ownit
Photo: Photo from Own It UPenn

A group of female students has organized Penn’s first OWN IT Summit, a women’s leadership conference designed to connect college-age women to female leaders.

The event, “completely open” to anyone who purchases a ticket, features an all-female cast of speakers — including former Pennsylvania senatorial candidate Katie McGinty and New York Times Associate Digital Editor Jazmine Hughes — who are business owners and leaders in their professional fields. It will be held on March 25 in Meyerson Hall.

The conference will host four “main stage” speaker panels to discuss the role of women in different arenas, such as politics and media, as well as themes that apply to women in the workplace regardless of field. In between the panels, the 50 speakers will separate into break-away sessions and “office hours,” allowing attendees to speak with the panelists about career specifics and issues in a “more intimate” setting due to the capped attendance.

OWN IT UPenn Co-Executive Chair and College senior Anna Rosenfeld said that while she noticed a community of students and women on campus who think about women as leaders and diversity in the workplace, she noticed a lack of activity on campus regarding female empowerment.

“It is important on any campus but I have definitely found that, as impressive as the women on this campus are, there is not a lot of conversation about female leadership,” Rosenfeld said. “We obviously have a female president of the University. Our student body president is a woman — our last three student body presidents have been women — but I just don’t think there’s enough active conversation about empowering women to be leaders in our fields.”

The board designed the event with the tenants of “accessibility, diversity, and embracing feminism” in mind, Rosenfeld said.

Both she and College junior Natasha Galperin, also co-executive chair of OWN IT UPenn, wanted the speakers to be as representative as possible of the different identities and the varied professional aspirations women have at Penn. Rosenfeld explained that what she called the “typical” professional fields at Penn that are promoted by campus culture — business and finance — are traditionally “male-dominated” and are not representative of all students’ professional interests.

Penn Women’s Center Director Litty Paxton assisted Rosenfeld and Galperin in bringing their ideas for the conference into fruition. Through regular meetings, Paxton worked with the pair to iron out all of the details involved with putting on a major event on campus and to ensure that the conference was inclusive and representative of all identities.

From “day one” the OWN IT board has worked to “make sure that this is a conference that’s going to have a broad appeal and that brings in a diverse group of speakers that addresses a diverse set of issues,” Paxton said.

One of the things Paxton addressed with the board was the OWN IT logo used for previous conferences. The logo features a silhouette of a thin woman with straight hair and her hands on her hips, which Paxton called a “stereotypical” pose. After considering the identities that were “left out of the conversation” by being unrepresented in the logo, the OWN IT board decided to use a different one for the event featuring what Rosenfeld called “the female symbol,” the Venus astrological symbol commonly used to denote gender.

“We decided to go with the female symbol which we think is inclusive of people who identify as a woman in whatever that means to them and hopefully doesn’t make anyone feel excluded from the conference and the idea of a women’s conference,” she said.

Speakers co-chair and College senior Ayan Aidid said that the representation of “diversity in all realms” was a priority when choosing the speakers for the event. Both of the speakers co-chairs and other members of the board reached out to a diverse group of women who they felt personally inspired by or to whom they were referred by other members of the Penn community.

While Aidid said that she and the other speakers co-chair were in contact with “big names” within the non-cis and non-binary communities, they were ultimately unable to secure a speaker from those communities for the event. Aidid said that she hopes future conferences will include such speakers and that including LGBTQ women “has definitely been on the forefront” of speaker selection and the conference as a whole.

Rosenfeld hopes that the event’s diversity is recognizable and impactful for people attending the summit. She stressed the importance of embracing the intersectionality of feminism and challenges conference goers to learn about ideas of feminism “beyond themselves,” especially in the work place.

“Feminism, especially now, is such a broad term and it’s really easy, I think, to pigeon-hole ourselves into feminism that fits our own identities,” Rosenfeld said. “I hope that every student leaves feeling like they learned something and that they gained some perspective on their feminism. Even someone who already feels like an ardent feminist can challenge themselves and learn something new.”

The OWN IT Summit was created by two female Georgetown University students in order to “address the leadership gap” present in the workforce, according to their mission statement. Rosenfeld and Galperin were both connected to the summit’s founders and decided to bring the event to Penn’s campus in between their freshman and sophomore years.

All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.