WASHINGTON - Hundreds of young women chatted in excitement late last month as they waited to hear the experiences and advice of successful female business owners, lawyers and politicians.
Georgetown University hosted its seventh annual OWN IT Summit, a daylong conference that aims to bridge the gap between female leaders and college-age women. The day was filled with female-led panels and breakout sessions that addressed topics ranging from women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) to self-defense.
This year’s event began with a panel on changing workplace culture to be more gender-inclusive. Moderated by Georgetown University Law Center professor Dr. Jamillah Williams, panelists Maya Raghu, Jessica Grounds and Patricia Porter shared their thoughts on the current state of workplace cultures.
The panel encouraged young women to “see if there is concern within the company to make room for innovation” and to “listen to their gut” when applying for jobs.
“It may not feel like that at certain points in your life, or early on in your career,” said Raghu, the director of workplace equality and senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center. “But you are and can be a leader and you have the power and the ability to sort of transform your job workplace or community.”
Spreading these messages to young women has been the mission of the OWN IT Summit since its founding in 2014. OWN IT was started by Georgetown students Helen Brosnan and Kendall Ciesemier to address the leadership gap and provide young women with an opportunity to connect with female leaders.
“We believe that by creating this space our speakers can give real advice on how to navigate the complicated road to leadership as a woman to the next generation of leaders,” Emma Turner, the executive director of OWN IT, said.
However, OWN IT isn’t just having a big impact on Georgetown students. The summit is now being held at eight other schools and has cultivated a diverse network of female students and leaders.
“It's so important for women to come together to talk about the challenges we still have, what we need to do to get to the next level,” said Grounds, the co-founder of Mine the Gap, an organization that trains industries and organizations to create and sustain gender-inclusive environments.
Georgetown sophomore Aida Ross, who attended and volunteered for the event, said OWN IT is “a great opportunity for young women to meet amazing people.” While attending the event last year, she met a panelist who later became her mentor.
“I think [OWN IT] really stood out to me because it shows how much of an impact that conferences like this have on young girls,” Ross said. “It creates a dialogue surrounding women's participation and highlights role models for strong female leadership.”
To its leadership team, the OWN IT Summit is thought to have a strong connection to International Women’s Day, which is Sunday. International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and calls for increasing gender parity around the world.
“Women face challenges, but women have conquered them,” Turner said. “OWN IT celebrates the potential and great impact that women already have in our world."