Audrey Steinkamp

On Friday, the Yale School of Management hosted Fempire: The Yale Conference on Women, Technology and Power, drawing around 120 visitors eager to learn about the role of women in business.

The conference comes one year after the SOM hosted PeriodCon — a conference focused on the business and policy of menstruation — and marks the beginning of a new era of the SOM’s involvement in conversations surrounding women in business, according to conference co-chair Dasha Slavina SOM ’19. The brainchild of Slavina and Lauren Motzkin ’12 SOM ’19, Fempire explored the ways businesses affect the lives of women through policies, advocacy and a critical evaluation of the spaces businesses fill in society. The conference featured a series of keynote addresses and panels.

“We really wanted Fempire to be a conference for everybody,” Slavina said. “We were really proud that a lot of men ended up attending and were a part of the conversation that we think will be hugely impactful in the community from here on out.”

The day began with opening remarks from University Title IX Coordinator and Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler, who talked about Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational institutions, and explained why the law is essential to ensure equal opportunities for women in universities.

Following Spangler’s remarks, Ann Olivarius ’77 SOM ’86 LAW ’86, a founding partner at the McAllister Olivarius law firm, delivered the morning keynote speech that focused on how society can end sexual violence and gender inequality. She highlighted her own experience fighting against sexual harassment throughout her Yale career, but emphasized the work that still needs to be done to end “gender violence” in higher education and subsequently achieve gender equality in all sectors.

The afternoon program included panels on data, advocacy and business as well as an interactive conversation about gender, education and a period during which young people wait to have children to pursue career and other self-development opportunities.. Ann Tobias SOM ’20 said that she felt empowered by the conference panelists’ speeches and was thankful that she was able to attend the event.

“I feel really lucky to be a part of an organization that has the time for speakers to share their expertise,” Tobias said. “I’m walking away feeling different about my fertility and walking away with the knowledge of my own potential for leadership.”

Tobias also praised the inclusivity of the conference and stressed the importance of continuing to work against gender discrimination in all settings.

Other attendees also told the News that they left the conference feeling uplifted and inspired, noting the diversity of the speakers as a highlight. According to Slavina, speaker diversity was another goal the Fempire team had for the conference, as strong expert opinions from multiple perspectives create dialogue that is “more organic.”

Motzkin added that because she and Slavina had the opportunity to widen the scope of this year’s conference compared to last year’s, they were able to open the dialogue on more issues that usually remain undiscussed.

“We came together to continue this trend of having these hard and irreverent, almost critical conversations about what it means to be a woman in society more broadly,” Motzkin said. “We changed the topic [from last year’s conference], but we wanted to keep the same empowering tone.”

Both co-chairs confirmed that this year’s conference was only the beginning of what will become more of a “franchise” of conversations surrounding the role of women and women’s empowerment, noting that there will be a second FempireCon held next year, led by a different group of people.

Looking to next year’s conference, Motzkin said she hopes that the framework this year’s conference created will allow next year’s leadership to focus the event on a socially prevalent issue that they are passionate about.

“I don’t know what the next year is going to bring, but something that immediately comes to mind is that we will be embarking on the presidential race with a lot of female candidates,” Motzkin said. “But I hope whoever takes it over will make it their own and think about what is important to them — what gets them fired up.”

2019 is the 50th anniversary of coeducation in Yale College and the 150th of the graduate school.

Audrey Steinkamp | serenacho@yale.edu