On Sept. 17, influential women from across the state will be in Seattle to participate in a conference aimed at creating an environment where women will feel empowered to take on leadership roles. The speakers and panelists represent a range of disciplines including education, stem (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), and law enforcement. Kela Hall created the Women on Rise conference, which will take place at the Husky Union Building on the University of Washington campus.
“The conference is needed. I believe as women are brought in leadership we need more and more platforms where we can really be able to inspire and motivate,” Hall said. “There’s so much vast opportunity here but there’s different groups. People don’t come together.”
The inaugural event is being held this year to coincide with a history-making presidential race. Attendees will be able to listen in on four panel discussions, and Pramila Jayapal will deliver the keynote address. Jayapal is a Washington state senator who is running for Congress in the 7th District.
“They’re going to have the ability to be connected with some of the most influential, powerful women in our state. It’s bipartisan, so it doesn’t matter if you’re Republican or Democrat, there’s a space for you here,” Hall said. “It doesn’t matter what or who you are. You’re able to come to this event and be included.”
Hall wants the event to cross age and cultural lines so that everyone can learn from one another. In addition to professionals, Hall and her team also reached out to women who are attending colleges and universities. They’ll have the opportunity to meet with recruiters representing different organizations.
“The purpose for the college students is to be able to know how to network, to meet with employers so when they graduate one, two years down the line they can already have those connections,” Hall said. “For the folks who are professional for them to also be there to mentor. And also to enjoy and learn more about politics, law enforcement and community.”
Hall began planning the conference more than a year ago. Her level of devotion to the conference led her to leave her job as South King County regional marketing director for the YMCA.
“I couldn’t continue to be split like that because I have a young daughter too. My daughter is 17 months,” Hall said. “The journey to getting these women together was hard. It was complicated.”
Not one to be easily dissuaded, Hall found others who shared her vision and they signed on to share their expertise. Meadow Johnson, senior vice president of government relations at Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce, believes in the power of mentorship. She credits counselors, teachers and bosses with helping her break the cycle of poverty.
“With this opportunity it means helping women understand they aren’t alone in their experiences,” Johnson said. “And the path is bumpy and full of obstacles but with a bit of perseverance, resiliency and support, each person can push through those hurdles.”
Erin Jones, who is currently running for Washington superintendent of public instruction, is also looking forward to speaking at the event and meeting other female leaders.
“We often are so isolated. We’re working; we’re taking care of children, other relationships. Sometimes we feel like we are all alone in our stuff and conferences become this really amazing place to connect to one another and to invest in one another,” Jones said. “Inspiring other people inspires me too. Just the opportunity to be part of someone else’s growth is great. I feel like it’s an incredible gift and a privilege.”
The numbers back up a need for encouraging women to become leaders. In 2015, women made up 5 percent of CEOs in the nation’s Fortune 500 companies and 17 percent of the corporate board members among Fortune 500 companies, according to the Pew Research Center. Pew Research also shows after the 2014 midterms for the first time more than 100 women will be serving in Congress. In Washington women make up 35 percent of the State Senate and 34 percent of the State House of Representatives.
Johnson said making a difference in the lives of others is critical and considers the “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” idiom to be a false metaphor.
“You have to think about it as we’re all walking through a forest. Some people it’s pitch black at night and there’s no moon to even light the way. You know where you’ve come and you can go back that way or you can take these tiny steps right in front of you,” Johnson said. “But when other people come in and they serve as mentors or they tell you their stories or show you how it’s done, they illuminate other pathways for you.”
To buy tickets and find out more on the conference visit KD Hall Foundation.