On February 23rd at the Omni New Haven Hotel, two undergraduate organizations – the Yale College Council (YCC) and the Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) – partnered to host the 11th annual WLI Conference, entitled “Women Empowering Women.” With panel events tailored to various industries such as finance, activism, medicine/healthcare, and entrepreneurship, as well as opportunities for networking, resume workshops, and LinkedIn headshots, the conference drew approximately 350 participants.
Conference co-director Sue Chen ’20 described attendees as a mix of Yale students, Yale faculty/staff, New Haven residents, and attendees from all over the tri-state area. “So much of women's empowerment and leadership relies on the ongoing conversations between like-minded people who share similar passion and dedication to the same cause,” she said, emphasizing the power of having so many women together exchanging ideas and supporting one another.
Rachel Vogelstein, director of the Women and Foreign Policy program at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Washington, DC, counselor to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and professor of Gender and U.S. Foreign Policy at Georgetown University Law Center delivered the keynote speech. While the panel topics remained relatively similar to previous years, the 2019 committee brought in a new set of speakers from diverse backgrounds to share their ideas. Speakers this year included: Themis Klarides, Republican minority leader in the Connecticut House of Representatives; Caroline Simmons, Connecticut state representative; Tema Staig, executive director of Women in Media, and Andrea Aldrich, lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Yale.
“The more I talk with women who have accomplished amazing things in their careers and with students who are just starting out, I realize how many similar experiences in terms of sexism, confidence, and perception we have in common,” said conference co-director Avery Arena ’21. “Navigating competitive professional environments as a female is hard to do, and I think in-depth conversations like the ones at the conference really go a long way towards helping us all be better prepared to pursue our goals with confidence.”
After almost nine months of planning, the co-directors described a major challenge they faced: marketing the event to a wide variety of campus organizations to garner interest and maximize registration and attendance. “We really doubled down on publicity and marketing for the conference this year, and we tried really hard to reach as many interested groups as possible, but sometimes we just don't know if we got everyone,” said Chen
Founded in 2006, the Yale Women’s Leadership Initiative has also recently modified its membership structure. Students who are interested in becoming formal WLI members must attend two functions, however most events such as the annual conference remain open to the public.
“I think it is so inspiring to see such a large group of accomplished women come together and talk about what works and what doesn't, and I think that is a great catalyst for motivating others,” said Arena. She hopes attendees left the conference feeling energized to work towards their own goals.
-- Veena McCoole ’19