Alexia Vernon is holding a mic and surveying a roomful of well-dressed women chatting over wine and juice shots. Only someone who’s danced and performed since childhood could stand so tall and relaxed in spiked heels and a short dress stretched over a five-month-pregnant belly. It helps that Vernon, 33, is a professional speaker: She’s a career-development coach, and this is her element.
She lifts the mic and says again, a little more firmly this time, “Begin, please, to wind down your conversations.” It’s the opening of Women of Influence, an event which, as the name implies, features five high-powered Las Vegas ladies discussing their paths to the top of the dining, energy, health care, hospitality and real estate industries. The one-off mixer and panel discussion serves as a teaser to Influencer Academy, Vernon’s nine-month program for helping women kick their professional lives up a notch. That begins October 11.
At check-in for this evening’s event, each guest was handed a name tag and pen, and asked to write two first names: her own and that of a woman who has influenced her. This sets the stage for the icebreaker, when strangers are invited to turn to one another and talk about the names on their tags. After the din from this exercise dies down, Vernon introduces her idol, her mother, Diana Poole. The black-haired 61-year-old waves amicably from the middle of the room.
“She’s an incredibly strong woman,” Vernon had said in an earlier interview, recounting how Poole supported her through her recovery from childhood sexual abuse, standing up to other adults who said such matters were best swept under the rug. Both Poole and Vernon’s father raised their daughter to believe she could do anything she set her mind to. But Poole worked especially hard—renewing a dormant nursing license to go back to work after the couple divorced, then enrolling Vernon in a private girls’ school—to make sure her daughter found her voice.
Vernon believes it’s her calling to pass along this gift, teaching clients to see their dreams and goals as a story they write themselves into. When people take ownership of their narrative, she says, they can approach difficult situations with less fear and more creativity.
Pinpointing the women’s issue du jour, she says: “I would change this new paradigm emerging for young women, who feel like they have to make a choice early on between a corporate path with a lot of personal sacrifice and an alternative path that allows them to preserve their spirit, and have a family and healthy relationship. … Instead, we should be asking how to take those things from the alternative path and infuse them into what we call corporate work. Because it doesn’t just benefit women, it also benefits men and families—society as a whole.”