With the Women on Wall Street (WOWS) conference still fresh in my head, I started thinking about the professional metamorphosis I have made in the past year. One marker of this change is a Meet the Press event that a respectable Chicago newspaper coordinates annually. Last year I walked in wearing a suit to camouflage my anxiety of mingling with the financial industry big wigs. I was a wallflower. I didn’t bother anyone or make a fool of myself, but I didn’t make any contacts either.
Last year’s event took place around the time that the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) announced they would be acquiring the Chicago Board of Trade. Craig Donahue, the Chief Executive Officer of the CME, was the featured guest at the event. I would never have recognized him if it wasn’t for his entourage. People gathered around him and he spoke for about 15 minutes. I can’t tell you what it was about since I didn’t speak his language. I took sips of my drink, laughed when everyone else did and clapped when he was finished.
This year was quite different. The venue was the same; a stuffy old boys club where you find men sitting in big leather chairs, smoking cigars and swigging scotch. I played the female card. I wore high-heeled boots with a gray dress (because gray is the new black) and walked into the room like I owned it.
I shook hands with the Marketing guy, tapped that CEO on the shoulder. I was a business card slut, I gave it to everyone. I mingled with the Advertising exec for awhile, said hi to that CIO and then walked to the bar for a drink. I looked around the room while I waited for the bartender to pour my vodka and I noticed that everyone was waiting for this year’s featured guest; Chicago’s mayor, Richard Daley.
I recognized him the minute he walked into the room. He looked older in person than in pictures. When he took the podium, he talked about the idea of a global community; one in which we break down barriers by attending Hemisphere Conferences and inviting teachers from Russia, India and China to work in our schools.
I’m no neophyte when it comes to travel; I have friends in Vietnam on my speed dial, but I was impressed. I wanted a picture of him to put on my bookshelf. I pressed myself through the crowd and interrupted a conversation he was having. He put his arm around my waist and the cameraman snapped a shot. I was pushed out of the way and Mayor Daley continued his conversation.
It all happened so fast. A member of the Mayor’s entourage gave me written instructions for picking my picture up at City Hall. I took the piece paper and walked over to the bar. I was star-struck, breathless and proud of myself for getting what I wanted. I ordered myself another vodka (on the rocks this time, with blue cheese olives). I saw the Project Manager near the shrimp quesadillas and walked over to him and said hello. In that moment, I felt like I owned the room.