Four Empowering Takeaways from S.H.E. Summit Dallas’ ‘Following Your Passion’ Panel

Four accomplished women shared their stories and advice during a panel at S.H.E. Summit Dallas, an annual daylong event focused on empowering leaders.

Dallas-based women Brittany Merrill Underwood, Tasha Schwikert, Melanie Shaffer, and Jordan Strauss shared the importance of balancing passion and personal life through their own experiences during S.H.E. Summit Dallas.

Passion, inspiration, and dance moves were plentiful at S.H.E. Summit Dallas. It was a day full of personal and professional stories aimed to empower women—and men—through a series of speakers and panelists. Amanda Guerra, an Emmy award-winning Dallas journalist and anchor for KRLD NewsRadio 1080, moderated “Following Your Passion,” a panel hosting four women from different Dallas-based professions.

Read on to hear from Brittany Merrill Underwood, Tasha Schwikert, Melanie Shaffer, and Jordan Strauss as they speak to their struggles with juggling passions and personal life.

Tasha Schwikert: “Make it intentional”

Schwikert is a former Olympic medalist gymnast who now champions survivors of sexual assault as the co-chair of the special committee for over 500 Larry Nassar survivors, according to S.H.E. Summit’s website.

She also works as an associate attorney at Munck Wilson Mandala. She spoke at a Texas Senate committee hearing to extend the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse victims. Her passion is her purpose, she says, which means keep putting one foot in front of the other, but now it’s on the Senate floor instead of the balance beam.

When talking about her transition from gymnastics to being an attorney it was about “taking that same confidence in something that was so near and dear to my heart [gymnastics] and using that confidence in all aspects of life and really believing in myself because I was a good gymnast,” she said. “But I can also be a good attorney, a good mother, a good wife, and a good advocate.”

After Schwikert came forward with her personal survivor story as a victim of sexual abuse by Larry Nassar, she said she covered all of her bases when deciding to become an advocate for children, athletes, and sexual abuse victims. She called everyone she knew involved with athletics, anti-discrimination, and sexual abuse victim advocacy.

Regarding the steps she took to follow her passion she stated, “I picked their brains: I asked how they got involved and how I could get involved.”

Brittany Merrill Underwood: “Keep a pulse on how you’re doing”

Underwood, who is the founder and CEO of a non-profit called the Akola Project, knows how important balancing passion and personal life is. As a mom of two who runs a successful jewelry company that empowers and employs women in Uganda and Dallas, “You’ve got to keep a pulse on how you’re doing,” she said. She told the room that each season of life brings not just new achievements, but also changes—and it is about being able to re-evaluate each time.

“I had the courage to pivot, and I started Akola as a totally new way to solve the same problem. But I think that with challenges—instead of thinking of them as roadblocks—they are opportunities to make your model better, to figure out something that is not quite working,” she says when describing the beginnings of Akola.

“Have on the auto-pilot … and prioritize other actions, like family. That’s a hard lesson that I’ve finally learned,” she says. Doing this allows you to keep tabs on your soul and mental health, which is just as important as fostering your passion, according to Underwood. 

Jordan Strauss: On companies promoting the passions of their employees

Strauss is an accomplished intellectual property and commercial litigation attorney at Munck Wilson Mandala. Jordan shared the story of how Munck Wilson Mandala brought the S.H.E. Summit to Dallas for the first time in 2018, and how the firm’s support of the female empowerment movement has been so meaningful to the community.

She said she “is very proud of the firm’s efforts in bringing a forum to Dallas that facilitates discussion about the unique challenges women face, and provides meaningful guidance and practice pointers for change.”

She spoke about how crucial it is to employee morale that organizations and companies promote the passions of their employees. She noted that in a world of diverse workplaces, employee passions vary dramatically and that companies need to embrace those interests. Ultimately, she noted, that when companies stand behind their employees’ passions, everyone benefits.

Melanie Shaffer: “KPI wins”

Shaffer, who is the founder of Talent Suite, LCC, called out her fellow salespeople, as she made sure that everyone knew that “here, KPI wins,” meaning key performance indicator. “Knowing yourself, and really spend that introspective time on that ‘K,'” she says. She mentions that it’s also not being afraid of asking others about you, it’s the ability to be find where you both are strong and struggle. “The market doesn’t want what we have to offer sometimes,” she said, but more will get accomplished with a strong support system—meaning building your board but then practicing with them.”

She was shocked when hearing of the lack of those vital elements in other business and life strategies.

“Decide, like decide, what you’re willing to give up. I think that’s what a lot of people don’t do before they make a big change,” she said. “And it’s kind of shocking—it’s still shocking—even when you do it.”

S.H.E. Summit Dallas, presented by Munck Wilson Mandala, was a full day of keynotes, panel discussions, and networking focused on inclusion and diversity. The 2019 summit was held Thursday, August 29, 2019 at Hilton Anatole in Dallas.

This story was updated for accuracy at 11:55 a.m and 12:30 p.m. on September 6, 2019.

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