Featured Image: Virginia Women’s Conference | Courtesy
The 2023 Virginia Women’s Conference was held at Old Dominion University with a theme of “Harness your power.” It offered a selection of keynote speakers, panels and breakout groups to inspire and empower the women attending.
The opening panel consisted of a diverse group of professional women who, in light of this year’s theme, began with the question of what power means. Panelist Nneka Chiazor, vice president of Hampton Roads Market and Cox Communications representative, responded to this question by asking the audience to strike a “power pose.”
“Women try to take up less space when they walk into a room,” Chiazor said. She spoke about how women are conditioned to do so, and have to intentionally counteract that. This physical display of power helps to externalize the strength and leadership that women have.
Panelist Morgan Whayland, director of Government Affairs for Virginia Natural Gas, defined power as “the ability to influence and lead others.”
The panel also spoke about well-being and the neglect that women often put on their own needs in favor of other responsibilities. They said that women often have the tendency to overwork themselves to points of physical harm due to high expectations.
Chiazor said that even while she was pregnant, she did not give herself proper time to rest, which had medical repercussions.
Looking back, she recognizes the potential damage caused by “workaholic” tendencies when they reach extremes. She emphasized the importance of “checking in” with oneself often to avoid ultimately crashing and burning.
This theme carried over for much of the day, as the topic of self-care maintained a prominent place in the conversation across multiple sessions.
In addition to the main events, the itinerary included several breakout groups that attendees could choose from. Each of these, hosted by a diverse range of female professionals, offered opportunities to learn valuable skills in different interest areas.
These breakout groups tackled topics such as self-care, financial skills, utilizing AI technology, online privacy, brain health and salary negotiation.
In a session entitled “S.T.E.P.S for Success: In Business and in Life,” panelists discussed how fine-tuning the pillars of strategy, team, education, perseverance and systems can help women achieve their goals.
The conference also hosted a resource and networking fair for attendees, allowing participants to meet other women in and outside their fields of expertise. Lines of tables represented different employers and organizations. This provided opportunities for emerging professionals to receive guidance from experienced individuals.
Dr. Jennifer Slivka, Chair of the Gender, Women, and Sexuality Science Program, spoke on a similar experience she had at a conference where she felt uplifted through the opportunity to form such connections.
“Because of their different fields, women might feel isolated. Here’s the place where they can come together and feel that support, and learn from each other,” Slivka said.
She emphasized the value of events where individuals can come together in support of one another, and in this case, help build a stronger community of women.
Junior Kimberly Koscinski, a Psychology and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies major, spoke on the workplace application as well.
“When like-minded individuals come together to demand change, it forges a new path for the workplace, one where all people are respected, welcomed and given what they need to thrive,” Koscinski said.
Dr. Taryn Myers, Chair of Psychology and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Sciences Professor, spoke of the empowerment that comes with connecting with people who share values and experiences.
“One of the good things you can get out of conferences like this is realizing that you’re not the only one that thinks this way, you’re not the only one who struggles,” Myers said.
The atmosphere of these conferences can help women feel strong and confident as they gather with like-minded individuals. However, the impact extends beyond the confines of the conference time frame.
Women can utilize skills and connections acquired at the conference to elevate their own success and improve workplace environments.
Slivka spoke on how Virginia Wesleyan has served as a supportive network for her.
“We’re still living in a patriarchal society, and the system itself isn’t going to provide for us. We have to find our own support,” Slivka said.
Slivka described her experience in being encouraged by other women in the workplace. “When I first got to Virginia Wesleyan, I had strong female mentors to help navigate me through,” Slivka said.
Slivka’s experience acts as a testament to the value of supportive networks. Friend groups, classes, workplaces or universities like Virginia Wesleyan are all potential platforms for women to support one another in professional and personal goals.
By Kara Hopkins
By Lily Reslink