DoorDash VP of Engineering Liangxiao Zhu (left) shared her experiences as a woman in tech with Leadership Development Program attendees.
OPINION: AHEAD OF WHAT'S NEXT
When I was tapped to moderate the majority of the sessions of the Leadership Development Program (LDP) offered during Progressive Grocer’s Top Women in Grocery event in early November in Orlando, Fla. — aided by my fantastic colleagues, Senior Editor Lynn Petrak, Multimedia Editor Emily Crowe and Editor-in-Chief Gina Acosta — I was admittedly nervous.
Although I had covered the grocery industry extensively during my 19(!) years with the publication, I had only limited experience moderating — or even participating in — a panel. That was all about to change, however, as I dove into the wonderful world of helping to plan a world-class event by programming impactful content for attendees, most of them Top Women honorees.
What was meaningful for me over the two days of the program was to have a front-row seat, as it were, to our incredible speakers’ personal stories and wise insights. It was nothing less than inspirational to hear how Liangxiao Zhu, VP of engineering at DoorDash, navigated her way through a heavily male-dominated industry to discover her voice, as well as her ability to lead; how store managers Pam Seivert, of Hornbacher’s, and Shannon Risley, of Niskayuna Co-op, held their staffs together with determination and compassion while dealing with daunting labor and supply chain issues amid a deadly pandemic and its aftermath; and how Meg Ham, president of Food Lion, embarked on her lifelong mission to create a culture of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging among her company’s associates. An additional honor was having Sarah Alter, CEO and president of NextUp, lead her own timely panel on the important topic of allyship.
From my vantage point on stage, I could see that audience members were inspired, too, as shown by their assiduous note taking, rapt expressions, spontaneous outbursts of applause, and thoughtful, heartfelt questions. In fact, some of the sessions would have easily lasted longer than the allotted 30 minutes, since there was no shortage of queries from fully engaged attendees.
Attendees of the Leadership Development Program often showed their appreciation for the speakers.
As the sessions progressed and I got over my initial stage fright and grew more comfortable speaking in public again — as with everyone else, it’s been a while, thanks to the pandemic — I also came to the realization that although I was up there in front of a lot of people, it wasn’t about me at all. It was about the program’s amazing participants, both on the panels and in the audience, and what they were able to add to the event for everyone present. That made for a humbling and joyful learning experience indeed.
As an added bonus, however, LDP attendees were unbelievably kind to me and my colleagues, offering praise and encouragement at every step along the way, so that any hiccups in the presentations — scheduling shuffles, time management, mike mishaps and the like — were soon forgotten, and only the warm glow of connection remained. That is the essence of our Top Women in Grocery program, and long may it prosper.