NCCWSL 2018: “The synergy and excitement was contagious”

Hello to the members of the AAUW!

Scholarship winner Theresa RiechmanI wanted to thank you all for the wonderful opportunity to attend The National Conference for College Women Student Leaders this past May. While at the conference, I carried a notebook around with me where I jotted down my thoughts, feelings, tidbits from speeches and panels that I found to be interesting, inspirational or informative. In this little report, I’d like to share some of those things with you.

I arrived at the University of Maryland Wednesday evening and was able to settle into my dorm and meet my roommate Abby, who also attends the same community college where I recently graduated. We discussed panels we wished to attend, coordinated our schedules and used the guidebook app to map out our calendar for the conference. This app wound up being incredibly helpful as it allowed us to view all of our options for panels at the conference, RSVP to them, and then view details about what the panels would discuss, where the panel was located, and who specifically would be speaking. Guidebook also notified you which panels were filling up fast and provided a map of the Stamp Building (where the conference primarily took place) to ensure we didn’t get lost and could make it to each panel on time.

Opening Ceremony

The following morning we attended to opening ceremony where Marsha Guenzler-Stevens lead an interactive discussion among attendees. She shared that women are academically more successful than their male peers, but yet they are not given the same job opportunities or growth in the work place. She asked us why we believed this might be true. A lot of members felt that women are taught to see each other competitively rather than supporting each other in the work place.

This segued into a discussion about the term “feminism.” Guenzler-Stevens asked how many of us considered ourselves to be feminist. I was shocked to see how many people did not consider themselves feminist. She asked several members of the audience to explain their answer to the question. Many women of color spoke out about how the feminist movement often felt exclusive, taking on the cause of wronged white women, but often remaining quiet when women of color are wronged. We discussed more inclusive terms, such as “empowerment” and “womanism”. Guenzler-Stevens closed by encouraging us not to be afraid to speak, and not to forget to listen.

Panel: Managing Your Stress and Making Conscious Choices

This panel was enormously popular and attendees wound up sitting on the floor around the periphery of the room and all along the back. Due to the crowded nature of the panel, it was ironically a little stressful! Despite that, the panel leader encouraged us to introduce ourselves to one another and while sharing our name and major, to also share our number one stressor. It was interesting to see that most of us were echoing the same stressors—money, lack of time, and relationships. While I felt this panel may have been my least favorite of all that I attended (it was over-crowded and I felt much of the presentation focused on why stress is bad versus how to actually manage our stress), I was able to get to know several women who really inspired me, a few of which I’m still in contact with even after the conference ended. I think that this panel was important though. Just looking at the number of people that attended shows that managing stress is a high priority for a lot of college women. I saw there was another stress-related panel called Mindfulness Made Simple by YogaClub, and I feel that this more hands-on approach might have been more beneficial, but unfortunately that panel conflicted with another that I wanted to attend.

Panel: Make Your Vote Count

This panel was among my favorites from the conference. There were three speakers, Dawn Boudwin, Suzan Harkness and Melissa Richmond. I really appreciated that these women spanned several political parties and that they were focused on non-partisan relations. Given the current divide in the country it really gave me hope to see their synergy, despite political differences. In this panel they discussed their experience in politics which really made the whole process of running for office or getting involved in local politics feel very accessible. It made me realize how important it is to have women role models in the world of politics. Just seeing them up there recounting how they got to where they are today left me with a feeling of, “if they can do it, I can do it”. They discussed how women who run for office do just as well in the polls as their male counterparts, they simply don’t run as often. They also said that there was a study done that shows women rate themselves half as qualified as men with the exact same skills, education and qualifications.

Beyond just inspirational conversation, these women also gave practical advice. They advised us to vote in every election, and to help remove cynicism from the voting process by focusing more on the issues that matter within our community than on who is running or whether we vote blue, red, green, etc… Pick an issue that is near and dear to your heart and find others who care about that issue. Drum up support for your cause and get out to vote to make the changes in policy you want to see.

Panel: AAUW Start Smart: Get Ready to Ask for What You’re Worth

This was by far my favorite panel and the one I found to be the most practical and useful. Sarah Spencer led this interactive panel with passion and practicality. There was so much helpful information in this panel and I definitely feel more prepared and confident going into salary negotiations after attending. Spencer pointed out that we are not only advocating for fair wages, but we are also advocating for our retirement as retirement is typically a percentage of our salary. If women are only earning eighty cents on the dollar to their male counterparts, our retirement funds are also substantially less, which is particularly worrisome as the average woman outlives the average man.

However, this panel was not all doom-and-gloom. There was a lot of practical advice, starting with creating value statements. Spencer modeled a value statement saying we should build up an arsenal of them. A good template is, “As a result of my effort to _____, I achieved _____ which provides this benefit to the company _____.” In addition to being able to advocate for why we are worth the salary we are asking for, we should know our actual worth. Spencer pointed attendees to the Know Your Worth tool on and informed us Pay Scale and the ADP salary calculator are also useful tools which will tell us about how much people in our field, with our job title, in our location, with our experience and education earn. This ensures we won’t ask for too much —or too little—during salary negotiations. While Spencer said ultimately you want the potential employer to make the first offer, if you need to give your desired salary, it’s better to give a range than an exact number. You should put your target salary at the bottom of the range, with the upward range being no more than 20% above the bottom.

