2024 Bryant Women's Summit
27th Women’s Summit fosters a spirit of sharing, connection, and unfiltered joy
Mar 15, 2024, by Emma Bartlett, Stephen Kostrzewa, and Casey Nilsson
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On March 14, Bryant University welcomed more than 1,000 engaged, joyful attendees to the 27th annual Women’s Summit® and shared a historic moment with participants during the opening ceremony.  

“Through a gift from the incoming Board of Trustees Chair D. Ellen Wilson ’79 to Bryant University, the Ellen Wilson Leadership Center — with a mission of developing thoughtful, effective, and change-making leaders who will positively impact the organizations they lead and communities they live in — will open this fall in our new, beautiful space across the street,” said Inge-Lise Ameer, Ed.D., executive director of the Women’s Summit and Bryant’s vice president of student affairs, dean of students, and chief diversity officer, in the MAC auditorium during the conference’s opening remarks. Ameer also thanked Women's Summit Director Kelly Boutin for her leadership in planning the signature Bryant event. 

Inge-Lise Ameer
Inge-Lise Ameer, Ed.D., addresses the Women's Summit attendees on March 14.

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This year’s summit, with its theme of “Passion, Purpose, Power, Possibility,” featured three keynotes and an array of morning and afternoon breakout sessions where attendees — from international business leaders to local high school students — explored how the values, vision, mission, and strengths of individuals and organizations can be leveraged to reach collective success. 

“We achieve wonderful things when we listen, problem-solve, and innovate together,” Ameer told the audience. 

Following the opening remarks morning keynote speaker HGTV co-founder Susan Packard shared three steps individuals can take to grow their emotional fitness and become great leaders. Packard suggested that the attendees ask themselves: How am I wired? Am I living authentically? What brings me joy? She then  emphasized the importance of establishing trust and focusing on “we” principles. 

“Emotionally fit, fully formed leaders are transactional and transforming, mindful, and have fully formed hearts,” said Packard, noting that achieving emotional fitness is the result of many life lessons and, for her, the introduction of mindfulness and meditation practices into her everyday experience. 

Susan Packard
A sold-out crowd hears from HGTV co-founder, Susan Packard. 

Following break-out sessions on mastering the art of self-promotion, design thinking for leaders, power moves, and other topics, attendees returned to the MAC for a luncheon, awards ceremony, and afternoon keynote.  

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“Today, we celebrate the women who excel in leadership roles, successfully launch businesses, and are powerful changemakers within their organizations and communities,” noted Ross Gittell, Ph.D., president of Bryant University. 

The summit, he said, was an extension of Bryant’s longstanding commitment to equality and to empowering women to excel, wherever their ambition lies. “Bryant University has a long history of producing talented and strong women leaders dedicated to their chosen fields,” said Gittell. “Bryant is positioned and firmly committed to provide the support and resources that are needed to help women address the challenges they confront.” 

Sabina Matos, lieutenant governor of Rhode Island, shared Gittell’s focus on the power of possibilities in her remarks. Matos shared her story of coming to the United States from the Dominican Republic at 20 years old and rising to become the first woman of color elected to her post and the first Dominican American elected to statewide office in the United States. Only in America, she suggested, was such a journey possible.  

That journey, Matos said, was the product of hard work and perseverance, but it also required a little support along the way. “I'd have been very fortunate to have had a good network of women that have had my back all along, and some of them are even present in this room,” she mused. “I want to thank them for picking me up when I was down, for letting me know that it is okay to try, to fail and to keep on moving.” 

Meridith Webster
Meridith Webster in conversation with Ameer.

In a keynote conversation with Ameer, Meridith Webster, executive vice president of global communications and public affairs at the Estée Lauder Companies Inc., discussed the many pivots she had taken throughout her career, from directing communications and serving as a trusted advisor to former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to her time as an associate attorney at Latham and Watkins to working at global corporations like VOX, Bloomberg, and Estée Lauder. 

There was no master plan to her career and no surefire secret to success, she shared. Sometimes a successful change of course is just the matter of being in the right place at the right time — and being willing to take the leap. However, Webster noted, we all have the ability to capitalize on those fortuitous moments through our dedication and willingness to go the extra mile. “There’s luck,” she acknowledged, “but there’s also doing the thing you do very well.” 

Webster also admitted to trepidation at every key moment and new transition throughout her career. “You always feel it; it’s always there in the back of your head,” she said. “But when I look back, I’m grateful for the shots I took."

Lisa Leslie
Basketball legend Lisa Leslie speaks to the audience during the third Women's Summit keynote address.

Following a short break for caffeinated lemonade from local woman-owned business, The Vibe, attendees filed in for the third and final keynote of the day: a conversation between Trustee Ann-Marie Harrington ‘86 and basketball legend Lisa Leslie, who regaled the crowd with an origin story rooted in big goals and hard work.  

As a young child growing up in Compton, California, Leslie would pretend to sign autographs without understanding why, but always hoping she’d someday be famous. She said she didn’t find her reason until the seventh grade. 

“I literally got into basketball to be popular,” she told the audience, remembering how she sought to emulate another middle school girl named Shay who played the sport. Leslie went on to become a three-time WNBA MVP and a four-time Olympic gold medal winner and now serves as the head coach for the BIG3 men’s basketball team, the Triplets.  

In a spontaneous moment of humor and connection, Harrington asked Leslie if she’d be willing to sign one more autograph: on the side of the gold, purple, and turquoise Nike “Dunk Low LX Lisa Leslie” sneakers Harrington wore on the Women’s Summit stage. Leslie, ever humble despite unparalleled success, obliged with a broad smile.  

At several points throughout her keynote, Leslie credited her single mother for instilling in her the values of teamwork and integrity, which she carried through her athletic career and, now, as a venerated public speaker, broadcast host, author, and real estate entrepreneur who was bestowed with the 2024 Women’s Summit Businesswoman of the Year award. She’s since condensed those lifelong learnings into an acronym, CHOICE, which stands for “Competent; Hard work; Optimism; Integrity; Courage; and Execution.  

“I think, just like winning is contagious, so is losing; just like being positive is contagious, so is negativity,” she said.  

Before attendees headed to afternoon sessions on subjects including financial advice, women in film, and mindful leadership, Leslie welcomed questions from the crowd. The final one came from Central High School junior and student-athlete Rexella Bishop, who wondered how Leslie ensured she was in the right mental space to achieve her personal goals — ones, Leslie said previously, that she wrote down in one- and five-year increments and placed on her bedroom mirror and refrigerator as daily reminders.

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“I had hope; I was hopeful I would be successful,” she said. “And I had faith and I believed in who I was. And love — treating people how you want to be treated. It sounds so cliché, but it’s real. You get back what you give out.” 

As a buoyant crowd streamed out of the MAC and headed into the sunshine, Leslie and Harrington stuck around to speak with attendees, including Bishop and her classmates from Providence.  

“What shoe size are you?” Harrington asked Bishop. It turns out, the trustee and the student wore the same size. Harrington slipped off her just-signed sneakers and handed them to Bishop, who wore a look of astonishment on her face as she accepted them. 

Ann-Marie and Rexella
Trustee Ann-Marie Harrington poses with Central High School student Rexella Bishop.

“What are you going to wear?” a smiling Leslie asked Harrington, who had no qualms with spending the rest of her afternoon in socks. Because at the Bryant Women’s Summit, a spirit of sharing, connection, and unfiltered joy trumps even the most prestigious footwear.   

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