David Zheng

The halls of the Omni New Haven Hotel filled with the sounds of clacking heels and chatter as hundreds congregated for the 11th annual Women Empowering Women conference on Saturday.

The conference, hosted by the Yale Women’s Leadership Initiative, invites women from the Yale and New Haven communities to participate in conversations about “what it means to be a young woman and a female leader” in today’s world, according to the conference program. Female leaders from across the country came to Yale to share their diverse experiences and advice through a combination of panels, speeches and networking events. Conference co-directors Susan Chen ’20 and Avery Arena ’21 told the News that events like the conference are important for young female leaders because they bring accomplished women together and create empowering connections.

“I hope events like this will continue the conversation and extend the dialogue,” Chen said. “It’s so much more powerful to meet women face to face. It’s not just an uplifting comment on social media. It’s different to meet and hold a real conversation.”

In an opening address from the co-directors, Arena said that this year’s conference was especially well timed because this year marks the 50th anniversary of the co-education of the University.

After the remarks, attendees broke into different meeting rooms to attend the first round of panels on women in finance, activism and STEM. Each panel lasted for one hour, beginning with moderator questions and ending with an open Q&A session.

In the women in activism panel, President of the American Civil Liberties Union Susan Herman called on audience members to work to promote change in the lives of all women.

“I encourage all you activists not to stop working and say, ‘Well this doesn’t apply directly to me,’” Herman said. “There are women all over the country and all over our world who will benefit from your activism.”

Immediately following the first panel session, a second began focusing on women in government, entrepreneurship, medicine and health care. Leader of the state Republican House Caucus Themis Klarides, R-Orange, spoke about the distinction between human issues and “female issues” during the women in government panel. Alongside her co-panelists — state Rep. Caroline Simmons, D-Stamford, and Yale political science faculty member Andrea Aldrich — the three agreed that they did not want to be known as “a good female leader” but just “a good leader.”

At the conclusion of the second panel, attendees were invited back to the grand ballroom where a boxed lunch was served before Rachel Vogelstein — top counselor to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her 2008 and 2016 presidential campaigns — delivered the keynote address.

Vogelstein, who is also the Douglas Dillon senior fellow and director of the Women and Foreign Policy program at the Council on Foreign Relations, highlighted the changing role of women in today’s society. She encouraged the audience to continue fighting for the rights of women through education and policy change, reminding them that the challenges they will face are “not insurmountable.”

“There has never been a better time in history in which to be born female,” Vogelstein said. “We are changing laws to protect human rights, not just women’s rights.”

After the keynote address, conference attendees broke into the final panel sessions on women in law, media and academia. On the media panel, Tema Staig, executive director of Women in Media, said that it was a challenge for her to rise in her career field because of her gender, but that change begins when people start “seeing women do things they didn’t think women could do.”

The day concluded with a networking session.

After the event, Arena, one of the co-directors, spoke to the event’s success.

“I was inspired by the sheer number of women who are dedicated enough to come to an event like this,” she said. “Even when there’s so much negativity in the news, this seemed a really positive way to uplift women.”

The Yale Women’s Leadership Initiative was founded in 2006.

Audrey Steinkamp | audrey.steinkamp@yale.edu