This spring, Girls That Create intern Latee’ Wilburn had the opportunity to attend the California Conference for Women. Below is her recap of the event and valuable takeaways she learned from speakers such as Stacey Abrams, Ursula Burns, Dr. Jane Goodall, and more. Bonus, here is the 2021 Conference playlist on Spotify.
The California Conference for Women launched on March 4, four days before International Women’s Day. March is also Women’s History Month, making it the perfect time to celebrate woman leaders and promote women’s empowerment. Every keynote and breakout session was filled to the brim with compelling and inspirational woman leaders and speakers. There were also plenty of networking opportunities and career/personal development resources. Due to the pandemic, everything was virtual, but it did not water down or minimize the impact the conference offered.
The website design was very similar to a physical conference that we would attend pre-pandemic. The virtual landscape displayed multiple rooms and a help desk. These aspects may seem small, but it makes all the difference after a tiring year of being continuously online. It also made patrons like me feel more present and excited to see what opportunities and guidance we could receive from the experience.
During the first hour of the conference, patrons had plenty of experiences and resources to delve into at the virtual exhibit hall. Virtual pavilions catered to networking, career development, health and wellness, and technology. They also offered free resume reviews and career coaching on top of on-demand learning bursts. These bursts tackled topics that would help improve your workplace environment to remain happy and feel valued.
In addition to that, there was also a women’s marketplace to browse and identify small women-owned businesses. The services ranged from apparel and beauty to coaching and jewelry. After getting a full hour of utilizing the resources and skimming the marketplace, attendees were presented with the event’s first keynote speakers.
Morning Keynote Speakers
Ursula Burns has performed various powerful leaps within the business industry. She is the first Black woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and she is also a board director of Exxon, Mobil, Nestlé, and Uber. With her extensive experience in leadership, she shared what leaders need to do in trying times like these. Above all, she stated, “I just say to all companies’ Think about and focus on being flexible. The pandemic is teaching us we need to do this.”
Burns also talked about how others viewed her throughout her journey. She recounted a speaker in the 3rd grade praising her for her intelligence and informing her of “shortcomings.” The speaker told her that she had three major problems: black, poor, and a girl. Despite the speaker’s view of Burns’s identity, she knew who she was and was proud of it. She continued through life, performing strongly in her career, exceeding the expectations that others pushed on her along the way. Burns recalls that her most significant source of inspiration and wisdom came from her mother. She also offered these valuable pieces of wisdom:
- Your circumstances are not who you are. They only happen to be where you are.
- Success depends on whether you leave behind more than you take away.
- Don’t get distracted.
Dr. Jane Goodall
In the second part of the Morning Keynote session, Dr. Jane Goodall spoke. She is mainly known for her work with gorillas and primates, but her passions go beyond that. She is now raising awareness about environmental issues, such as global warming and jungle conservation. During the talk, she noted her humble beginnings and studying to be a secretary. However, Dr. Goodall’s goal was always to live among animals, learn from them, and write about them.
And from that dream came an even greater purpose. She is the founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, which advances Dr. Goodall’s vision to lead a conservation movement for the common good—one that builds on our connections to each other, our fellow species, and the natural world we all share. Dr. Goodall is also a UN Messenger of Peace. Throughout her session, she discussed what needs to be done by both individuals and large corporations to reduce the damage caused to the Earth.
“This one silver lining of this terrible pandemic, which has caused so much suffering, is that more and more people are understanding that we have, in many ways, brought this on ourselves, that it is desperately important that somehow we create a new, more respectful relationship with animals and nature,” she said.
Afternoon Keynote Speakers
The afternoon keynote speakers were Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give, and political leader Stacey Abrams. Thomas shared a few words about racial equality and how the impact of black literature can allow others to feel more empathy with other people that look different from them. Key points she made were: When reading a novel, the audience will no longer be themselves. They will be the protagonist, and in the case of black prose, that means they will be figuratively seeing the world through the lens of a black person.
Thomas also spoke on how her novel had this same effect, and fans cited how their book gave them a deeper look. It allowed them to look deeper into their prejudices and biases passed down through family history and perpetuated by society’s stereotypes. It gave them a different reality, the reality of a regular black person living in the United State’s tumultuous climate.
Stacey Abrams‘s address touched on similar sentiments. Abrams discussed her humble upbringing, working towards her dreams, and gave helpful insight for those at the start of their careers. When asked about fulfilling dreams and how to make your dreams come to fruition, she said, “The only responsibility you have is to understand why you succeeded and multiply it or understand why you didn’t succeed and solve for it. But we can’t let our fears edit our ambitions.” She also discussed how others’ comments did not deter her from her goal. She knew what she wanted and worked towards it consistently because she knew it was for her.
Abrams recalls that when she was getting ready to run for political office, some advised her to change hairstyles, lose weight, and get braces.
“They may have legitimate points,” said Abrams. “But to tell myself that I’m not prepared to serve because I don’t look like what people expect is not viable for me. So, part of my authenticity is just stubbornness. I’m not willing to wait to do what I think needs to be done, and that means I’ve got to accept who I am. Fundamentally if we don’t like ourselves, if we aren’t willing to be our whole selves, if we wait until we are perfect to act, then we never do anything. You don’t have to compromise your values or your authenticity.”
The California Women’s Conference was nothing short of uplifting and inspirational for me. Society often passes gender roles and restrictive positions onto women. People may think that’s in the past, but those ideas and expectations are still the reality. Many of us have witnessed our mothers conform to limited gender roles throughout their lives. In many cases, that meant self-sacrificing, giving up on your career, personal aspirations, and dream for yourself. Too often, we see women give up their self-care after becoming wives or mothers, making themselves the 5th or 6th thing on their priorities list.
But as the world is evolving, it can be daunting for young women like myself to measure up to certain expectations of themselves without factoring in other people’s views. For these reasons, the conference holds a more powerful message at large. It gave women space to dream and dream big while also receiving guidance from other women who have been there and sought after their purpose—permitting us to prioritize ourselves and choose ourselves every time.
The Women’s Conference was an excellent way for attendees to revitalize themselves, get a clear look at their goals and ambitions, and understand how to shoot for them fearlessly.
California Conference for Women
Written by Latee’ Wilburn
Images provided by California Conference for Women