By Jacqueline Twillie, @JVTWILLIE
Is it possible to be star-struck, inspired, energized, appreciative, and make history in the same day?
Welcome to the first annual United State of Women Summit.
Hosted by the White House, the event convened 1-thousand women, yours truly included, and it featured a who’s who of speakers in celebration of the achievements of women. Among the speakers we’re President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Oprah Winfrey, and Lilly Ledbetter.
The goal, however, was to not only to recognize how far women have come. But also, to campaign for the advancement of gender equality on several issues - including violence against women, healthcare, economics, education and business.
Below are my key takeaways from the United State of Women Summit.
Violence Against Women
Vice President Joe Biden delivered an emotional speech on ridding society of rape and gender-based violence. He told the audience violence against women is an epidemic, especially at universities where recent findings suggest 1 in 5 women have experienced some sort of sexual assault. Biden suggested to change the culture all of us must take a stand, men included. “It’s ultimately about the abuse of power,” he said. “It’s all about power.”
Call to action: Talk about it. Address violence on college campuses. Move past the shaming culture of sexual violence victims.
Health & Wellness
It was hard to think of anything else after the Vice President's emotional talk, but Connie Britton, the star of the hit show Nashville, lifted the audience spirits by celebrating the recent advances in women's health made possible by the Affordable Care Act.
Despite the progress, women’s health and wellness does not get the attention it should. Britton strongly emphasized this highlighting the issue of unpaid maternity leave and it's effect on mothers. I'm in agreement with Britton. Nothing about that is right. The the only way to enter the world is through a woman’s body; therefore, shouldn't our policy makers do their upmost to ensure women's health and wellbeing is a priority?
Call to action: Fight against policies and laws that take women’s healthcare rights away.
The first bill that President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Act. To provide some context, Ms. Ledbetter is crusader for pay equity. After discovering she was being underpaid for decades as a supervisor for a Goodyear plant in Alabama, she took her case before the surpreme court and eventually won.
Ms. Ledbetter joined a panel of hardworking women who simply want to be paid the same as their male counterparts. Among the speakers were Charmaine Davis, Betzaida Ventura, Kevin Burton. and Mary Kay Henry. Each shared their personal experiences in the workforce and provided their insights on how policies and organizations can level the playing field to earn pay equity. Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom also took to the stage to remind us of her departement's commitment to women both domestically and abroad by outlining the goals President Obama has set.
Speaking of President Obama, he too had a thing or two to discuss on the issue of economic empowerment. The crowd erupted in cheers throughout his address, but especially when he made the following remarks;
"Our country is not just about the Benjamin’s," Obama said. "It's about the Tubman’s, too."
"If we really want workplace policies that work for everybody, I will say, though, it would help if we had more women in Congress."
"I may be a little grayer than I was eight years ago, but this is what a feminist looks like."
The president also proudly referenced 28 Companies have pledged to end the Gender Wage Gap.
Call to Action - We must rally for increased workplace flexibility across all industries and increased women’s leadership in senior positions. It is profitable, and it’s just the right thing to do.
Entrepreneurship & Innovation
Women entrepreneurs like myself experience great joy from serving others. But in order to serve customers, make payroll, and purchase goods to operate our businesses, we need access to capital. The Tory Burch Foundation has introduced a fellowship program to spotlight women thriving and growing businesses and offers access to capital and mentorship. Programs like the Tory Burch fellowship is a blueprint to catapult more women entrepreneurs into positions of power. The impact of investing in women doesn’t stop with the ones who receive the funding, it spreads throughout the community.
Call to action: Support and invest in women owned businesses at every level, because when one woman succeeds the entire community succeeds.
Marley Dias, 12-years-old Founder of #1000BlackGirlBooks, walked on the large stage with so much confidence and swag it’s clear that she’s the boss and she’s making waves in the early education sphere.
She saw a problem; there were no books about girls who looked like her and she decided to make a difference. Together her family began collecting books about girls of color, and Dias generously shared those books with girls in her geographic area. Soon she'll take her cause national. She’s planning to roll out a campaign to all major cities in the U.S. While the're massive challenges facing the educational system, Dias showed me that solutions to the problem can be found in each of us.
Call to action: If you see a problem, be the solutionist!
Leadership & Civic Engagement
Towards the end of a day filled with speeches from powerful women, two of the most powerful women in the world graced the stage. First Lady Michelle Obama & Oprah engaged in an open conversation about confidence, power, and knowing your value.
Michelle referenced her time cramming a full week’s work into a part-time schedule as a lawyer, which was the catalyst for her embracing the value she delivered. She also referenced a time when she had no childcare and brought her kids to an interview for the top position at a University hospital. She said it showed that she would work hard and get the job done, but she required flexibility to do that.
She got the job because she was confident in her ability and she knew exactly what she wanted. As a salary negotiations career coach, I connected deeply with this portion of the conversation because many negotiations are lost when a woman does not embrace the value she adds to the organization through the work she’ll be paid to perform.
Before Your Go: Take A Stand for Women
It’s worth watching the videos on YouTube for continuous inspiration to keep fighting for women’s equality not only in the United States, but also across the world. However, don’t let it end with this article and the videos. Here's how you can take a stand and begin moving to solve one of the issues addressd at the United State of Women Summit. Check out my photo album of United State of Women Summit here.