What It Means to be a Woman Leader Today

On Sunday, February 23rd, hundreds of participants and speakers gathered at the Omni Hotel in New Haven for the 12th Annual Women’s Empowerment Leadership Conference hosted by the Women’s Leadership Initiative at Yale (WLI). This tradition comes during a special time in Yale’s history.

This year marks the 50th year of coeducation at Yale College and the 150th anniversary of female students at Yale University. From a time when admitting female students was discussed as an obstacle to the opportunities for men, a conference room full of inspiring professionals and students stood in stark contrast to what had been not so long ago. More than 200 participants from the tri-state area gathered in New Haven in a discussion that focused on the  issues facing women in today’s workplace.  There were nine panels with nearly forty speakers representing government, activism, media, entrepreneurship, finance, medicine, and more. The conference also provided opportunities for networking and professional LinkedIn headshots.

This year’s panelists were joined by two high profile keynote addresses. Susan Salgado is a consultant and speaker whose expertise lies at the intersection of organizational culture and customer experience. She is a contributor for Inc. Magazine and has been named one of Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business. Patti Solis Doyle is a partner at the Brunswick Group and advises clients on intersectional issues within business, politics, and society. She is a CNN political commentator and has more than twenty  years of work in public service and politics, including serving as the campaign manager for Hillary Clinton from January 2007 to February 2008, the first Hispanic woman to lead a presidential campaign. The conference concluded with an address by Amy Jin, a leadership coach and co-creator of Straighten Your Crown podcast. 

The Women’s Empowerment Leadership Conference is entirely student  organized and run. This year, it was led  by co-directors Angela Lin ’20 and Oasis Zhen ’21. Joining them was a committee of 13 students who organized panels, moderated the discussions, and helped with the many logistical challenges associated with a conference of this size. Leaving this year’s conference, there was a tremendous amount of momentum for the future. “The mission of the conference is one that is always relevant and current, and such is reflected through many third-time participants who continue to find meaning and encouragement, and for us organizers, this is exactly what motivates us to keep going,” said Zhen. Lin added, “I think one of the most rewarding experiences in regards to this conference is witnessing how much people care about this event, and how much they are willing to invest in it.” Some of the participants come back year and year again, and this event has truly turned into the flagship event of the Women’s Leadership Initiative at Yale.

WLI  was founded fourteen years ago by five undergraduate women. Since then the scope and influence of the organization have only grown. This year, over 40 undergraduate students have taken part as active organizers and content producers. They have produced and hosted   professional development workshops, recruiting events, socials, a gala, a mentorship program and a speaker series.  Avery Arena ’21, president of WLI, explained the significance of having a group like WLI on campus: “Even as we are seeing so many important advances being made by women across the world, it is becoming ever important to recognize the history of how we got where we are today and develop a vision for where we want to be in the future. WLI and this conference are an important part of bringing education about the importance of these topics to campus and beyond, and I can’t wait to see how these conversations will continue as we go forward with the planning for future events.” WLI members are already beginning the planning process for next year’s Women’s Empowerment Leadership Conference-- follow them on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/yalewli/) to get notified when tickets go on sale! See the conference program book here https://yalewliconference.weebly.com/uploads/1/2/9/0/129079077/wliconference2020program_final.pdf

Avery Arena ’21, President; Angela Lin ’20, Conference co-director; and Oasis Zhen ’21 Conference co-director

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