Over 400 students gathered at the Yale Law School Saturday morning to attend the seventh annual Yale Women in Leadership Conference.
The theme of this year’s conference was “Women Empower Women,” or “W.E. Women,” which embodies the collaborative nature of female empowerment, said Chloe Siamof ’16, one of the conference’s head coordinators. Open to all Yale students, the conference consisted of 15 panels on topics pertaining to female leadership in the modern world. This year, some of the most popular panels covered topics such as balancing work with motherhood, succeeding as a woman in male-dominated career fields and breaking into the “Brogrammer” culture of the tech startup industry.
One panel, “Women Leading the Way in Law and Politics,” addressed the challenges that women face as a result of centuries of all-male leadership.
“There are some women in charge now, and it’s changing public perception of what a leader is supposed to look like,” said Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill, one of the speakers on the panel. “People have to have those images in their heads in order to make more female leadership possible, and I like to think that we’re all a part of that process.”
Another speaker in the same panel was Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty, U.S. representative for the 5th Congressional District of Connecticut. Esty said that when she brought her family to Capitol Hill for her swearing-in ceremony in 2013, most of the guards and passersby congratulated her husband, assuming he was the one who had been elected.
Etsy said that while there has been progress — 104 women are in Congress — the government still needs to make space for more women who are passionate about their political visions.
Another panel, “Social Enterprise: How Business Can Change the World,” focused on the impact that women can make in the non-profit sector. One of the speakers was Maria Vertkin, founder of the non-profit organization “Found in Translation,” which teaches bilingual homeless or low-income women to become professional interpreters.
Vertkin said there is a larger percentage of female leadership in non-profits than in private business, and that this is a model she hopes private businesses will someday follow.
“Our society has a tradition of teaching men how to succeed for themselves, and women how to help others succeed,” Vertkin said. “I think this view is slowly being broken down by this new generation of female entrepreneurs.”
In addition to the 15 panels, the conference featured two keynote speakers: Ann Shoket, the former editor-in-chief of Seventeen magazine, and Claudia Chan, founder of S.H.E. Globl Media Inc. Both women spoke about the challenges they had to overcome in pursuing their careers and the lessons they have learned in the process.
The conference was organized by the Women’s Leadership Initiative, an undergraduate organization that encourages and empowers aspiring female leaders, according to Siamof, who is also a board member of WLI. Siamof said one of her hopes for the conference in the future is to potentially help it expand to other locations nationwide.
“There’s been a lot of progress, and we get more attendees each year,” Siamof said. “We had a big social media presence for the first time this year, and we’re hoping to take it to a new level in the future.”
Siamof added that there were Harvard students who attended the event and reached out to her, hoping to learn from the conference model and bring something similar to their campus.
Students interviewed at the conference said they thought the event offered engaging and very necessary perspectives.
“I really think that in this day and age, having female role models is so important,” said Makana Williams ’18. “These women have accomplished so much in their respective fields, and they were so accessible today.”
Karen Chen SOM ’16 said the themes of the conference complemented many topics discussed in her classes, adding that the gender gap in the private business sector is a recurring conversation topic at the SOM.
Aviva Abusch ’18 said that in spite of the prevalent opinion that being a woman is an added hardship, many speakers highlighted the benefits of womanhood.
“You get to raise a family and at the same time, you still get to be a force to reckon with in the workplace,” Abusch explained. “That’s a very inspiring experience to hear about.”
Past keynote speakers of the conference include Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, and Janet Robinson, the first female CEO of The New York Times Company.
Correction: Feb. 15
A previous version of the article “Women’s conference speaks against stereotypes in workforce” incorrectly spelled the name of Maria Vertkin. It also misspelled S.H.E. Globl Media Inc.