SWE FY17 President Jessica Rannow Live Tweets the State of Women Summit

This is Jessica Rannow's Twitter Tale from the State of Women Summit hosted by the White House Tuesday, June 14, 2016 in Washington, DC.
Realizing Lifelong Learning for Engineers of Every Sort

On June 14, 2016, I had the opportunity to attend the White House’s first United State of Women Summit in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington DC.  The summit featured conversations about gender equality with activists, politicians and Hollywood stars.  It was a jam packed day – hence the long blog post!

You may have seen the video “We are the United States of Women” going viral online.  It sets the stage for what a great day was ahead!  If not, check it out now:

Karen Horting, SWE’s CEO & Executive Director, and I were up bright and early in line at 6:30 am to enter the convention center.  The line was already wrapped around three sides of the building!  After going through security and registration, we were in the main convention hall by 7:45am.  With an anticipated 5,000 attendees, it was a huge space!  As we sat in anticipation, we ran into past SWE-President Stacey DelVechhio who was there representing Caterpillar.

Valerie B. Jarrett

The morning started out with a welcome from our two hosts for the day:  Valerie B. Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls and Tina Tchen, Chief of Staff to the First Lady and Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls. After the Pledge of Allegiance by eight Girls Scouts (including two gold award winners!) and an amazing rendition of the National Anthem by the Washington Performing Arts’ Children of the Gospel Choir (seriously – one of the best renditions I’ve ever heard!).

Joe Biden

The morning quickly escalated as Vice President Joe Biden spoke.  He was introduced by Meghan Yap, an It’s On US Champion of Change and sexual assault survivor which set the stage for his speech to come.  While serving as a senator, Biden recognized the need for a strategy to increase services to women who have experienced sexual assault and to increase the penalties for those who commit such acts.  He proposed the Violence Against Women Act which was passed in 1994 and reauthorized in 2013. His passion for the topic was evident in his speech.  Did you know that one in five college women has experienced a sexual assault?  He acknowledged in order to end rape culture, it takes both men and women to say enough.

Violence Against Women

The day continued with more speakers addressing ideas for action on addressing violence against women.  Sarah Jones gave a humorous performance which had the crowd laughing – I want to check out her Broadway show now!  Mariska Hargitay discussed the organization she founded, Joyful Heart Foundation, which works to get the backlog of untested rape kits off the shelves and processed.  We ended the session with Bamby Salcedo, President & CEO of TransLatin@ Coalition, leading us a in a moment of power (not silence) for Orlando – the energy in the crowd was amazing as we all applauded our support!

Women’s Health and Wellness

Moving on to women’s health and wellness, actress Connie Britton, introduced the track which focused on topics from the care of children to elders.  There was a great story about Dr. Sonia Vallabh and Dr. Eric Minikel who are co-founders of the Prion Alliance.  Sonia was born with an extremely rare genetic disease – one that affects one in a million – which she did not find out about until it took her mother’s life.  Quitting their regular jobs, her and her husband entered a PhD program in biology at Harvard and now study the disease at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, MA.  It is a race against time for Sonia and they are up to the challenge!

Breakout Sessions

Moving on to breakout sessions, I attended a session “Building Inclusive Movements and Engaged Citizens.”   I heard a moving experience of Cherno Biko’s, co-founder of BlackTransLivesMatter, experience at “ground zero” in Orlando on Sunday & Monday and was empowered by her call to ensuring your organization includes the concerns and leadership of transgender women.  As a D&I strategy is part of our FY17 goals as a SWE Board, this message was timely.

After reconvening in the general hall, we moved into the Entrepreneurship & Innovation Pillar, kicked off by Tory Burch (a fellow Theta!) discussing the empowerment her foundation offers for small businesses.  We then were able to have lunch with Warren Buffet (a steal since he annually has a lunch auctioned off with him going for over $3mil for charity!) as he discussed his involvement with the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Initiative which funds and trains women lead businesses all over the world.  One of the graduates of the Small Businesses program included civil engineer (and former SWE member) Carla Walker-Miller!

Lunch with the President

Nancy Pelosi, the first female congressional leader, supported by several other congresswomen, began the introduction to the highlight of our lunch – President Barack Obama!  President Obama brought down the house as he said “This is what a feminist looks like” – the first US President in office to state this!  Karen, Stacey, and I especially appreciated his comments on encouraging media to portray more examples of women in STEM “because it’s hard to be what you can’t see.”   I also enjoyed hearing that women can “Science the heck out of any challenge!”

Moving on, actress Kerry Washington talked about the Purple Purse foundation and the #FreeToWalk initiative, bringing awareness to the issue that most physically abused women cannot leave because they are also being financially abused.   We all now are wanting to buy a purple purse when they come out this fall in support of this great initiative!

We took some time to browse the booths and check out organizations like AAUW, United Nations Foundation, and NASA.  We took a fun action photo in the National Partnership for Women & Families booth!   While out the exhibit area, we listened to surprise guest Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch  via the big screen encourage us to continue to build a world that is more safe, more tolerance, and more equal for all.

Moving on to the second breakout session, I attended “A Conversation with Trailblazers: Making the Case for Gender Diversity Across Industries and Sectors”.  There were many great role models in the discussion including Jen Welter – the first female NFL coach, Deborah Rosado Shaw of PepsiCo, Sukhinder Singh Cassidy of theboardlist.org, and Carla Harris of Morgan Stanley.  Finally being above ground my phone had signal and I could tweet out some great quotes!  Check out the twitter trail for my favorites!

Heading back underground into the convention hall, we were treated to a conversation between actress Sophia Bush and Marley Dias, founder of #1000BlackGirlBooks.  Marley was the most composed and articulate 11-year old I have ever heard!  She started an organization to get books featuring black girls to schools that need them after seeing that she couldn’t relate to the books in her school’s library.  So far she has distributed over 4,000 books!  She truly illustrated that you can’t be what you can’t see.

Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama

It was time for the highlight of the day – a conversation between Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama!  They were introduced by members of their high school mentoring programs – programs they will both continue for many years to come.   During the 45 minute discussion, the conversation went from the serious of how to have it all – including a story about how Michelle took baby Sasha to an executive level interview (she got the job) – to her post-office plans to go shopping at Target and to sit in a yard that isn’t a national park.   One strong message was to enjoy the experiences you have as they occur (a poignant message as I soon start the year as SWE president) and that as women, our first job is to get to know ourselves.    And to men, Oprah and Michelle both encouraged them to “Be Better”.

With the jam packed schedule, things ran over (by 2+ hours), and I needed to leave to go to the airport for my flight home.  I was sad to miss Amy Poehler, Billy Jean King, and Shonda Rhimes as they closed out the session.  Many of the full speeches are available online and if you have the time, I encourage you to take a listen!

This is SWE FY17 President Jessica Rannow’s Twitter Tale from the State of Women Summit hosted by the White House Tuesday, June 14, 2016 in Washington, DC.