Lobsters, Women & Milken ’16

Written by Founder and CEO, Sara Potler LaHayne

Have you ever wondered how a lobster grows even though it’s covered by a hard shell? Lobsters aren’t born into large shells that they fill over time. In fact, they have to go through a rather stressful process in order to grow.

For lobsters, stress is actually an indicator of growth. When their bodies are pushing up against their shell, it’s uncomfortable and sometimes painful. This is a signal that they need to hide and find cover, shed the shell, and wait for a new one to replace it.

This process leaves the lobster highly vulnerable, as they are without their protective shell. Typically, lobsters will hide under rocks to protect themselves.

Essentially, it’s their safe space. But once they leave their safe space, lobsters are bigger and stronger than before.

Lobsters are a lesson for all of us. During our most stressful times, we have an opportunity to engage in strategies that will help us overcome the challenges presented before us, while leaving a place of vulnerability with renewed armor. With a new protective shield, we can all feel stronger and ready for the next challenge.

I just returned from the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles, a convening of some of the world’s most extraordinary people to explore solutions to today’s most pressing challenges in financial markets, industry sectors, health, government, and education. These extraordinary attendees are mostly male (and white). According to the Wall Street Journal, nearly 30% of Milken’s 700 panelists in 2015 were women- a record number for the conference, in its 18th year. This was during a year wherein the conference’s special focus was specifically women and girls. A year later, out of the 748 Speakers at the 2016 Milken Global Conference, only 222 were women.



Source: Malaka Gharib/NPR

The experience of the lobster felt especially true for me and many of the small handful of women with whom I connected at Milken. Where were my fellow smart, creative, accomplished female colleagues, investors, entrepreneurs, change agents? In the wake of the #allmalepanels trend, when we’re increasingly aware of the absence of women on panels and in board rooms, I felt a responsibility to call on all of the exceptional women in my life and invite them to join me at this conference in 2017.

Just like the lobsters, the key for the women I connected with at Milken and have connected with over the years is finding our safe place. We can’t hide under rocks as the lobsters do, but we can laugh together, take a walk, breathe deeply, share a glass of wine, and commit to supporting one another in our respective careers, fields, and commitment to improve our communities.

I hope female comrades in a wide array of industries will join me in Los Angeles next year. In moments of stress, or discomfort in a conference of almost entirely male attendees, it’s important that we women, like the lobster, pay attention to our senses and realize the opportunity for growth and renewal. The more we can accomplish this, the more we can feel stronger and empowered to take on the challenges facing this world.

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