Women and Power Conference Looks at Leadership From a Feminist Lens

Today’s post is by Alison Turkos. Alison is a Development & Events intern with NARAL Pro Choice NY. She volunteers as a clinic escort, and she is currently attempting to enjoy all the feminist fun that New York City has to offer.

This past September I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to attend the 9th annual Women and Power Conference at the OMEGA Institute in Rhinebeck, New York.

Each year OMEGA chooses a focal point for the conference, a reoccurring theme which stretches across multiple mediums throughout the weekend. This year the conference dialogue revolved around the topic of leadership. The conference was loosely based on a few core questions, such as:

  • How do we define leadership?
  • What are the critical issues women face as leaders at home, in families, at work and in the world?
  • How can we support each other in the shift to a leadership paradigm that emphasizes partnership with others?

With multiple keynote speakers including OMEGA co-founder Elizabeth Lesser, founder and CEO of Women for Women International, Zainab Salbi, and president and co-chair of the NoVo Foundation Jennifer Buffett, along with many more. The entire weekend showed attendees diverse forms, and definitions of leadership.

The conference began Friday evening with a wonderful OMEGA welcome. Carla Goldstein, director of the Women’s Institute at OMEGA opened the conference speaking about leadership as a whole. Carla asked the audience to “break the barriers that separate us,” and told us “the thing that unites us is our womanhood.” Her zest and overall enthusiasm was a wonderful beginning to the weekend. Carla ended her welcoming words with a amazingly powerful statement that not only excited me for what was to come. Carla told us that “the time for talking is over. The time to lead is NOW.”

Saturday morning we were reminded of how all the attendees had connected the evening before, and that as a group we were about to embark on something wonderful. Annie McKee was the first speaker of the day, giving the audience confidence. Telling us that “each of us has the capacity to lead”. She also added: “you can’t lead until you know what it’s like to be powerless”, and that statement has stuck with me ever since. Before attending the conference I was employed in a position where I had no power and more importantly no voice. Annie’s words, along with all of the other speakers, helped me to realize that having a voice is something that should never go to waste.

Sarah Peters later discussed women in the workplace, the wage gap, and inadequate childcare. She spoke of the well known “2nd shift,” where working mothers come home to begin their second job as mother, homemaker and wife. I believe Sarah was a vital speaker at this year’s conference because she brought light to topics that many women don’t realize exist.

On the second day of the conference, attendees were given the option to attend a smaller and more specific workshop. Each workshop, nine in total, discussed different topics. One workshop focused on women and financial strength, another explored empowerment through writing. I chose to attend a workshop titled “Activism in Your Own Voice” lead by Amy Richards and Marianne Schnall. This workshop used a feminist lens to help us highlight how we could become our own best leader, and helped us to tap into our unique resources to use them to make a difference. Amy and Marianne asked each workshop attendee to introduce themselves and why they chose that specific workshop. In a very short period of time we learned so much about each other and our causes. After introductions, Amy and Marianne began to tell us their personal leadership stories and how they came into feminism. They told us to “find a passion and make it a part of your life”; to “take steps rather than follow paths”; and “to never be afraid to lose what you have to be able to speak up for someone else.” As the workshop came to a close, all the women in attendance began to network, exchange email addresses and ideas in hopes of connecting after the weekend and joining together to have a positive effect on our world.

Saturday evening, the 2008 inaugural poet Elizabeth Alexander read us a sampling of her work, followed by a performance and discussion with Ani DiFranco. The evening was filled with sing-alongs, dancing, and the formation of a strong bond between many women.

One thought that kept coming back to me throughout the entire weekend was just how wonderful it was to be in a space with a group who were all there for the same reason. We all went to Women and Power to learn something, to take something away from the conference, and to help make our world a better place. I just found it so refreshing to be surrounded by other activists, feminists, women, and men who all shared something.

Sunday morning as the conference came to a close, I felt a tinge of sadness. Throughout the weekend I had discovered a voice and a passion that had been previously stifled. I met amazing women and men, shared stories and ideas, and made lifelong friends. I left the conference with more knowledge and passion that I ever thought possible.

Everyone looks at leadership differently; we define it in our own terms and conditions, the Women and Power conference helped me to realize that even more.

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