ICYMI: the 5th Annual YWCA Young Women’s Leadership Summit

Picture 15

Ed. Note, this is a guest post from Natalie Blanton. Natalie is a student in Sociology and Gender Studies at the University of Utah. She works as the resident ecofeminist and cat-tamer at Dolly’s Bookstore in Park City, UT. She has webbed toes, loves Miniature Dachshunds, and was, at one point in her life, a rodeo queen.

On Tuesday, April 30, 2013, I attended the 5th Annual YWCA Young Women’s Leadership Summit. The YWCA’s mission statement is “eliminating racism and empowering women,” and the summit encouraged “conversations about equity and inclusion in the workplace.” Held in the downtown SLC Wells Fargo building, the event was an awesome opportunity for young women to connect on the issues they face in their daily lives and share their voice in a safe space.

The keynote for the event was Jacki Zehner, the Chief Engagement Officer of Women Moving Millions. Her presentation revolved around the current buzz of women in the professional domain, prompted by the new book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Though this book has been widely criticized for it’s privileged position, but Zehner voiced her support for Sandberg. Zehner did, however, offer an alternative that I found thought-provoking–instead of “leaning in” she suggested an “all in” approach for women.

Zehner said, “There is absolutely no good reason why women are not equal” [duh/amen], and she gave two calls to action in her closing:

Why? Why Women? and Why now?

  • There is no better time, we are at a critical moment for change.
  • There are mass amounts of studies/a rising culture of consciousness around issues of inequality.
  • Women are no longer standing alone for their rights–gender based inequities are human/everyone’s inequities.
  • Technology–never before have we had this much access to information, resources, and movements.
  • Our environment–there is a shift in collected values and beliefs, compelling the movement forward.

How can we go all in?

  • We cannot be afraid to talk about money–don’t view it as the ends, but as the means to make these movements happen.
  • Use our investment dollars in a good way–gender lens investing (financially or by volunteering).
  • Spend and consume wisely–shift your financial power to women led organizations.
  • It’s not all about money, but your personal story. The history of the world lives in you–love it and believe in it.

Next, Shannon Farley, Founding Executive Director of Spark addressed the eager female audience. At heart of Farley’s address was the idea that when you invest in a girl–she will invest in her family, her community, her country, and the world.

Farley said, “The world we’ve inherited is much different than that of our mothers,” and she followed this with a few words of advice:

  • Do what you love–do what you can’t help but do. If that is fighting for the most basic of human rights for women around the world and it is depressing and sad and awful–doesn’t matter. Do it, because it is needed.
  • Get a mentor or a champion. Cultivate relationships with friends who will cheerlead, challenge, and support you.
  • Do what you would if you were not afraid. Embrace and befriend your fear. Love that fear.

The breakout sessions that followed the keynotes were:

1. Breaking into the Boy’s Club

Taught by Dianna Cannon, specialist in Social Security Disability law, and owner of Cannon Disability Law, P.C. this workshop explored the spaces women occupy in private and small businesses. Here is some of Cannon’s advice for women trying to break into the boys club:

  • Promote the career of ourselves. Put yourself out there. She suggested sending a “ballsy” email telling “your future employer” you are worth the interview.
  • Promote the career of others. Refer your friends, boost your fellow woman up–making your own network of success.
  • Business is a team activity, as you are working towards a common goal–recognize and celebrate that.
  • Say yes. If you think you are not ready, or too afraid, you must say yes to every opportunity and the world will open up.

2. Dialogue on diversity and equality in the workplace

Facilitators Jenny Netto, MSW, Program Coordinator and Kristy K. Bartley, Ph.D. Counseling Coordinator (both from the University of Utah Women’s Resource Center) led an inclusive conversation with summit attendees. The thoughts shared were powerful, genuine, and intimate as women throughout the circle expressed their frustration with discrimination and a lack of safe spaces.

Several women reiterated how you can never fully understand another human being’s lived experiences, but you can meet them where they’re at, speak with intention, and continually build upon your education and awareness of others.

The takeaway message from the conversation was: don’t get complacent. Be optimistic, pursue truth, acknowledge and celebrate differences, educate each other, and take your experiences with you to further these vital conversations.

The day concluded with a luncheon/panel discussion, including some of Utah’s greatest leaders:

  • Gloria Wilkinson, Community Relations at Zions Bank
  • Lorena Riffo-Jensen, President of Vox Creative
  • Angela Romero, Representative, House District 26, State of Utah
  • Alexza Barajas Clark, PhD, University of Utah Department of Communication.

With attendees, panelists, presenters and YWCA representatives and staff–the event had included near 100 women. Many of whom were young, in their college or early careers.

I had a chance to speak with some of the attendees about their experience at the summit:

Maddy Orrit, a graduating senior at the University of Utah, said, “It was inspiring and invigorating to be surrounded by women from all walks of life who were brought together by the common goal of women’s leadership, equality, and empowerment.”

Britta Marie Nystul, also a graduating senior at the U this spring, said, “The Leadership Summit was such a great opportunity for me as a soon-to-be graduate. I loved hearing from all the amazing women about their experiences as women in the workforce. They had a lot of wisdom and advice that I will take to heart as I enter the professional world. I also appreciated the chance to participate in a dialogue with other women about issues facing women and minorities in the workplace. The event as a whole was very empowering and inspiring, and I can’t thank the YWCA enough for putting it on.”

As for me? I found the day to be a wonderful and empowering experience. It is rare that we, as women, are able to sit in a circle and share our experiences, thoughts, frustrations, and concerns with like-minded individuals [other women]. The power of vulnerability is great, and we need to let others know where we stand, no matter how hard that may be. Be it in the workplace, the classroom, the community, and the home–women truly need to be all in–and begin creating the world that we want to pass on, a world of beautiful and holistic equality, a world that we know can be a reality.

Share Your Thoughts