Women Leaders Connect and Grow at Inagural Conference

October 11, 2023

by Cj Pettus

Women leaders from around the world gathered in Ann Arbor at the end of September to redefine leadership together. Driven by a theme of “Connect. Collaborate. Create,” the inaugural Women in Leadership Conference offered attendees a space to truly connect with and learn from one another.

Starting with a Call to Action

Michigan Engineering’s Associate Dean of Graduate and Professional Education Dr. Lola Eniola-Adefeso kicked off the conference on Thursday morning. Dr. Eniola-Adefeso spoke about the importance of having women lead in industries that impact all of our lives. From her unique perspective as an educator, she discussed the lack of female faculty in engineering. This lack of representation continues into industry. She called for attendees to support the young women in their lives, to encourage them to step into spaces where they are not currently represented.

Newly Forged Connections

The group of attendees was incredibly diverse, with different ages, countries, and industries represented. As the women moved throughout the day, they forged new relationships, creating a network of incredible leaders. One attendee shared, “My favorite parts were the connections made, the authenticity, the safe space without judgment. I loved the broad age range and diverse backgrounds of all attendees.”

Learning from One Another

In between large group sessions, attendees gathered in small breakout rooms. Speakers presented on a variety of topics, including mindfulness, public speaking, personal experiences, risk-taking, change management, and more. In every room—regardless of the topic— a consistent theme was attendees’ support of one another. Some sessions were interactive while others were a more traditional presentation style. Throughout it all, attendees were there for each other. An attendee said, “everyone was so welcoming and kind—smiles all around! Overall, the feeling of connection was incredible and I met people from all over the world with amazing stories.”

Connecting, Collaborating, and Creating

To end the first day of the conference, Toni Benner and Elizabeth Aikman, the event curators,  brought the entire room together with a collaborative experience. Attendees led the experience themselves, roaming the room and gathering information from others in an attempt to create representations of the group’s feelings and emotions. This created a space for meaningful connection where all of the leaders in attendance became comfortable with one another, allowing themselves to participate in silly skills and to boldly share truths. 

A Spirit of Resilience and Community

The following morning, EVP of Corporate Affairs, Sustainability, and ESG at Organon Geralyn Ritter shared the story of her traumatic journey from life-changing accident to post-injury growth. Her story was powerful and emphasized how resilient we all can be. Later that day, Comma Bookstore Owner Egypt Otis closed the conference with a message of collaboration and connectivity. She spoke about how leaders are made—not born—because all of us depend on one another for growth and opportunities.

A Phenomenal Experience

A recurring theme throughout the conference was the attendees’ appreciation for opportunities to build connections. When asked about their favorite part of the event, attendees’ responses included “the generosity of spirit of the attendees,” “making connections with other empowered women,” and “the mood of the room and the camaraderie.” If you weren’t able to attend, you can get a glimpse of the experience from this attendee’s favorite part of the conference: 

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