Assembly Required: Women in Leadership Recap

On May 19th, framed by the modern architecture of the EBR Main Library, ThreeSixtyEight premiered our passion project Assembly Required. We had an itch to really make a change in our community as we noticed many events around us tend to attract the same crowd time after time, and even the best events lose their steam when they only happen once a year.

Thus, we created Assembly Required, a quarterly conference series. Our series highlights the growing industries and best talent in our state, encourages different communities to interact, and shows those passionate about culture and community that there are others like them doing amazing things here in Louisiana. We made our first steps with Assembly Required: Women in Leadership.

With the support of our sponsors, including LA Tech Park and Envoc, we provided a platform for seven influential women to engage with over 150 individuals from our community. While our speakers’ backgrounds, ethnicities, and ages span the gamut of life experiences, they shared a similar message: fight and act.

This highlight reel can’t quite give our speakers’ incredible stories justice, but no worries – you can watch the talks in full on the Assembly Required website. These are lessons that everyone, female or male, novice or experienced, can learn from. We hope this is the first of many steps in shifting and quickening the currents of our city’s growth.

Break Free

The constraints we each face, most often imprinted by culture, family, or society, must be overcome by self. This is evident in every speaker’s story. Whether hailing from the Middle East or born and raised in Baton Rouge, illusions of limitation crafted in youth can dictate our actions throughout life, if we let them.

“Feel the fear and take action anyway.”

Dima Ghawi, our opening speaker, embodied these illusions in a fragile, glass vase. Growing up as a young girl in Jordan, Dima’s grandmother instilled in her that a young woman’s reputation is akin to the perfection of a glass vase. Dima grew up restricted by the fear, with its roots in family and culture, of maintaining the integrity of her vase. The fear kept her from following her passions and encumbered her identity. She challenges everyone to shatter their limitations, no matter where those limitations originate.

“Be the Tree. Not the Bucket. It is the tree that has been cared for so that it can bear fruit to care for others.”

Lisa Wang also spoke to the importance of personal freedom. She explained how striving for perfection to please others became her missed chance at the Olympics. She says, “I believed I was a failure living with ‘If only I did this or that’.” Her prop, a bucket, was a metaphor for the always-empty vessel you become in pursuit of perfection, no matter how many accomplishments you fill it with. Instead of trying to make herself, and others, proud, she wants to be proud of herself.

“Be fearless, be faith-filled, and be focused.”

In the early years of her political career, East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome confided in her mother how public opinions were affecting her. In short, her mother told her she’d have to have tougher skin if she wanted to be in politics. She come to understand then that she would always face opposition. Mayor Broome says the best way to gain leadership is by building genuine relationships.

“When no one expects anything from you, the possibilities are endless.”

Alex Juan, Communications Director of the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs, faced cultural and social constraints throughout her childhood and career. She was raised back and forth between Chicago where she was “not quite white enough” and Guatemala where she was not “quite Spanish enough.” Later in life, when she joined the US Air Force, she was expected to conform to traditionally female roles. She fought against their expectations and “was going to show them they were never going to have to carry extra weight because of [her].”

“Let the comments fuel you.”

Like Mayor Broome, Alex also dealt with public disapproval when she became the first woman to direct the USS Kidd. She acknowledges that it’s never a good idea to “read the comments,” but she broke that rule. The negativity ranged from superficial appearance to vulgar threats. After reading the comments, she redirected her feelings into her work, and the Kidd saw a 500% increase in attendance during her tenure.

There will always be someone telling you you’re not good enough, you’re not the right person for the job, or that you’re wasting your time. Fight those voices and take action the way these women in leadership continue to do every day.

Follow Your Passion

Those limitations don’t just affect our present, but might keep us from planting seeds for the future. The speakers reverberated a simple idea throughout the night – if you want to do something, do it. Act.

“You never know how chasing your curiosity will affect your future.”

Christina Troitino, Channel Marketing Manager at Facebook, mapped her journey from hobbyist to master of the side hustle. Christina was already happy and successful, but as she says, there is always more you can be doing. She began her food blog as a hobby, which lead to a contributing writer position with Forbes. Her enjoyment for cooking and sharing food with friends evolved into a high-profile side hustle and more opportunities continue to grow. Her most notable quote struck a chord with us because of our hopes for Assembly Required. We hope the seeds we plant today will become a thriving ecosystem, much like Lisa Wang’s metaphorical tree.

“Even when there are obstacles, look around, find a solution for another way. Put your skill sets together to move forward.”

Sometimes your passion doesn’t work out, but the next risk you take might be your best move. Karen Case and her husband opened a fine dining restaurant on the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain. But something wasn’t working, and they were going to lose everything they’d worked for. When their situation looked the bleakest, they caught a movie on Netflix about a successful chef who quit the scene to run his own food truck. This sparked Karen to take the risk, for her and her husband’s passion. So they bought a school bus and now own the most successful food truck and catering business on the Northshore.

What we learned from all our speakers is that even your biggest achievements can be bested. Alex Juan didn’t stop when she joined the Air Force, nor when she became the first female veteran to take the helm of the USS Kidd and increase tourism. She’s moved on to passion projects that serve her fellow soldiers, and she rescued hundreds of people during the devastating floods of 2016 even when her own home was underwater. Mayor Broome’s political career didn’t hit a ceiling with her first elected position; she moved up the ranks and became the first black woman mayor of Louisiana’s capital city. Her passion to serve the community gave her the drive to keep going, even in the face of adversity. Dima didn’t just break the restrictions of her family; she shattered her own limitations and followed her dream to go to college. While in school, she became the student body president, which lead her along the path she is now traveling, helping others break free and follow their aspirations.

All these women faced adversity of imposed limitations on some level. But they all fought, and they acted. Break free and follow your passion.

The Assembly Continues

As the evening wrapped up, Ship of Fools entertained us with live music at the after party. But we didn’t want the momentum to end there, so we encouraged our guests to continue their conversations over coffee. We partnered with La Divina in Baton Rouge and Drip Affogato Bar in New Orleans to offer a free coffee to any attendees who want to meet up and get to know each other better.

Now, we’re excited to invite you to our next Assembly, Innovators in Food, at the Louisiana Culinary Institute on August 4, 2017.

Innovators in Food features some of the most talented professionals pushing the boundaries of food on a local and national level. We will have chefs, entrepreneurs, and educators share their own stories of success while providing practical advice from what they’ve learned on their journeys to help you improve your own life. Join us for an intimate night of networking, entertaining and inspirational speakers, and delicious dinner from a local chef.

You can get early access to tickets here.

Want more great images from the event?

Check out this album on the Assembly Required Facebook page. You might just see some familiar faces.

Our new conference series, Assembly Required, is in full swing. Tickets for innovators in Food are available now.