The 10th Annual SAS Championship Women's Day event offered new inspiration to act with mindful intention and stay the course in life and career.
An undeniable energy filled the Prestonwood Country Club ballroom on Tuesday, Oct. 10 as more than 230 attendees – mostly women – spilled into the room to network, absorb powerful messages, and reflect on intentional ways to improve their leadership and personal connections.
Golf broadcaster and event host Hally Leadbetter welcomed representatives from businesses and organizations across the community and introduced several women who wowed.
Rashonda Harris, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Manager at the Town of Cary, set an exciting and powerful tone for the day. Harris shared many of her own stories and challenges to overcome stereotypes in the workplace, saying that our differences, which she called “our superpowers,” are what make us unique.
She encouraged attendees to communicate personal needs and boundaries to protect them. “Let’s stop playing small, y’all…There is power in being fully you. Own it!”
Speaker Alicia Stokes, Vice President, Strategy Planning and Performance for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, built on Harris’ opening remarks, noting the importance of building work environments where our differences are “not to be fixed but celebrated.” Stokes talked openly about her own struggles with neurodiversity, seasonal depression and other challenges that can sometimes add an extra layer to an already stressful work day.
To push through, Stokes said people need to know their “why” – why they go to work and do what they do. Her why? Improving the healthcare system she says failed both of her parents as she was growing up, and the “10 million North Carolinians who do not have choice or voice within the healthcare system” keep her going. She believes constructive discussions about health inequities, though, always begin with an authentic desire to learn more and a continuous growth mindset. “Leaders need vulnerability, not bravado,” Stokes said.
After enduring bone cancer and a partial leg amputation at age 14, Brenna Huckaby, Gold Medal Para Snowboarder and Disability Advocate, discovered she wasn’t valuing herself as a person, but rather only what she was able to achieve. As a former gymnast who was no longer able to compete, she realized she had been propping herself up with her achievements for years, and without them felt she was a shell of a person.
When she began snowboarding, she vowed to focus less on winning and more on personal worth and the overall experience, training herself in the moments before races to be grateful for her journey and for the family and community that allowed her to be in that moment. That mindset allowed her to live the full experience, while also managing to lead to multiple medals and a platform to advocate for increased disability representations and inclusion. “You can’t control everything that happens to you,” Huckaby said. “But you can control how you look at it and how you look forward.”
SAS’ own Marinela Profi, Principal Product Marketing Strategy for Artificial Intelligence, took the stage to talk about AI and generative AI. Audience participation showed a wide variance in understanding of the topics, from using the technologies regularly to those who knew very little about them. But Profi kept attendees engaged with simple demonstrations that showed how generative AI could be used to fix a bicycle, create bespoke artwork for the Women’s Day event, or even generate the bingo cards used during one of the earlier activity breakouts.
Audience members also found her real-world applications, such as generating synthetic medical images to better detect rare cancers, augmented education experiences, and creating digital twins to train self-driving cars before they hit the road to be intriguing and relatable uses.
“With generative AI, we are witnessing a complete transformation of the interaction between human intelligence and artificial intelligence,” Profi said. She encouraged women in the room to take an active role in that transformation as she believes women are underrepresented in practically all areas of AI and generative AI, including research, data, algorithms, training and testing. “We have opportunities right now in the middle of this incredible generative AI wave to change that.” She followed with tips on ways to get or stay involved with the technology transformation, including a recommendation of Caroline Criado Perez’s book, Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men.
In closing, host Leadbetter talked about the importance of intention and putting the ideas presented at the event into action. She shared a quote from Osho as one of her favorites: “Don’t choose the convenient, the comfortable, the respectable, the socially acceptable. Choose something that rings a bell in your heart.”
Leadbetter shared her own pivot from college and professional golf to broadcasting and entertaining. “Don’t feel you have to start over to find something that rings your bell,” Leadbetter said. “Take everything you’ve experienced up to this point and start from where you are.”