language is perhaps the only tool when having hard conversation. When I hear something offensive or something rubs me the wrong way, to not push people out but bring them in. I was able to look back at my career and see how many opportunities I took to bring people in and many more I did not have the courage at the time to take. I felt encouraged to keep bringing people in especially when I want to build a wall perhaps, I can build a bridge.  

Later that night Jenna and I had a fabulous surf and turf feast at the river. We chatted about our take aways on the sessions, our families, and careers. We bonded with the server over the coconut cake and how it brought us right back to the 70’s at our grandma’s kitchen with yellow Formica and a rotary phone on the wall. We all shared dog pics and laughs as we were full of joy and tasty food. I ordered an uber and Jenna points to a guy riding a lit-up bike with a seat for two and a boombox blaring and yells “LET’S TAKE THAT!” Me, in my all too practical ways says no, uber is on the way, I will have to cancel and there is a fee. Jenna looks me dead in the eyes and yells “YOU ARE IN CHICAGO, who cares about a fee….LET’S GOOOO!” I’m cracking up at myself and my ways and hop into this bike/ rickshaw contraption with the nicest guy in Chicago smiling his way through the streets with horribly good club music blaring us all the way to the hotel. Thank you, Jenna, for showing me we live once.

The last day of convention I went to DEI: Where are we now? Led by Aaliya Haqq. This was a conversation with the whole room and began by discussing our job places and professions but turned into looking at CREW and our individual chapters. Someone in Network mentioned that we have data to determine the diversity of CREW but if members do not complete it, we don’t know. Listening to many people bring up how Employee Resource Groups are used to foster inclusion, I felt emense gratitude for my employer Liberty Company Ins. Brokers and the culture we all create and the dedication leadership has to maintain this culture.  I kept thinking about our CREW chapter. What we have done and what we can continue to do to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion. When Aaliyah Haqq asked the group to tell her what they will bring back to their chapter, what actions will we all take, I took a deep breath. Being Co-Chair on the programs committee my first thought was about how we need to make our events physically accessible and our electronic events with transcription. I reflected back when I was asked to be on a panel a few years ago, it was an amazing opportunity and I sat with a diverse esteemed panel of BIPOC women. This happened because there was a strategic effort to find us all. We need to continue doing this. 

The closing lunch session was A Conversation with Lisa Ling. I have watched all of This is Life and have always been impressed with her level of engagement, regardless of how uncomfortable the situation, she gets right at the granular feel in her reporting. Being a documentary junkie, her style of journalism is how I learn best about people different from me. I was reminded how important representation is when she shared that Connie Chung influenced her to become who she is. I thought about my life, the people I know and have known. Who am I helping, influencing, or inspiring? I left feeling a refreshed vigor to stay involved in my various professional organizations and increase my dedication to places and people who are making a positive impact in each other’s lives.

Leaving the hotel my uber driver pulls up. We acknowledge each other and I go to put my luggage in the trunk. He does not get out of the car but pops his truck open. I am standing there, hands full wondering when he is coming to help. A group of CREW women are watching this and one comes over and says” Let me hold your tea so you can put your luggage in” I want to complain about the rude driver but instead I smile and thank her. This is CREW in a nutshell. We have each other’s back and help each other get it done.