FARGO — “The system is broken. Women are not broken.”
That was a key message best-selling author and leadership speaker Marissa Orr brought to an estimated 850 to 900 people who attended the sold-out Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce Women Connect’s sixth annual event Tuesday, Jan. 21, at the Delta by Marriott, 1635 42nd St. S.
“Visible behaviors, like aggression, self aggrandizement, people who talk the loudest about their work,” Orr said, “in an ambiguous and chaotic environment, like today’s workplaces, our brains default to these very visible behaviors, using them as proxies for leadership and talent.”
And these behaviors, she said, correlate more highly with men, not competence.
“These are all systems problems,” she said.
Orr, a former Google and Facebook executive whose bestseller “Lean Out, The Truth About Women, Power, & the Workplace” was published in June 2019, chose to focus more on a message of empowerment for women, asking them to focus on “well being” as opposed to “winning,” which she says is too prevalent in the current power structures of businesses.
“One thing you can control,” she said, “is how you define success on your own terms.”
Orr used anecdotes, amusing text messages with friends, and discussions about the journey of getting her book published to illustrate her underlying message of empowerment and self worth.
“The very definition of self empowerment,” Orr said, “is knowing who you are, owning it, and taking responsibility for meeting your own needs, and not relying on some external structure.”
She spent 15 years working at top tech giants and conducted talks for thousands of people in the U.S., Europe and Asia-Pacific for her debut book. This is the first time she’s appeared at a Chamber event in Fargo.
Women Connect is one of the Chamber’s popular monthly programs, aimed at targeting the needs and development of professional women. Each session is held the fourth Tuesday of each month.
“We really focus on bringing in thought leaders,” said Katie Hutton, chair of the Women Connect committee and a content marketing manager at Eide Bailly in Fargo.
Speakers are selected who address a range of topics applicable to women in the modern workplace, and the conclave is an ideal venue for attendees to network with professional peers and local industry leaders.
Traditionally, Hutton said, 11 of the 12 speakers are chosen from the local community. With the annual January event, a national keynote speaker is brought in.
When planning began for this year’s event, she said, Orr’s book was about to come out.
“It seemed like an incredible opportunity,” Hutton said.
Orr’s presentation was compelling enough to keep the large crowd silent in rapt attention at crucial moments; and despite her levity, she chose those moments to deliver the more powerful tenets of her book, copies of which were handed out to everyone in attendance.
“Power structures take a very long time to change,” Orr said. “And, I think at the end of the day, all we really want is a feeling of control over our careers, and our success, and our happiness, and I don’t think we need to wait for a power structure to change in order to do that.”