When Fired Up Women Gather & Instigate Positive Change
I first met Anne Devereux-Mills at her home in San Francisco a few years ago during one of her epic Parlay House gatherings. Initially, I went to this event with more than a little skepticism. In part because there are so many events, especially ones for women, and I have become a bit tired of meeting the same women, discussing the same topics and not feeling much was changing. A mutual friend told me about Anne and how Parlay House was completely different than a typical “women’s event”. ‘Think of it as a meshing of content and bonding’ she advised and if anything, she offered that there would be champagne and great speakers so what’s the worst that could happen?
I went to that first event, and found that both Anne, and the actual gatherings were unusually deep and surprisingly powerful. I attended another and another, and then started bringing friends and colleagues who I thought would also benefit from this supported and interested gathering of women. More and more women, from all walks of life, started to gather with Anne. The topics of discussion were always different, featuring amazing and inspiring women who would share their stories and lessons in salon-style fashion (sitting on the couch and speaking intimately and openly).
With the recent Presidential election and increased scrutiny about women’s issues heightened across the country, efforts like Parlay House are now more important than ever. I met with Anne for coffee recently in hopes of learning how she and Parlay House hope to inspire, encourage and support women who are fired up and eager to make a difference.
Parlay House -- The Salon Reinvented
CG: Anne, what inspired you to start Parlay House when there are so many other established women’s groups and events already not only in the Bay Area but nationally?
ADM: Several years ago, I experienced a series of life changes and transitions that at the time were scary as hell but now seem almost serendipitous. I had a serious progression of cancer and surgery to fight it, and instead of my employer giving me time to recover, they gave my position as CEO to someone else, leaving me quite scared and lost. It was a moment for a major life re-boot, so I left the familiar life I had built for myself in NJ/NYC, packed up everything, moved across country to begin again in San Francisco. When I began to heal, and think about what I wanted next, I circled back to my days as one of three daughters, as a mother of two daughters, and as a student at Wellesley with 2000 “sisters”. Having been part of a male-dominated industry – advertising – for most of my professional life, I wanted to create something where I felt I fit in, and so would everyone else irrespective of their age, ethnicity, experience, education or income level. I also wanted to create something that would allow us as women to really connect and be vulnerable in a “what happens here, stays here” kind of way. So, I opened my home and started invited women in as a sort of social experiment. Ten women turned into thirty and the momentum began to build. I named the gatherings Parlay House because this was my opportunity, and our opportunity to “parlay” one thing into another. A chance to transition and evolve. I also liked that “Parlay” sounded like the French word, “parler” which means “to speak”. Yes. This would be a place for real, open conversation.
CG: How is Parlay House different?
ADM: So many ways! Fundamentally, it’s never about networking or finding a job. No one wants anything from anyone other than authentic connection without judgement. There are so many ‘exclusive, invite-only’ groups for women and I never felt I belonged in any of those. From my earliest memories growing up with very strong women in my household – The House of Hormones we called it – to my time at Wellesley, I understood the power of women gathering to share and inspire one another. There is nothing like it. But the key is to not try and force anyone into a particular mold or direct them to a specific cause. They must find that for themselves. So, I set up Parlay House to be a place where each gathering we focus on different topics, issues of concern, success stories and women gravitate to those events which they are moved by or curious about. And since I encourage them to invite others and bring people forward every gathering is truly a unique group of people. You wouldn’t believe the connections that are sparked and the positive actions that result – connections and actions that I could have never imagined when I first began.
CG: With all that is happening with women’s issues – highlighted during the recent Presidential election and then women’s marches globally – how are you engaging and supporting Parlay House members who want to find a way to make a difference and initiate positive action in their lives?
ADM: I participated in the Women’s March in Washington, DC this past January and it was awesome to be among so many fierce women (and the men who support them) from all walks of life. The energy and inspiring stories were everywhere and it highlighted for me how important it is that we find ways to not only continue to come together as women but also to share lessons learned and best practices wherever we can for instigating positive change. It can be paralyzing to see so many big challenges ahead for women and to find how any one of us can make a difference. But the point is that even the smallest of actions, what I call Parlay Effects, can have an extraordinary impact overtime. I’ve seen them happen time and time again during and after our Parlay House gatherings. These Parlay Effects ripple out and create a cascade of change that impacts numerous lives and you don’t need some special expertise or deep pockets to initiate them. I’ve been collecting stories of these Parlay Effects for some time now as well as distilling the lessons learned and best practices so I can share them with our members and others who are passionate about making a difference. Imagine the impact if all of us started consciously initiating Parlay Effects in our own lives and circles of influence.
My favorite best practice: Don’t try to boil the ocean. Start somewhere, pick one issue you care about, learn all you can about it, then engage. Once you do that others who are similarly passionate will naturally gravitate to you. There is nothing more universally attractive than someone who is engaged in something they are passionate about and who is curious to learn more and share what they’ve learned.
To Learn More About Parlay House go to: http://parlayhouse.com/mission/