For keynote speaker and Women For Hire CEO Tory Johnson, the “biggest party in Pennsylvania” could be found yesterday at the corner of 12th and Arch streets.
Over 5,000 women gathered at the Philadelphia Convention Center at the ninth annual Pennsylvania Conference for Women, where Johnson spoke. The all-day event brought influential women from all across the country to speak and lead seminars about issues important to women.
Leslie Stiles, a 1967 College graduate and current president of the board, founded the conference nine years ago to “inspire, motivate and educate women.”
Past speakers include PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, retired Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor, actress Mia Farrow and Olympic athlete Marion Jones.
This year’s all-star lineup included Arianna Huffington, president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post; Charlotte Beers, former Undersecretary of State and “The Most Powerful Woman in Advertising”; Barbara Bradley Baekgaard, the co-founder of Vera Bradley and Ed Rendell, the former governor of Pennsylvania.
The conference featured an exhibition room with over 150 businesses and services meaningful to women, a Career Pavilion offering opportunities for women to network and have their resumes critiqued and a Health & Wellness Pavilion focused on educating women about maintaining healthy lifestyles.
During the Keynote Luncheon, guest speakers touched on a variety of issues relevant to women.
Stiles encouraged the women in the room to celebrate the fact that during the Olympics this past summer, “we were a nation defined by the strength of our women,” where, for the first time in history, the number of female athletes surpassed that of male athletes.
Yet, despite the reasons to celebrate recent advances by women, Stiles also urged her audience, “Don’t take your eye off the ball. Please, learn from this conference. Walk away energized and empowered to make change.”
“[Women] will be a pivotal force, if not the pivotal force, in this coming presidential election,” she said. “If I leave you with one word, it’s going to be ‘vote.’ If you don’t like the education your child is getting, vote. If you feel unfairly treated in the workplace, vote. If you struggle to afford health care, vote.”
Governor Rendell echoed this idea in his speech. “There is still work to be done.” As for his presence as a prominent male figure at a women’s conference, the governor expressed his belief that “women’s issues are everybody’s issues,” and that “we need to unlock the power of women if we are going to stay competitive as an economic power.”
In her speech, Huffington empathized with many of the women sitting before her. “The fear of failure is the biggest fear women face,” she said. She also shared a piece of advice from her own mother, who said, “Failure is not the opposite of success; it is a stepping stone to success.”
Huffington encouraged women to “redefine success” in their professional lives and to stop following the male definition of the word. She emphasized that success for women may not necessarily be defined by becoming the CEO of a company or climbing up the social ladder. “I want women to do whatever makes them happiest,” she said.
College freshman Sheila Shankar attended last year’s conference where Gloria Steinem, a renowned feminist, was a keynote speaker. “[The conference] motivated me to really pursue my passion,” said Shankar, who intends to minor in Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies.
The conference left women feeling inspired and empowered, staying true to the ideals and theme of this year’s conference, “Imagine.”
“Just imagine the difference we can make tomorrow,” Stiles said as she ended her speech. “Just imagine.”