Courtesy of Gabrielle Roman

For the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Yale Women’s Leadership Initiative hosted their annual Women’s Empowerment Conference in person.

The conference — which took place in Luce Hall on April 1 — has the mission of empowering women on Yale’s campus and beyond to take on leadership roles in the workplace. The event consisted of speeches by Anita Otubu and Marta Moret SPH ’84, panels and interactive career-building workshops. 

“The purpose of the conference is to empower women and create an environment where we can lift each other up,” said Sofia Jacobson ’26, a conference committee member. “Through speakers and workshops, we allow guests to experience firsthand what it means to be a woman leader and what it feels like to be supported by female peers.”

While the conference was open to Yale students, organizers hoped to reach beyond the University’s campus and attract attendees from the broader tri-state area, conference co-director Gabrielle Roman ’25 told the News.

The event kicked off at 10 a.m. with a LinkedIn headshot shooting session in the Luce Hall common area. Throughout the day, the conference hosted panels on women’s paths in various professional industries. Speakers included women working in fields such as entrepreneurship, health, law, government, entertainment, technology and finance. 

“It is so great to be able to bring together women of all different careers and backgrounds from all over the world to Yale’s campus,” Roman said. “We hope to give attendees confidence in themselves and their careers and to help them visualize a life beyond graduation from college.”

In addition to panels, the event also staged two interactive workshops.

The first was a personal branding workshop hosted by Marielle Legair, LinkedIn top voice 2023 and a LinkedIn learning instructor. Award winning author, physician and life coach Marcea Whitaker taught the second workshop, called “Finding Your X-Factor.”

Both Roman and Jacobson said that the interactive workshops were a highlight of the day.

“The workshops were the most interactive part of the conference,” Jacobson told the News. “It was really amazing to be able to learn firsthand from these really amazing female leaders, and to be able to have discussions with them and ask them questions directly.”

After a brief lunch break, Anita Obutu— lawyer and senior director of Sustainable Energy for All — delivered the keynote speech of the conference.

Obutu kicked off her speech with a general history of women in leadership roles, and then shifted to examine her own career and offer advice to her audience.

“I encourage you to follow two principles which have guided me as a mother, lawyer, and sustainable energy advocate,” Obutu said in her keynote address. “These principles are staying committed to the process and always believing that you are deserving of your success.”

While both Jacobson and Roman described the event as an overall success, they also emphasized the difficult transition to an in-person conference after four years online.

Because the last in-person Women’s Empowerment Conference took place in 2019, there was not a single current member of the WLI board who had experience putting on a live conference, Roman explained. She pointed to difficulties in funding and venue acquisition, as well as an overall uncertainty as to how large an audience an in-person conference would draw.

“Even given the logistical difficulties, my co-director and I ultimately felt that it was really important to have a fully in-person event,” Roman said. “It’s so much harder to craft that feeling of community and empowerment through a virtual format. And I’m so glad that we made the choice we did.”

WLI organizers hope to continue the in-person format of the Women’s Empowerment Conference in coming years. Roman added that, ideally, the conference will begin to draw a larger audience and situate itself within a larger venue as people become more comfortable with pre-pandemic conference formats.

With a bigger audience, Roman and Jacobson explained, the conference’s mission of women’s empowerment can have broader-reaching implications.

“I’m really grateful to go to WLI meetings every week and have empowering feminist conversations,” Jacobson said. “The conference is a chance to bring this dialogue to the broader Yale community, the broader New Haven community and even the broader world.”

Women first matriculated into Yale College in 1969. 

Molly Reinmann covers Admissions, Financial Aid & Alumni for the News. Originally from Westchester, New York, she is a sophomore in Berkeley College majoring in American Studies.