The Office of Women and Gender Resources hosted its inaugural Women’s Leadership Symposium (WLS) in Charles Commons on Saturday. The event featured keynote speaker Lisa Ryu, associate director of the Federal Reserve.
The event also included a panel featuring Dean of Student Life Smita Ruzicka; Kimberly Noonan, cofounder of WindMIL, a company which is developing cancer treatments using cell therapy; and Aishah Alfadhalah, cofounder of Mera Kitchen Collective, which offers refugee chefs a place to cook in Baltimore.
Junior Sarah Condon, founder of WLS, opened the event by discussing the underrepresentation of women in corporate settings. According to Condon, only 21 percent of women are senior executives. She noted that these statistics are even lower for women of color.
“We know that women remain underrepresented in every part of corporate America, despite earning more college degrees than men for thirty years and counting,” she said. “How can we prepare ourselves to face these challenges that aren’t going to go away overnight? One way is to talk about the challenges we face, and to share our experiences and what we’ve learned from them with others.”
She went on to talk about how she saw this event as a chance for female students to network, meet mentors and learn to advocate for themselves.
“As female leaders, we do not talk enough about the challenges we face. But we definitely don’t talk enough about the successes we achieve.,” Condon said.
The event’s keynote speaker, Ryu, discussed her experiences as a woman working in government. Initially, she said that she hadn’t considered that she would be treated differently at the Federal Reserve.
“I never felt different because I’m an Asian woman. I never had that thought in my head. I always felt that I belonged. I have never doubted for a second that I belonged and never doubted for a second that my voice mattered,” she said.
However, Ryu noticed that many of her fellow female colleagues had different experiences at work, and rarely voiced their opinions. She recalled a meeting where she first noticed that one distinct difference between her male and female colleagues was where staffers chose to sit during meetings.
“I had a talk with all three female colleagues,” Ryu said. “Some of the smartest women I know of, they go and hide in the area that’s most invisible and then they open up their notebooks and start writing, look down and never look up.”
She said that she also noticed that women participated much less in workplace conversations than men. Ryu argued this tendency is not inherently in womens’ nature, but rather results from various life experiences.
“It raises questions really as to why women feel this way?” she asked. “Obviously, we are not born to feel this way. Yet, somehow there are a number of ways how these things in life happen and you become this way, even knowing that you went to one of the best universities or the best prep schools. So, what is it in your life experiences that prohibits you from being the best you can be?”
Ryu noted that it is important for women to voice their opinions during meetings and other areas of their jobs because this is a quintessential element of doing one’s job well.
“Often times I see women doubt themselves. But there are men who just talk and it doesn’t matter if they know the answer or not,” she said.
She encouraged female students to not doubt their abilities, especially in leadership roles.
“Don’t ever question you belong in a room full of other leaders,” she said. “You go into the room as if you own the place.”
Senior Samia Chugtai attended the event on Saturday. She appreciated that WLS made efforts to make this panel accessible to students from a variety of backgrounds and studies, as well as community members.
“They didn’t just invite Hopkins people. They invited different members of society, so it wasn’t very Hopkins-focused,” she said. “They tried to do different sectors – they did someone from finance, someone from research and someone who was an entrepreneur, so it showed a really wide range of leadership opportunities for women, and how to go about it.”
Chugtai stated that she thought the most important part of the presentation was when the audience was able to talk in groups about different leadership styles.
“Everyone deals with different types of people in different ways, how you don’t have to be outspoken to be a good leader, you can deal with it in your own way, and that’s something that I really took to heart,” she said. ”You can have different types of leadership to be successful.”
Junior Renee Robinson said that the panelists made her realize that there are still many ways Hopkins can improve in to promote more female leaders in the future.
“All of them emphasized this bad point of how there is diversity but not inclusion, and I thought that that was really interesting because it’s incredibly evident on the Hopkins campus,” she said.
Disclaimer: Editors-in-Chief Morgan Ome and Kelsey Ko were student moderators at the event. Neither of them was involved in the reporting or editing of this article.