Students pose for picture with Geena Davis during the 2017 Women's Summit

As spring break drew to a close earlier this month, more than 1,000 Women’s Summit attendees gathered on campus, eager for inspiration and support in their quest to grow personally and professionally. The Women’s Summit, which started as an initiative to encourage more women to pursue business careers, celebrated its 20th anniversary this year with over 1,000 attendees, 23 session options, and 4 impressive keynote speakers.

Economist, leadership expert, and retired U.S. Navy commander, Mary Kelly started the day with an energetic keynote about the key ingredients to great leadership. In addition to vision and the ability to motivate, Kelly holds that the best leaders must be trusting and appreciative. The elements of effective leadership are universal; “it doesn’t matter if you’re managing a Taco Bell or leading a country,” she said.

Health Expert, Debi Silber, a strong believer that “we grow from challenges; we grow from the desire for more, for something better and when something encourages us to stretch” hosted an inspiring power plenary keynote session. Silber’s speech highlighted the personal growth that the summit aims to foster. The discussion of the importance of a strong belief system and perseverance left attendees feeling inspired to be healthier, stronger women.

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, a longtime advocate of the summit, made an appearance. Governor Raimondo is a strong believer that the best decisions come from diverse perspectives. Noting that “to say this is an interesting time to be a woman in leadership is an understatement,” Governor Raimondo rallied the crowd to invest in each other and the next generation of women. Shortly after Governor Raimondo’s remarks, Vistaprint President Trynka Shineman was named the New England Businesswoman of the Year.

Keynote speakers also included Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Leymah Gbowee, and Academy Award-winning actor, Geena Davis, both of whom dedicated their speeches to their common passion: gender equality. Despite their different backgrounds, Gbowee and Davis are fiercely dedicated to ridding the world of the boundaries that too often get in the way of female success.

Gbowee’s leadership of the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, a nonviolent movement which brought together Christian and Muslim women, played a pivotal role in ending the Liberian civil war in 2003. Despite her remarkable background, Gbowee is insistent that the importance and relevance of feminism and women’s rights are not limited to any one part of the world. Instead, she holds that issues of women’s rights are now important today than ever before. Calling on the importance of motherhood and sisterhood, Gbowee urged attendees to confront the injustices they face and support one another in the process.

The Women’s Summit was capped by a closing keynote from Geena Davis, an advocate for gender equality in media. Citing the overwhelming amount of media our society consumes and the very real impact that media has on confidence and worldview, Davis has a problem with the representation of girls and women in the media. Through the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which has partnered with Google for research, she found that the male to female ratio in media is about three to one.

To illustrate the impact that media has on young viewers especially, Davis shared illuminating data about the spike in girls’ archery that occurred in the year following the premiere of the movies Brave and The Hunger Games. This sort of research inspired the motto of Davis’s institute, which she echoed throughout her speech: “if she can see it, she can be it.” Davis uses her research to prompt television and movie organizations to provide better gender equality in their content, in the hope that such representation will inspire viewers.

The 20th annual Women’s Summit lived up to its theme, in celebrating two decades of inspiring, empowering, and advancing women!