I’m always on the lookout for the subtle messages destiny leaves around for me to find. It’s a comical scavenger hunt which, convenient or not, always makes for great copy. When I walked into Hollywood’s Yellow Green Farmers Market on a Saturday afternoon, I was not expecting it would take me anywhere other than towards some tasty food and maybe, if I was lucky, some shelter from the heat.
A close friend of mine, Valeria Siegrist, had just opened a Raw-Vegan booth at the market -a project I had watched materialize from a crazy “should I do it” text at midnight, to an actual business over the last couple of months. I sat at her booth and admired how her hard work had paid off. It truly had been a crazy idea (working two jobs, fundraising money, and now sacrificing weekends to keep it running). But you could tell she was in her universe. This was hers; I only hoped to soak in some of that energy.
As Valeria filled small cups with zoodles (what the kids call zucchini noodles these days) she stopped suddenly, turned to me and said “You should meet Deb.” Pointing to the woman sitting next to me, she continued: “I’ve been meaning to introduce you two. Deb is the co-founder of Bridges Unite, which helps empower professional women. Deb, Nicole is a writer and content creator, and we’ve been talking about her tapping into new networks.”
“I see you’ve met my manager,” I joked (although I must admit it’s not far from true).
Debra Pogorelsky shook my hand and asked me what I wrote about. “We’re actually looking for writers if you’re interested.”
We spoke briefly about what each one of us did, then decided I would go to their next event to get a sense of what they were trying to accomplish. Women’s rights are a constant theme in my narrative and, although I’m naturally drawn to the issue, I’m also quite cautious about the approach many organizations take. We had agreed to speak during the week, but I needed less than 24 hours to realize I had to be part of this.
First, Deb had said the magic words: women AND men. They wanted men to collaborate too because they realized that you can’t bridge a gap without involving and educating the other half of the population.
Next, her and I had something in common, which also happened to be part of the organization’s backstory. Throughout our lives, and professional paths, we had both met incredible, creative, authentic women and had wondered what it would be like to bring them together.
And last, as Deb left and I dug into my smoothie bowl, I realized everything that had led to that moment was just another example of everything women can accomplish when they work together.
A couple of weeks later, I walked into MasterCard’s headquarters in Brickell for Bridges Unite’s event, “The Evolution of Finance and Tech,” and found myself immediately reminded of what I had felt when I met Deb that day. The room was filled with women and men telling their stories, connecting and, more importantly, listening. The introvert in me found a corner to declare her own and watch it all evolve.
Then, something brilliant and unprecedented happened: two young girls, no more than fourteen years old each, were standing with their mothers, listening to the conversations and interacting with the women around them. I remember thinking this was it. I knew I was where I needed to be. Watching women lend a hand to one another always makes my heart beat a little faster. It’s simple: there’s nothing quite like the energy and power of women when they work together. But when bridges are being built in all directions - gender, race, age - my heart jumps into a full-moon upside down flip.
You see, I believe women in positions of power have a responsibility to give back by lending their voice to other women and girls, so that they can achieve their professional and personal goals. But it’s also necessary for us to understand that we’re all fighting battles which, at their very core, aren’t so different from other’s. The only way of empowering any human being is by inviting everyone to place a stone in the foundation for bridges that will eliminate the gaps between us.
The panel began, and three exceptional professionals in the financial industry - Laura Halaby, Anabel Perez, and Kiki Del Valle- were invited to join Co-Founder of Bridges Unite, Shana Parra, to talk about their expertise in FinTech. I watched from my corner as everyone in the room listened to these women and asked them questions. That’s when I had another realization. This didn’t feel like we were all there fighting for a cause, struggling to have our voices heard; it felt normal. Not in an unexceptional kind of way, but rather, as it should be.