"Two words have motivated entire movements," said Dana Cowin, former editor-in-chief of Food & Wine Magazine, pointing to #MeToo and #TimesUp, most recently. "I watched the power of those two words, and I thought, 'what are my two words?'"

For Cowin, they changed to keep pace with her age, career, and general outlook on life. Eventually, "I want" became "I will," a chant she led a room full of women in on February 12 at Hotel ZaZa.

"Together, with a universal 'I will,' we can create great change," Cowin said. Her rousing keynote kicked off Bacardi's inaugural Spirit Forward Women In Leadership Empowerment Series, a self-explanatory, five-city tour that began this month in Houston and travels to Miami next week before three more stops in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York through March and April.

The series brought together industry leaders, community partners, and expert panels to spark discussion of everything from equal pay and maternity leave for women in the hospitality and spirits industries to financial wellness and self-defense tactics.

Led by Pam Wiznitzer, president of the United States Bartender's Guild, the full day of speakers and workshops in Houston fostered camaraderie, thought-provoking discourse, and, at times, uncomfortable conversations–particularly on the topics of race, intersectional feminism, and community accountability in an impassioned discussion between activist Ashtin Berry and several audience members. Berry, herself a veteran of the spirits industry, challenged business owners and community partners to expand their "limited networks," especially with regard to hiring practices, and recognize—and work to equalize—means of social capital. Community accountability, Berry said, means more than latching on to buzzwords or riding the coattails of popular social movements.

"We have to stop using words like 'diversity,'" she said. "They're broad strokes that don't get to the minutiae of the problem."

The series covered other ground, too, including the importance of achieving financial independence and stability.

"My two favorite things in the world to talk about are money and drinking," said Shannon McLay, founder and president of New York-based Financial Gym, which offered guests a free month of personal financial advising.

A panel of other industry professionals shared their approaches to work-life balance—a term that, judging by the co-conspiratorial laughter in the room, is widely considered oxymoronic. The audience also heard from Lynnette Marrero and Ivy Mix, nationally acclaimed bartenders who founded Speed Rack, the first nationwide competition to highlight up-and-coming women in the cocktail industry.

Author and life coach Trish Barillas shared her intimate account of battling anxiety, and fitness expert Jennifer Cassetta shared tactics for actually battling in her "Stilettos and Self Defense" workshop.

Appropriately, the series concluded with a happy hour, where the women mingled with peers and professionals to talk shop and sip a well-earned drink. A portion of the $40/head proceeds benefited Dress for Success.

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