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Women's Leadership Conference 2019: Highlights

The 2019 Georgia Tech Women's Leadership Conference was held on March 2nd at the Historic Academy of Medicine. The conference first began in the winter of 1998 as a means to celebrate, recognize, and learn more about the strong leadership exhibited by the women of the Georgia Tech community.

Today, the conference remains a gathering of women who have sought to become leaders in the classroom and the boardroom as well as the communities where they reside. The one-day conference offers workshops, speakers and discussions aimed at training women leaders on area campuses and in the Atlanta community.

Missed the Women's Leadership Conference? Here are the highlights of each hour.

8:30-9:30: Check In/Breakfast

We fill our plates with heaping piles of meaty scrambled eggs and buttery biscuits. The chatter in the banquet hall is enunciated with introductions:


“Is this seat taken?”

“Yeah, I’m a biochemistry Masters student!”

9:30: Welcome & Introduction

Committee Chair, Daniella Noronha takes the stage. She opens the ceremony by asking each and every one of us to recognize and consider how we occupy the space of an indigenous tribes land. She urges us to be mindful of this throughout the conference and in effect be respectful of the space.

“Wow”, someone whispers from the row behind me. I nod in agreement. Thank you for the acknowledgment, Daniella.

We are then promptly reminded of the theme of the conference: ‘I Will’.


“I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else’s whim or to someone else’s ignorance.” - Bell Hooks


10:00 - 11:00: Workshop Session I

A sea of women clad in their finest business casuals filter into one of the three designated spaces for the first round of workshops. In this first hour, they include:

1. High-Key Balance for the Low-Key Adult by Alexis Weber

A commentary on Alexis’ experiences and struggles with finding balance while wanting to have it all. A phenomenon that I struggle with practically every day.

Alexis shares her realisations on getting the most out of life and tips to support her learnings. Alexis graduated from Tech in 2013 with a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering and now works as the Global Senior Analyst at The Coca Cola Company.

While it would have been quite on-brand for me to have gone to this talk I deliberately chose to branch out and attend a different one.

2. Who’s Got Your Back by Adria Perez and Sarah Nell-Walsh

The duo discussed how they leveraged the power of the mentor and sponsor relationship into workplace advancement. I momentarily considered attending this as I am actively seeking ways to enhance my relationships with my mentors. Yet once again I chose to try on a different topic for size.

What was particularly interesting though, was how they intended to clarify the differences between sponsors and mentors - an important distinction and one I urge you to look into.

3. Challenging Respectability Politics by Dr. Susana Morris

This was the workshop I chose to attend for the sake of learning something new. Dr. Morris began by highlighting the definition of Respectability Politics, which refers to the rules and norms that marginalised people must adhere to in order to earn respect in mainstream culture.

What did this mean? It meant policing appearances, speech, emotions, and sexuality not only to earn respect for oneself but to avoid undermining the holistic image of the marginalised group one belonged to.

What did respectability politics look and sound like to the audience?

“You act white”

“You’re an oreo”

“You can’t go to the career fair with your full afro”

“Be nice”

“Adhere to patriarchal culture”

Dr. Morris effectively held out a mirror, provoking us to reflect: did we succumb to respectability politics in our daily lives? Who were we putting on a show for?

She then walked us through guided discussions of everyday steps we could take to live as our authentic selves.


“You might as well be you because people are going to be mad anyway.”


11:05 - 12:05: Workshop Session II

1. The Changing Face of Public Sector Leadership by Mary Peterman

Mary currently serves as the Deputy Chief for the Finance and Procurement Office for the Administrative Office of the United States Courts. She discussed the transformational public sector leadership in the news and chatted about its challenges along with the generational and demographic changes that we are experiencing.

2. Protecting Black Women and Girls: A Conversation on Sexual Violence by Venkayla Haynes

Venkayla discussed violence against Black women and girls historically and currently and how we go about advocating for and protecting and supporting Black women and girls.

3. Confidence by Korinna Hirsch

Korinna led a candid discussion with a subtheme of women's advances in the 2018 midterm elections to provide the audience with over a dozen strategies to move closer to living their lives with greater confidence. These were the strategies:

  • Leave your comfort zone

  • Find your people

  • Criticism is not the enemy

  • Self affirm

  • Give yourself credit

  • Stop judging your appearance

  • Use your body language

  • Meditation

  • Commit to final decisions

  • Choose your words wisely

12:05 - 1:15: Lunch and Networking Fair

I spent lunch eating my pimento cheese sandwich, munching on chips and fangirling over Kate Gunderson, an Aircraft Operations Division Aerospace Engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. You know - the one from ‘Houston we have a problem.”

She won the Outstanding Graduate Woman of Distinction Award in 2018 and came back for the 2019 conference from Houston. We bonded over a shared love for Aerospace and blogging.

1:15 - 1:30: Awards Ceremony

After lunch and networking, I slipped into the Awards Ceremony and sat next to my co-workers from the Center for Academic Success. I had nominated my boss and mentor for an Outstanding Staff Woman of Distinction Award and was incredibly emotional over her win.

"Savitra manages the daily operations essential to the continued success of the Tutoring Center and hires, trains and supervises the 1-to-1 tutors and student assistants. She has been a continued source of strength to me as a mentor and a boss for the past 5 semesters I have worked at the Center for Academic Success. She takes a particular interest in the well-being of her employees and their ensured growth and success through this job. My job entails doing desk work and office errands for the Center for Academic Success (CAS) but because of Savitra I can honestly say that I have experienced growth in every aspect of life. Whether it be instilling qualities like being on time, having integrity, customer service skills, being reliable and cultivating a strong work ethic Savitra has taught and mentored me through the many ups and downs. She has changed my 'maybe's' to "I Will". I hope she is recognized for the impact that she has on the thousands of students that come in for tutoring at CAS and receive excellent service because of her leadership and how she mentors the tutors and student assistants."

1:30 - 2:30: Keynote Panel

Our moderator was Jasmine Burton, a Georgia Tech Industrial Design Grad. Her claim to fame was Wish for WASH, LLC - a social impact startup intended to bring innovation to sanitation. Burton led Wish for WASH in conducting iterative toilet innovation pilots and research in Kenya, Zambia, Uganda, Ethiopia and in an Atlanta-based resettled refugee community. She has represented Wish for WASH in a number of media outlets including CNN Money, Inc., WIRED, Fast Company, WSBTV, and TEDxAtlanta. Needless to say - she is incredibly impressive.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the conversation that she facilitated:

“Don’t ask the world what it needs but what makes you come alive.”

“Your brand is how you make people feel.”

“I was on Oprah.”

“Follow an instinct, a niche.”

“Do what you say you are going to do.”

“Understand what support looks like. You don't have to keep toxic friends. Just because you knew them in high school or college doesn't mean anything.”

“Find people that will lift you.”

“Dear friends, cheerlead.”

“Curiosity and anger can’t coexist - flip the script.”

“When I don't get it right it teaches me what road I need to take”

2:45 - 3:45: Workshop Session III

1. Princess Rising by Cara Yar Khan

A discussion of the impact of female role models for both young girls and adult women.

2. Raising a Riot! Print and Digital ‘Zine Making by Renne Shelby

A workshop on finding your voice and expressing it by pushing the boundaries of print and digital mediums.

3. A Simple Switch: The Importance of Inclusive Language by Kate Curnow

Inclusive language seeks to treat all people with dignity, respect, and impartiality. This session sought to consider the implications of the words and phrases that have long gone unchallenged.

It taught me to consciously use they/them instead of just he/his or she/hers.

3:45 - 4:00: Closing


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