Thousands of women came out in force this week for the first time since the pandemic to participate in the Massachusetts Conference for Women, which featured in-person talks from Viola Davis, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett and Jameela Jamil.
Chef and humanitarian José Andrés, vegan advocate and author Tabitha Brown, groundbreaking dancer and author Misty Copeland and actress and producer Reese Witherspoon addressed the audience virtually along with novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, social media transparency advocate Frances Haugen, actress and disability rights advocate Marlee Matlin, and five-time New York Times author Daniel Pink.
Their comments reflected on the lingering impacts of COVID on people’s experience of disconnection and widespread reports of burnout in the workplace. They also spoke about the necessity of women’s leadership in these times.
“There is no political idea, no business idea, no artistic idea, no idea in general whose objective should not be connection – human connection,” Davis said. “If we can’t move forward together, we can’t move forward at all.” Watch Viola Davis.
Davis is the first Black actress to win the Triple Crown of acting, a Tony, Oscar, and Emmy awards, and was recently nominated for a Grammy for the audio recording of her bestselling memoir, Finding Me.
Corbett, who led the team that created the Moderna vaccine and now leads a lab at Harvard University, acknowledged that, like many women and men, she still sometimes suffers from Imposter Syndrome.
But she overcomes self-doubt, she says, by asking: “If not me, who?”
At a time when women have been leaving the workplace in record numbers, Corbett also urged women who can leave their positions to do so if they feel they aren’t being listened to or are hitting a glass ceiling.
“It’s not our job to fix the structures that keep us from having the type of career mobility and upward trajectory that we deserve,” she said. “If it gets to the point where you feel like what you’re asking for requires a systemic change and making that systematic change is not in your pay grade, leave.”
The Massachusetts Conference for Women, the largest conference for women in the nation, also strengthened its focus on connection this year – providing an in-person gathering and a virtual event for the first time in its 18-year history.
The in-person gathering was held at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center on Wed., Nov. 30. The virtual event was held on Thurs., Dec. 1. A free virtual career fair was also held on Tues., Nov. 29. More than 16,000 people registered to participate in the week’s events.
José Andrés, chef, humanitarian, and founder of World Central Kitchen, spoke about the need to plan less and adapt more. Misty Copeland, the first Black female principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater and New York Times bestselling author, spoke about breaking barriers and her work to make ballet more accessible to all.
And Reese Witherspoon, Academy Award-winning actress, Emmy Award-winning producer, entrepreneur, and New York Times bestselling author, spoke about her work to make Hollywood a better place for women.
“When I got to Hollywood, I found it was not the place I would want my daughter to work and not a place I wanted someone else’s daughter to work,” Witherspoon said. “I knew I had to do something to create more opportunities for women to ascend and be in leadership positions. It was a pivot for me to be more entrepreneurial.”
The theme for this year’s conference is “Reset. Renew. Reconnect” – recognizing the extraordinary challenges women have overcome in recent years and the power of coming together as a community of women supporting women.
The Massachusetts Conference for Women is presented by State Street Corporation and generously sponsored by Hologic, Inc.; Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany; Takeda Pharmaceuticals; UKG; Target; Cisco; BOSE; Boston Scientific Corporation; Fidelity Investments; Indeed; Johnson & Johnson; Liberty Mutual Insurance; National Grid; Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc.; P&G Gillette; Sanofi; Thermo Fisher Scientific; The TJX Companies, Inc.; United Airlines; Biogen; Bristol Myers Squibb; Commonwealth Financial Network; Converse; Encore Boston Harbor; New Balance; PTC; Teradyne; Bentley University Center for Women & Business; Enel North America, Inc.; Foundation Medicine; IPG Photonics Corporation; JPMorgan Chase & Co.; Juniper Networks; Merck & Co., Inc.; Oracle; Rapid7, and Vertex Pharmaceuticals; community; and media sponsors Harvard Business Review’s Women at Work; The Boston Globe; WBUR; and WCVB-TV Boston.
The Massachusetts Conference for Women is part of the Conferences for Women, the largest network of women’s conferences in the nation. Its conferences in Pennsylvania, California, Massachusetts and Texas attract more than 50,000 people a year.