For the first time in its history, Esalen will host a property-wide gathering for women in January as a call to action for participants to advance their vision for a life-affirming world. The gathering is led by Michelle Stransky, formerly with Wisdom 2.0, as part of her brainchild WisdomWomen. Joining Michelle is Konda Mason, co-founder and CEO of Hub Oakland, and Sally Kempton, an internationally known spiritual teacher, and other women leaders. The following is a recent conversation with Michelle regarding the origins of WisdomWomen:
eNews: Michelle, we are so excited to welcome our first property-wide gathering of women leaders to Esalen in January. Can you share with us where your vision for WisdomWomen originated?
I am equally excited to be partnering with Esalen on this gathering. My vision for WisdomWomen originated when I was the Conference Director at Wisdom 2.0. Previously, I had been working as a corporate consultant and did not feel fulfilled in my work. It was mostly the women in my life who helped to remind me of who I really was and how I wanted to live and lead my life. From these realizations I left my job and soon after, the opportunity with Wisdom 2.0 came to me.
I was curious if other women in that community were interested in women’s leadership and wisdom. There was a huge response when I put out a call to the community and over time it became clear that this needed to be its own initiative. Ever since I put out that call, I would say the vision of WisdomWomen has been guiding me, versus the other way around. Often I am surprised to find where it takes me.
eNews: What has been missing for you in the conversation about women and leadership? In other words, what hasn’t yet been given voice for you and your generation that you hope to elevate in this conference?
There is a good deal of focus on gender equality. I am more interested in how we as women can discover our natural gifts as leaders and bring them forward. The focus of WisdomWomen is less about women being equal in our current culture, and more about women co-creating a thriving culture in a new way.
My hope for this gathering and beyond is that we can come together to build a community and collaborate on projects where who we are and what we desire is fully honored. This gathering is the beginning of an exploration in radical co-creation.
eNews: You’ve intentionally designed this experience to be a group-led, self-generated gathering. What do you hope to accomplish by moving away from a more traditional leader-led workshop?
In many ways I am creating WisdomWomen because it is something I need for myself. I have tended to defer my own power to others and I am not alone in this as a woman. I believe it is time for us as women to step into the wisdom and power that truly lives within each of us. This is why I am interested in exploring more collaborative models where the participants are also the leaders. While I believe there is a role for traditional leader-led workshops where we learn and receive inspiration, what I am excited about is bringing together women who desire taking that wisdom and inspiration and putting it into service towards a life-affirming world culture. In essence, there is an inherent belief in this format that we already have the wisdom, experience, and knowledge that we need within ourselves.
eNews: WisdomWomen is also unique in that you asked participants to submit an application. What are you looking for? And what do these women all share in common?
We are looking to create a diverse community of women. Diversity comes in many forms and in particular, we are looking to create an inter-generational community with women of different professional backgrounds, wisdom traditions, colors, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and gender identities. It is critical to have different perspectives in order to radically co-create something new. What we all have in common is passion. The women who have been applying are on fire!
eNews: What is different about how women lead versus men? How do you see women’s leadership changing?
There are so many ways to answer this question. I could provide some characteristics that women typically embody more than men, but I am not an expert on this. Ultimately, I feel that women and men need to work together in order to create the world we all want to see. However, since we have lived in a masculine-driven world for so long, I do not feel women have always had the opportunity to fully discover how we lead. That is why I am interested in focusing on women-only gatherings for the time being. I intend to co-create a safe container where we can explore our leadership and how to collaborate with one another for the common good. I hope that over time women’s leadership will change so that more women feel confident in owning their feminine characteristics and knowing that those are just as powerful and necessary as those of our male counterparts.
eNews: An important part of the WisdomWomen conference was providing scholarships for participants who might otherwise not be able to add their voice to this gathering. Can you share why this is important to you and what you’re trying to achieve in this conference?
It is often those who cannot afford to participate in events like these whose voices never get heard. It is likely that these voices have a very important message about why our current systems and structures do not work, because they have first-hand experience. This means these individuals may be closer to the solutions and in some ways, might be the most important voices to include. I have a feeling there is a lot of un-tapped potential out there that can make the WisdomWomen community stronger.
eNews: What do you see happening with WisdomWomen after January’s gathering? How do plan to take it beyond Esalen?
We are creating a WisdomWomen Circle program so that women from the Esalen gathering can continue to connect and collaborate with one another and within their local communities. Due to an overwhelming response to this gathering, we had to start a waiting list four months in advance. There is clearly a desire for gatherings like this one, so convening women in other parts of the country will be another focus. I sense that this gathering at Esalen will in many ways inform what else comes next.
eNews: Anything else you’d like to share about your future plans for WisdomWomen?
I am eagerly awaiting instructions about the future of WisdomWomen. The best way to find out about what is next is to check our website. This partnership with Esalen has been an awesome model for how we can collaborate to bring wisdom and leadership together for a greater purpose. We look forward to returning to Esalen after our initial kick-off in 2016 for the weekend of January 13-15, 2017.