Beyond just numbers, attendees were encouraged to sit on any offer we receive for at least 24 hours, ask a lot of questions and make sure we have our benefit information in writing. If we are unable to obtain our target salary, perhaps there are other benefits we could request in exchange for a lower pay scale—such as telecommuting, better retirement matching, or reimbursements for things like cell phone charges—and be prepared to explain how these benefits will make us more productive and effective for the company. Lastly, they encouraged us to figure out our expenses, what we ultimately can afford and not to be afraid to walk away. This workshop closed with the sentiment, “You don’t get what you don’t ask for” and we were reminded that when we find ourselves in positions of success to remember fellow women and try to bring them along with us.

Washington, DC

That evening our group went out into Washington, DC where my roommate and I grabbed a bite at SweetGreen. Even though we didn’t get to walk around the Washington Memorial, it was still neat to see it up so close as we drove through the city and during the evening I met a 72-year-old diplomat who told me he had retired but went back to work when he saw what was happening to his political party in 2016. Despite being on opposite sides of party lines we had a wonderful discussion about the current state of affairs and the importance of being able to discuss things civilly across the aisle. We discussed career choices and he told me, “I’ve found that contentment is not sustainable. Only striving is.” Which resonated with me. After that I caught the bus back to campus and sat next to another girl attending the conference who traveled all the way from Canada to be there. I’ve been working on my French and we tried to hold our conversation in French. She told me her family is originally from Lebanon and how that will always be home to her. I really enjoyed this night as it made the world feel a little smaller and its citizens more connected.

Plenary: Vlora Citaku, Ambassador of the Republic of Kosovo

The next morning in the grand ballroom Vlora Citaku spoke to the group about fleeing Kosovo with her little sister in her arms, not knowing where she was going. She wound up crossing the border into Macedonia. “Becoming politically active wasn’t a choice,” she said, “When under oppression, you have no choices.” Ambassador Citaku also advised us to not forget other women because “there is always a woman out there as smart and talented as you are, but who doesn’t have the opportunities and privilege you have.” In closing, Citaku reminded us that we are global citizens and implored us to be active and engaged as one.

Panel: Get Real Leadership

The Get Real Leadership panel was the next on my agenda for the day. Jenn and Karen led a very interactive presentation. They emphasized that leadership is a dynamic thing and looks different both for those who are leading and also for each individual needing to be led. They encouraged us to break out of our norm, think outside the box, and not be afraid of new approaches to confronting conflict head on. The key take away for me was that we don’t have to fight, we just have to get the perspective to change. From there the panel moved on to practical approaches, such as visualizing the resolution we wish to see. Instead of getting caught up in nitty gritty details and nuance, we should approach conflict with the intent to find a resolve that works for everyone. Karen suggested that when we feel we need space to recoup and re-center, we should ask questions. More information is never a bad thing when there is conflict, and it will not only give you information but also give you time to process. Jenn advised that we ask ourselves what 2 percent of the conflict we are responsible for, because it is never all one person. She said this isn’t something we need to or should share with the person we are having a conflict with, but that it will help ground us in reality and ultimately increase our chances of working toward a common goal. We were warned not to misinterpret people’s thoughts and actions and to be explicit so that our own words and actions might be better understood.

Seminar: Entrepreneurship

This seminar was held by four women entrepreneurs who shared the things that they wish they knew before hand, their highs and their lows in running their own business. There was a strong focus on thinking positively and building as many connections as you can. The panel leaders also highlighted different methods of financing your business such as holding a “friends and family round”, obtaining a lawyer who will help you raise an initial round for free, banking incentives and options, and personal financing. There was a lot of practical advice such as forming a company board, maintaining a majority of the company and knowing when to say no to potential investors. While I don’t intend to start a business, I felt that this panel would be helpful as lots of entrepreneurs never intended to go that route, but find a need they believe they can help fill. I think this was a valuable seminar for anyone to attend.

Final Event: Women of Distinction Ceremony

This was definitely huge highlight for me. This event was ushered in by Kate Cambellson Stephensons who challenged us to own our style, whether we roar or are reserved, both are okay so long as we are being true to ourselves. She told us to engage, encourage, empower, and embrace change. After an inspirational solo song about forging ahead, she urged us to “Make America Civil Again.” We heard from several women speakers. Simone Askew, the first African American woman in her leadership position was particularly inspirational. She expressed how it can be frustrating to always have people point to the fact that she is a black woman, rather than letting her accomplishments speak for themselves. Askew said, “You are distinguished not because you are a successful woman, but because you are successful.” Carrie Goldberg also had a lot of good things to say. She explained that others darkness doesn’t have to stamp out our light, instead it can fuel it. She left us with the final thought, “Do the work! Strive to be a woman of distinction!”

This conference was remarkable. The synergy and excitement among the women present was palpable and contagious. I cannot thank you enough for sending me, it’s an experience that I will carry with me throughout my college education and into my career. I hope someday my daughters are lucky enough to attend NCCWSL.

Thank you again,
Theresa L. Reichman