Event Recap: The White House Summit on the United State of Women 2016
By: Johanna Pulgarin
Our progress has been the result of countless ordinary women and men whose names will never be written into the history books or chiseled on monuments, but who dedicated their lives to ensuring that America lives up to its promise of liberty and justice for all.
- President Barack Obama at the White House Summit on the United State of Women
We were honored to attend the White House Summit on the United State of Women 2016. With hundreds of speakers spread out throughout the day, lots of exhibitions and solution seminars, and 5,000 excited attendees, the Walter E. Washington Convention Center was buzzing.
The day’s discussions included topics such as health and wellness, violence against women, the economic empowerment of women, entrepreneurship and innovation, education, civil engagement, and leadership. In the massive hall where the day’s most recognizable speakers took the stage, the tables shook with the power and urgency behind their words.
“There’s not a single, solitary thing that a man can do that a woman cannot do as well,” boomed Vice President Joe Biden. He spoke passionately about rape culture, sexual assault on campuses and the need to step up to norms that turn a blind eye to the degradation of women. “Change happens one person at a time.”
With the tragic events of the Orlando shooting only days before the summit, the urgency for an end to violence against minorities, including women and the LGBT community, was palpable. Mariska Hargitay, Founder and President of the Joyful Heart Foundation, said, “Deep cultural change is not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take enough people in enough communities deciding that enough is enough.”
But in contrast, there were many, many inspiring moments that reminded us that when things can change, women can come out on top. In a panel featuring Warren Buffett on investing in women with Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women and their 10,000 Small Businesses program, three graduates of the program shared their stories of success in business when they were simply given the opportunity.
[Ellevate Insight: How do Ellevate members invest in other women?]
“It’s amazing how you can pay it forward after someone invests in you,” said Ayo Megbope, one of the 10,000 Small Businesses graduates, CEO of catering company No Left Overs Nigeria, and owner of two restaurants specializing in Nigerian cuisine. “When I met others in the program, I found out I was surrounded by women just like myself, with similar struggles and businesses."
The topic of entrepreneurship and investing in women continued with a panel moderated by Mary Kay Henry, President of SEIU, who put it frankly: “If we’re going to transform the economy, we have to invest in the work women do.” Other entrepreneurs who took the stage included four of the finalists of the Tory Burch Foundation Fellows program, accompanied by remarks from Tory Burch via a film (Tory was attending her sons’ high school graduation - proof that sometimes working moms have to make tough decisions about how to balance work events and family time!)
11-year-old Mikaila Ulmer, Founder & CEO of Me & the Bees Lemonade got to introduce one of the most anticipated speakers of the day, but not before sharing some bits of wisdom on entrepreneurship herself.
“My advice to anyone looking to start a business is simple,” she said, barely tall enough to look over her podium. “Be fearless, believe in the impossible, and dream like a kid.”
Some professional speakers could learn a thing or two from the ease in which Mikaila introduced President Barack Obama, who came on stage and gave her a big hug. Just like the rest of the audience, he was impressed.
“What an amazing young lady. I will be back on the job market in seven months, so I hope she is hiring,” he joked.
The President’s speech focused on the progress that the country has made in advancing the rights of women and gender equality, but in the same vein, noted that there was still plenty of work to be done.
“[Our progress] is real and we have to celebrate it, but we also have to remember that progress is not inevitable. It’s the result of decades of slow, tireless, often frustrating and unheralded work,” he said. He went on to name many women’s rights activists from history and today, including Rosa Parks, Gloria Steinem, and Lilly Ledbetter. The last name he mentioned was Michelle Obama, who received the most applause from the crowd.
“Together, we can build a world that’s more just and more prosperous and more free,” the President concluded. “That’s a job for all of us.”
[Read more: #FemaleRoleModel Series: Inspirational Women]
Later in the evening, the crowd was thrilled with a conversation between Oprah Winfrey and First Lady Michelle Obama, who sat and talked about self worth, knowing yourself and your value.
“Our first job in life as women is to get to know ourselves,” she said. “It takes taking the time to know who you are to be able to deal with the onslaught of negative messages you’re bound to get.”
The First Lady also shared advice on how to get what you’re worth at work by never settling, and stating clearly from the beginning what you need.
“I knew what my time and energy was worth,” she said about knowing her value and making it known at a job interview. “I think as women and young girls we have to invest the time in getting to understand who we are.”
Finally, when Oprah asked what she thought was the one thing we should take away from the Summit, Michelle said, “My hope is that people leave inspired and ready to do something. How are you going to be better? What are you going to change? How are you going to empower yourself with the knowledge to know what needs to be done?”
Learn more about the State of Women and how to get involved in their campaign here.
Photo: The United State of Women
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