By Candy DenOuden
The Daily Republic, Mitchell, S.D.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Women in leadership with ties to South Dakota challenged women to take advantage of ALL opportunities. At the Women of Influence Conference in Sioux Falls, state leaders and celebrities like Mary Hart, a South Dakota native and former longtime co-host of “Entertainment Tonight encouraged women to say “Yes” to new experiences.
Just say yes.
That was U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem’s message to women Thursday during her inaugural Women of Influence Conference in Sioux Falls, as she encouraged women to take advantage of new experiences and opportunities.
“I would say to you, just say yes when people give you opportunities to do things. Just try it once,” she said. “If you don’t take advantage of opportunities you have to interact with new people, try a new hobby, learn a new skill, you may not know that’s the thing you’re really good at, or you may not know that that’s the thing really and truly bringing you joy.”
About 600 people attended the morning event, held at Central Baptist Church in Sioux Falls. It included an array of speakers and panelists, made up of prominent women from South Dakota, including Dakota Wesleyan University President Amy Novak, two businesswomen, two longtime media members and Noem herself.
Keynote speaker for the day was Mary Hart, a South Dakota native and former longtime co-host of “Entertainment Tonight,” a popular entertainment and celebrity news TV show. KELO anchor Angela Kennecke moderated a panel with Hart and Noem.
Noem, South Dakota’s lone representative in the U.S. House and a Republican, kicked off the day’s event by sharing her personal background as a family farmer and rancher and her path to the U.S. House of Representatives. She also shared her personal and professional mission statements, encouraging everyone to craft their own. Noem’s mission statement, “To live a life of integrity and service to others while spreading God’s love through action,” gives her focus and shapes her day-to-day tasks, she said.
“I believe in spreading God’s love through words; but I believe today in this country, we need action,” she said, referencing the presidential election as an example.
Balance, perspective and failure
Noem moderated the first panel discussion, “Pushing Forward, Moving Upward,” which included Novak; Karla Santi, partner and CEO of Blend Interactive; and Melissa Johnson, founder and CEO of Oh My Cupcakes! Each woman answered questions from Noem and audience members on a variety of topics, from work-life balance to advice they would give to younger versions of themselves.
Novak spoke on the challenge of time and finding balance between being the first female president of Dakota Wesleyan University and mothering eight children. She used a basketball analogy to describe prioritizing family time, saying that with eight children, “you can’t play man-to-man basketball anymore.”
“Everything is in a zone. Your life sort of has a new perspective … I don’t know if it’s possible to really have balance, and by that I’m saying every day have an equal opportunity to be with every child, or to be excellent in your work, or to be with all the coworkers and colleagues who need attention,” she said. “But I do think it’s possible to devote quality time, which might not be the same amount of time, to your work in a meaningful way.”
Novak also told the audience to be OK with the prospect of failure, saying there is opportunity in failure. She tells her children to “err boldly,” and to be open to new possibilities. She and Noem both stressed the importance of faith in their day to day lives, citing divine will as an important factor in the direction of their lives.
“We can learn from every opportunity we have. When doors open, don’t close them. Explore them. Investigate them,” she said. “It may be that God’s calling you in a way that you didn’t think was even possible.”
From letting go to perfectionist ideals–the perfect house, family or “garage that’s always swept up”–to letting children handle challenges on their own, Noem and Novak discussed the importance of women learning to let go.
“Giving up on perfection for women is sometimes a difficult thing,” Novak said. “And it’s recognizing that we don’t have to do everything ourselves. It’s recognizing you can’t be everywhere, and being OK with that.”
Noem agreed, saying the pressure put on moms can be harmful not just to them, but to their children.
“I think so many times in today’s day and age we feel as failures as mothers if we’re not doing everything for our kids, but it’s not our job to do everything for our kids,” she said. “It’s our job to prepare them for life. And life is hard. So we want them to be problem-solvers.”
‘I didn’t really care if I was a girl’
Santi’s company focuses on “complicated Web and content problems,” according to its website. And while she acknowledged the tech industry is strongly male-dominated, she doesn’t want to be singled out as a female. She pursued her career because it was a passion, and never saw her gender as an obstacle, noting she has had strong mentors and business partnerships with men and women.
“I didn’t really care if I was a girl. I had people that didn’t treat me any different, anyway,” she said. “I just really had a passion for the work and the industry, and I still find it fascinating.”
She does, however, admit that women who choose to study in male-dominated fields may feel like outsiders from time to time. She hopes her role in the industry will help inspire other young women to pursue their passions–wherever that may be.
“I think it’s really neat to be working in tech, whether I’m a female or not,” she said. “We shouldn’t care that it’s a male-led industry, because you could be the next one encouraging other girls to start.”
The panelists also stressed the importance of strong personal networks, and said it’s important for women to help each other. Johnson said she rose from humble beginnings and grew her business through hard work and resourcefulness–and by learning that sometimes a closed door is a good thing. But when she was struggling with things, it was hard to let people in because she was afraid of what they would think. She’s trying to move past that.
“I would tell my 30-year-old self the same thing I would tell myself today,” she said. ” ‘You are enough. You need to be authentic. You need to be yourself. You are perfect exactly the way you are.’ ”
Novak agreed, adding that women need to do more to build up one another. It’s tempting for women to compete with each other, she said, or tear down each other.
“I think that we have to become more comfortable with ourselves and helping each other out and networking with each other, because we need each other,” she said. “And it’s OK to admit our vulnerability, and it’s OK to be sad, and it’s OK to be disappointed, and to share some of that struggle and that frustration in a way that’s true.”
After the speakers concluded, people flocked to take pictures and have a moment to visit with Noem. Attendees included people from across the area, including Sioux Falls, Mitchell, Elk Point and the Crow Creek Indian Reservation. Noem said she has long wanted to host such a conference, which also included a networking breakfast and resource fair. She was pleased with the strong turnout, and said she hopes to do more conferences in the future.
Laura Klock, of Mitchell, said she enjoyed the conference, especially taking to heart the advice to craft a mission statement.
“I’ve heard that a few times,” Klock said. “I wrote that down, actually–write that mission statement.”
Klock also works in a male-dominated field as one of the co-owners of Klock Werks Kustom Cycles with her husband, Brian Klock. She said events like Thursday’s provide validation and affirmation for women going through similar experiences.
“It absolutely resonates. It’s always fun to hear how other women handle these kinds of situations,” she said.