In 2008, Anne Devereux-Mills ’84, an advertising agency CEO, lost her job to the recession, her youngest child to college, and (temporarily) her health to cancer. The experiences set her on a new path. Ultimately, she started Parlay House, an organization that aims to help thousands of women feel more empowered and build positive communities. We caught up with her by phone in Hawai‘i as she was setting up the first-ever virtual gatherings for Parlay House, a modern “salon” where women hear from prominent speakers to spark authentic conversations. Devereux-Mills’ book is part memoir, part how-to on creating meaningful and trusting relationships to live a more connected and satisfying life. She shows readers how small acts can create ripple effects of good that ultimately benefit others.
How did Parlay House come to be?
When I was forced to stop mid-court in life, I thought, what are the situations I would want to replicate? Being a part of Wellesley’s supportive, authentic female community was a total driver. With Parlay House gatherings, there’s this cascade effect of lifting each other up. For speakers, we’ve had a psychologist experienced in handling difficult conversations in tight spaces. We’ve talked about “frenemies,” we’ll address women’s sexual health. We’ll also hear from a hypnotist, and then Cory Booker.
Why do you dislike the word “networking”?
Instead of finding commonalities, networking is about, “What can I get from you?” I’m really on a campaign to end transactional relationships and networking. Parlay House has very few rules. The biggest one is, don’t come to a meeting and ask anyone for anything. As women, we tend to give so much to everyone else in our lives. Here, you’re in space that’s just about you and your learning and ability to be vulnerable and hear other people’s truths. We talk about connecting and relating and sharing. A lot of what happens is mentoring. It’s such a cool way to lift each other up without it being, “I give, you take.” Yes, success is important. But internal happiness is equally important. Feeling connected to the world is harder now, yet it’s more important than ever.
What else is in the works?
I’m all about social experiments. We’re working on a series of community journals we’ll leave in public spaces like coffee shops. They’ll have provocative questions written in them and strangers can leave anonymous answers—what they’re worried about, proud of, wisdom they want to impart. We’ll distribute hundreds of them, and then when they’re filled up, compile them into books. The journals are currently being printed, but to start we’ll have to wait until people can go to coffee shops again.
Blumberg is a Houston-based freelance writer.