An astronaut, a crisis communicator and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist all sat onstage in Lohrfink Auditorium on Saturday. Along with 25 other leaders, the unusual group shared common experiences and advice as women in leadership roles from a wide variety of fields.
Georgetown University Women in Leadership brought these 28 leaders to campus for the group’s inaugural Own It Summit. The all-day event focused on helping women gain knowledge and leadership skills and empowering them to succeed.
“We created [the summit] when we realized that there is an actual need to connect with these female leaders that exist right now and learn from their experiences, learn what they’re going through and how they got there,” Summit Co-Chair Helen Brosnan (SFS ’16) said at the start of the event.
The summit, sponsored by Bloomberg LP, is the biggest event that GUWIL has held and marks one year of the organization’s presence on campus. It was the first conference of its kind at Georgetown.
“I think about the really accomplished women that I went to Georgetown with, and how we would have loved a summit like this. … I’m so glad to see that the women here at Georgetown have conceived this and there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s going to grow,” said Norah O’Donnell (COL ’95, GRD ’03), co-anchor of “CBS This Morning,” in an interview after speaking at the summit.
Poet Azure Antoinette presented a poem dedicated to the students who planned the summit at the start of the event.
“The fact that there’s all of this empathy and this desire and want to do something now, I think is just mind-blowing. It says so much about millennials. It says so much about how much we want to affect change and be a part of the undercurrent,” Azure said in an interview with The Hoya.
During the first keynote presentation, Kara Swisher (SFS ’84), a technology columnist for the Wall Street Journal, interviewed former CEO and Chairman of America Online Steve Case and Case Foundation CEO Jean Case. Their conversation focused on technology’s growing role in igniting social change and the part that women play in helping to create this change.
“Women are not lacking for ideas and I’m really excited about the future because … I actually think it comes more naturally to women to figure out how to solve these problems than it does to men,” Jean Case said. “That may be a bias … but the most important thing is making the fearless ask.”
Washington Post journalist Mary Jordan (CAS ’83) interviewed Dee Dee Myers, who served as the first-ever female White House press secretary during the first two years of President Bill Clinton’s (SFS ’68) administration, for the second keynote presentation. The two discussed the ways in which being a woman impacted Myers’ career.
“I think there’s much less room for [public] mistakes,” Myers said. “There are certain assumptions that make the threshold for making a mistake and recovering from it higher [for women].”
After the presentation, the summit’s coordinators presented Myers with the Own It Award. She was selected to receive this recognition both because of her exemplary leadership qualities and her status as a pioneer in her field.
In addition to the keynote presentations, there were four panel discussions throughout the day featuring female leaders in the fields of business, media, politics and STEM. During these dialogues, panelists shared their personal experiences of working in their respective fields and offered advice for overcoming some of the challenges that they have faced as female leaders.
“For me, in terms of working and focusing on the work, is deciding early on, as a woman, the kinds of things that are important to you. … Things like ethics and values and hard work, and deciding what kinds of issues you’d like to get behind,” Judy Smith, a crisis manager who served as the inspiration for Olivia Pope of “Scandal,” said during the politics panel.
During the media panel, speakers advised young women to be tenacious as they begin their careers.
“There are a ton of people who are really smart, as smart as you. … What really makes the difference is drive, almost obsessive drive. If you have that quality, employers tend to notice it, maybe exploit it a little, but you tend to get somewhere,” New York Times Washington Bureau Chief and Political Editor Carolyn Ryan said.
Hannah Sullivan (COL ’14), who attended the summit, said that this advice both impacted her and inspired her.
“After listening to the media panel, a lot of what we were hearing was this push for tenacity and this push for perseverance and for working really hard, so I think that was inspiring to see that you will have to put in this hard work, but it will get you somewhere,” Sullivan said.
Throughout the day, attendees also broke out into experiential sessions. These small workshops ranged in topic from salary negotiation strategies to exploring the role of women of color in leadership. Additionally, several speakers held office hours during which they engaged in open conversations with attendees.
Anna Lignell (COL ’17) attended a workshop that focused on networking strategies.
“The advice that has stuck the most with me is to not be afraid to put yourself out there, because what’s the worst that’s going to happen?” Lignell said.
Journalist Maria Shriver (CAS ’77), the former first lady of California, gave a brief presentation at the start of the summit urging women to be leaders in all aspects of life.
In an interview, Shriver said that she felt that she cultivated many of the qualities that are necessary for leadership during her time at Georgetown.
“I think that’s ethics, I think that’s values, being able to see the world as a bigger place than just you,” Shriver said. “Everybody who goes into work, you’re faced with decisions along the way. … You’re constantly asked in life to make decisions and I think this institution does a good job of talking to you about what’s ethical, what’s moral, what’s right, what is social justice, how to look at the world in a bigger way than just yourself.”
Moving forward, GUWIL has plans to consolidate pre-existing efforts to promote women in leadership at Georgetown. The group hopes to continue its partnership with the university.
O’Donnell said that she believes the world is at a tipping point when it comes to female leaders, pointing out the disproportionate representation of women in Congress and the Supreme Court.
“I think that the 21st century is going to be the century for women and girls,” O’Donnell said. “Tom Brokaw first coined that phrase that the 21st century is going to be the century for women. And I completely agree with him. I think it’s the cause of our generation: the empowerment of women and girls.”
Hoya Staff Writers D.J. Angelini and Emma Hinchliffe contributed reporting.