On March 16, more than 1,000 attendees gathered at the 26th annual Bryant University Women’s Summit® for a day of learning, networking, and reflection—"with some fun thrown in, too," Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Inge-Lise Ameer, Ph.D., told the audience in her welcome remarks.
This year’s event, signified by the theme “Moving Forward Together: Me, We, Us,” built on a tradition of women empowering women to achieve professional, personal, and financial success, said Bryant University President Ross Gittell, Ph.D.
“Today, we celebrate the women who continue to break barriers in business by stepping into leadership roles, launching businesses, and being powerful agents of change within their organizations and communities,” said Gittell.
Delivering the opening keynote, bestselling author Sally Helgesen discussed her two recent books — How Women Rise and Rising Together — with moderator and Bryant Trustee Nancy DeViney ’75. According to Helgesen, great careers are built on three balanced legs: expertise, visibility, and connections.
“Every one of us needs a strategy for bringing attention to what we contribute, because if we don’t do that, we will be underrecognized,” she said.
Following the first keynote, attendees spread across campus for breakout sessions led by prominent women in business, including Bryant faculty, students, and alumni. Jaime Diglio ’00 engaged participants in an immersive workshop about how to disconnect to connect. Diglio also talked about changing the office “WAR (working against results) room” to a “WIN (what I need) room” that is clear in its values, strengths, and direction.
“In order to disconnect, we need to know what we’re connecting to,” said Diglio.
Meanwhile, Rita Williams-Bogar ’76 considered individuals’ responsibilities to their managers, their work group, and themselves.
“Put yourself on your to-do list, and put yourself as number one,” said Williams-Bogar. “You cannot do a thing for anybody else if you’re not taking care of yourself.”
Another morning session, on social selling strategies, opened with a prompt for participants to take selfies with strangers. Bryant Marketing professors Sharmin Attaran, Ph.D., and Stefanie Boyer, Ph.D., then shared tips for using social media for career elevation, including actionable advice on keyword searches, content creation, and relationship-building.
“Social aligns with how we live our regular life,” said Boyer, who, with Attaran, has a new book on social selling slated for the fall.
Abigail Keating '15 and Gabrielle Leitgeb ’20, who both work at Amica Insurance, the Summit’s Platinum sponsor, hosted an interactive session on the power of self-promotion.
Being able to convey the right message about your skills and strengths at the right time can make a world of difference, Keating stated. “If you don’t share your story, someone else will write it for you—and you’re not going to like how they do it,” agreed Leitgeb.
After lunch, Kathleen C. Orovitz ‘04, president and CEO of Navigant Credit Union, was named the Kati C. Machtley Businesswoman of the Year. In her acceptance speech, she reflected on women’s empowerment and mentorship, and how those themes have shaped her own life.
“I will never forget the impact my mentors and colleagues have had on my career, and I am 100 percent committed to returning the favor,” Orovitz stated, and challenged the audience to do their part to make a difference for others.
In the day’s second keynote address, physician and author Dr. Darria Long drew upon her experience reordering her life in the aftermath of a major health crisis to offer steps for managing stress, finding balance, and navigating seemingly impossible challenges.
“You were not designed to dig out from under a hill of stressors. You were designed to stand on top of it,” she said.
The final keynote of the day was delivered by supermodel-turned-supermogul Beverly Johnson. Her talk, which gripped a standing-room-only audience, covered her ascendance from ugly duckling to the first African-American model on the cover of Vogue; her four-decade-long sobriety; and her run-in with Bill Cosby, who she said drugged her and attempted to assault her in the mid-’80s. Sharing this experience with others, she said, helped her discover her voice.
“It’s allowing me to achieve all of those big, hairy, audacious goals that I never acted upon before,” she says, pointing to her fourth book, her successful lifestyle brand, and a new TV show as proof. “I hope you all act on your big, hairy, audacious goals.”
Later that afternoon, in a conversation among executives from Bank of America, moderator Jess Hutchinson, Shelly Schoenfeld, Christano Andrade ’03, and Kathleen Auth provided their perspectives on building a diverse, inclusive work environment that’s also equitable.
"You don't have to be a leader to be an advocate; you don't have to be anything,” suggested Auth. “You have to be able to turn to the person sitting next to you and say 'Hi, how are you? How's your day?' You've just opened up a conversation.”
In another afternoon breakout, Jennifer Sahady ’05 shared her expertise on investing. She emphasized how important it is to plan your financial decisions and not have the “I’ll do it later” attitude. Attendees learned about investment account types, how and when to put money into an account, and how and when to measure growth over time.
“We are better humans when we’re financially stable,” said Sahady.
The sole student presenters at this year’s Women’s Summit, Taylor Vahey ’23 and Alexandra Fluegel ’23 closed the afternoon with a session on sustainability and business.
“Women business leaders hold the power to be change agents,” said Fluegel, citing how women and girls experience the greatest impacts of climate change while, according to recent studies, they have more breadth of knowledge about sustainability. The pair also presented their own qualitative research and opened the conversation to attendees.
“This was one of the best sessions of the day,” said Mary Fox, assistant vice president and senior corporate social responsibility consultant for FM Global, adding that she felt energized by their efforts. Vahey and Fluegel, like their fellow Summit participants, are striving to do well and do good at the same time — and empowering one another along the way.