Heather J. MacKenzie, the first speaker for the Road Less Traveled lecture series.
Heather J. MacKenzie, the first speaker for the Road Less Traveled lecture series.
Courtesy Heather MacKenzie

Heather MacKenzie Launches Bold Betties Lecture Series to Empower Women

Denver-based business Bold Betties, an outdoor adventure company for women, wants to empower and encourage women — not just in the great outdoors, but in all aspects of life. That's why the outfit is hosting a new speaker series, the Road Less Traveled. At 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 20, the company's first speaker, Heather MacKenzie, will share what her experience with sexual harassment at a high-profile former employer taught her about resilience and seizing hard-sought silver linings.

According to co-founder Arezou Zarafshan, Bold Betties is "all about helping women step outside of their comfort zone and really face their biggest fears." The company, founded in 2014, brings women together for outdoor activities; current listings include paddle-boarding, glamping in Moab, a Women's River Vision Quest on the Green River, Intro to Women's Ice Hockey and an ecotourism vacation to the Amazon; the adventures range in cost from gratis to several grand. The company also wants its community of women to apply boldness in realms of life that don't necessarily involve sunshine and hiking boots. As Zarafshan puts it, "Embracing risk is something that can be exercised not just in the outdoors, but in everyday life."

Enter MacKenzie, who "has been one of our biggest advocates and supporters" since she met the founders when they were seeking funding from SheEO, a nonprofit that financially supports women-helmed business ventures," Zarafshan says. MacKenzie, a single mother of six who spent most of her career working in corporate health care, weathered a year-long sexual-harassment battle with a Fortune Ten corporation. MacKenzie's personal story involves unwanted physical contact from a high-level executive who had harassed several women in the company, an incident that prompted one of MacKenzie's co-workers to report the incident, though MacKenzie herself had decided not to file a complaint. For this reason, MacKenzie shies away from using her talk to offer specific advice. "Every woman's situation is different," she says.

But there are similarities: MacKenzie expects many of the women in the audience to have experienced some variation on her experience. In her wide-ranging network, "I have yet to meet a woman who has not encountered some form of sexual harassment," she says. And to her knowledge, the man who harassed her and others remains in a high-profile position without repercussions.

The trauma of the sexual-harassment suit became a "catalyst" for re-evaluation, MacKenzie says. She wasn't able to work at the company during the case, so she hired a nutritionist and energy healer; she started sleeping more than three hours a night and quit her Red Bull and Ambien habits. With therapy, she says, she recognized cycles of abuse repeating from early childhood to her situation at her company, and figured out how to move past them. She's made a career change, too. After finalizing a separation agreement, MacKenzie decided to devote her time to promoting diversity. For instance, she's currently working with innovation-focused nonprofit 10.10.10 to recruit entrepreneurs of diverse identities as part of the group's CEO development challenge.

Given this experience, she says, she hopes to share a message of resilience and how "we're capable of these huge shifts." And given her stated belief in "women supporting other women," the Bold Betties community is one she's excited to share her experience with.

The Bold Betties team (from left): Sommer Rains, COO and co-founder; Arezou Zarafshan, CMO and co-founder; Natalie Anderson, community and partnership coordinator; Niki Kourbourlis, CEO and founder; Susanna Nilsson, director of community and partnerships.EXPAND
The Bold Betties team (from left): Sommer Rains, COO and co-founder; Arezou Zarafshan, CMO and co-founder; Natalie Anderson, community and partnership coordinator; Niki Kourbourlis, CEO and founder; Susanna Nilsson, director of community and partnerships.
Courtesy Bold Betties

Zarafshan describes the inaugural Road Less Traveled talk as an "intimate" gathering with wine, appetizers and a Q&A with MacKenzie at the Bold Betties headquarters at 331 14th Street, Suite 216. Tickets are available for $30 online, and the lecture will also be broadcast on Facebook Live. The Road Less Traveled lecture series will continue throughout the summer, with Jen Gurecki of women's ski and snowboard retailer Coalition Snow speaking on August 3, Bold Betties founder Niki Koubourlis on August 10, and writer Bernadette Murphy, author of Harley and Me: Embracing Risk on the Road to a More Authentic Life, on August 24. For more information on the speaker series and on the 31 Bold Betties chapters across North America, visit boldbetties.com.

Road Less Travelled, With Heather MacKenzie, 6 p.m. Thursday, July 20, Bold Betties, 331 14th Street, Suite 216, $30.

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