Lessons from the BYU Women’s Conference

Stephen MarshMormon 7 Comments

Some people know that my wife spoke one year at the conference.  What they usually don’t know is that they found my wife because  the person in charge knew us from the BYU law school, where the person in charge was an assistant dean.  She was kind enough to spend time talking with  us about the process, the conference and President Hinckley’s goals.  I’ll discuss his most significant goal first.

  • One of his significant goals was a desire to have more leadership from women in the Church.  President Hinckley saw a significant need for more leadership from the sisters.  It was a serious point with him and others, and one he took the time to communicate in person with the woman in charge of the conference.
  • The conference arrangements and structure were put together by consensus.  Rather than a hierarchical structure (where I could put together a conference in an afternoon, heck, I’ve done it, conferences take a couple of hours, a successful year long speakers series took me about fifteen minutes), it was more like a facilitation initiative.  It was an incredible amount of work at a high level of skill.
  • There was a real desire to have diversity to reach out to people in all circumstances and all of life’s paths.  Having a female law professor as the coordinator was intentional, not accidental, as were many participants, intended to be role models for many paths through life that fulfill the measure of our individual creations.
  • The amount of ego was extremely low.  No one remembers Kathy Pullins in connection with years of conferences.  Her name isn’t even on the title of the conference collected speeches. The same is true of others.  They were serving the participants, not themselves.

If you were doing a conference, what would be your concerns and your goals?  How do the conferences of various groups you have attended compare?

Comments 7

  1. I hope I NEVER have to arrange anything like that. I haven’t been to many, just sort of Mickey Mouse ones on the stake level. But if I did, I’d definitely involve Mo-Town music and humor.

  2. Is Dean Pullins your wife, SM? This is off topic, but Dean Pullins is as kind and good a person as the BYU Law School has on faculty or staff. And that’s coming from someone who is EXTREMELY cynical about law school faculty and administration. I hope you’ll let her know that she’s a cut above.

  3. I really enjoyed your thoughts here. Some of the presentations from women’s conferences have been really inspirational. I would like to see them disseminated more to a wider audience, most women in the UK have not heard of them. Let alone have availability to the broadcasts.

  4. Thanks for sharing this, Stephen.

    I’ve coordinated one conference, for church. When I was in the single’s ward, I planned and executed a “Women’s Conference” for the stake. We had several stake RS leadership and other members give workshops on a variety of topics – the Atonement, scripture study, service, finding joy in singlehood, etc. There were 4, 60-90 min sessions, with 3 workshops in each session for participants to choose from. We had the EQ serve lunch, and had a testimony meeting at the end of the day. It was fairly well attended, as far as ward things go – I think we had close to 120 sisters attend. I’ve been to a variety of professional (ie., scientific academic) conferences as well, and I tried to mirror the above after what I had seen done there, with the exception that we didn’t have a poster session and speakers were chosen (ie, didn’t apply).

    One thing that I think dramatically differs between church-related “conferences” and professional ones is in church conferences, the speakers are ALWAYS chosen. This is not always the case in the professional world, where one prepares an abstract of what they would like too speak on and why they think they are qualified to do so. While on one hand, it marks the difference between religious groups and secular ones (ie, the Spirit isn’t used to choose speakers at the American Society of Human Genomics meeting!), on the other hand having the speakers be chosen does limit ones exposure to who is heard – namely, if the GA doesn’t know you, you aren’t likely to be called to a position or speaking assignment. This method may have worked ok in a Utah-centric church, but for a worldwide church it is slightly more difficult to ensure that you are reaching everyone in your audience or that you are truly picking speakers representative of your constituency. Hence why at GC we often get talks on modesty that are focused on Middle American ways of dressing, or we have political talks that don’t apply to the Saints in other nations.

  5. This is off topic, but Dean Pullins is as kind and good a person as the BYU Law School has on faculty or staff I’d agree, she is a friend of mine. My wife is Win Marsh (you can read her presentation here: [stuff deleted since two urls will get the spam filter involved and I’ve one below]adrr.com/living/001w.htm )

    But I agree, Dean Pullins is an excellent person. She retired recently I understand.

    A talk by Dean Pullins is at http://www.law2.byu.edu/jrcls/publications/perspectives/women%20and%20the%20law%20lesson.pdf

    You can e-mail her from the BYU site if you would like to let her know your feeling, just drop Deborah Wright an e-mail and I’m sure it will get forwarded.

  6. #4 – Although I agree that sending in abstracts would give the conference a slightly different feel, it would still be the case that those deciding might favour the same type of topics, unless we include that diversity at the decision making level. I do not know whether that is the case or not.

  7. #6 – You’re right, but I would much rather hear how the Saints in Okinaw handle the WoW than hear talks on energy drinks :0 Typically, the topics are already assigned for the different academic conferences I have been to. They then choose among the abstracts to make sure a variety of perspectives are discussed. As application to GC, they might indicate a priori “we would like 3 talks on the Atonement.” The potential speakers then prepare abstracts on their concept of the Atonement, and the GA chooses from a list of abstracts submitted for that specific topic.

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