This year, the crowd at the 21st Women in Leadership (WIL) Conference, which took place March 2017, looked a little different than those at past conferences, with male-identifying attendees making up approximately one in five of the 400 attendees.
That’s because conference co-chairs Chiaki Nakajima (MBA, ’17) and Shipra Agarwal (MBA, ’17) chose this year’s theme, The Power of Us: Collaborate, Inspire, Lead, with the express goal of increasing male participation in the conference and encouraging men to be more active allies and supporters of gender equity.
“We realized that discussions of gender equity were incomplete without men,” said Agarwal. “A lot of men want to be allies but they don’t know how.” Afternoon discussion panels and break-out sessions covered topics such as building gender-equity movements, leadership and work-life balance, and how to collaborate across difference through feedback.
Nakajima further explained that the conference was about foregrounding collaborative efforts to support women’s issues across gender lines and racial lines. Having attended the January Women’s March in Washington, DC, she was struck by the diversity of participants at that event and inspired to have that type of diversity reflected in the speakers and panelists at WIL 2017.
Gender, race and inclusiveness also played a large part in the planning process for the Empowering Womxn of Color Conference (EWOCC), which also took place in March. Founded in 1985, EWOCC was one of the first conferences to present women of color with an opportunity to address the racial, class, and gender issues facing American Indian, African American, Asian American, and Chicana/Latina women.
This year, the committee strove to explicitly include more spaces for the queer and trans community as well, which was reflected in their marketing and logo design and included the use of alternate spelling “Womxn.” Malika Imhotep, a 2nd year doctoral student in African American Diaspora Studies, and Junior Coordinator for EWOCC explained that by bringing in the “x,” they hoped to signal a commitment to the many struggles, identities and intersectionalities of what it means to not only be born as a womxn, but to identify and move through the world as a womxn.
“As a committee, we asked ourselves — what do we mean when we say womxn of color? How can we be more genuinely inclusive for the queer and trans community and create spaces that serve all?”
Overall, she was pleased with the efforts and the experience of working on the committee and partnering with local organizations in Berkeley and Oakland. “This conference is about opening up UC Berkeley to the community, and I think we achieved that.”