This fall, I was extremely lucky to be accepted to attend the Woman of the Public Policy Program’s Board Meeting and Leadership Conference for Fall 2018 which occurs twice a year at Harvard Kennedy School of Government in both the Spring and Fall. I could walk you through the agenda and every event, but because that can be found online here, I wanted to talk about my personal experience and the impact this conference has had on me as a young women studying and applying myself in the fields of economics, history, political science and international affairs.
During my time at this conference, I kept on writing down adjectives about these women and the most important I wrote down, to me, were adjectives like inquisitive, inspiring, powerful, passionate, and humble. These women of the leadership board asked questions, offered insight, and were not afraid to admit where there were faults and room for improvement. Not only were they humble about their achievements, but many, if not all, are doing at least more than one thing in various fields that works towards gender equality in our country and other countries as well. These women, their membership directory and full bios can be found here, are powerful, working their way up, most in male dominated fields, and standing their ground as they fight for their own equality in the workplace as well as pave the way for other women’s equality. Finally, these women are passionate about their causes, beliefs, fields of work and for women of all ages in all generations. As sisters, wives, mothers, daughters, aunts, grandmothers, these women are fighting for this cause so that the women in each of their own lives live in a more equal world.
I felt so foolish for thinking that I wouldn’t be able to hold conversations with these women, after all, I wasn’t working in a male dominated corporate world fighting for gender equality or paving the way for women in my home country by fighting hard for causes that only pushed women forward. I am not even close to where these women are in life. If anything the efforts I make on a daily basis were small and menial compared to the everyday efforts of these women. However despite the age differences and differed academic and occupational fields, I had incredible and insightful conversations with multiple women who were interested in not only me and my activities, but my generation, which allowed for open, honest, and inquisitive conversations, three of which have stayed with me even after I left the conference.
One of my favorite conversations of three was with a women who was highly intelligent, elegant and passionate, I am not going to reveal who she is, for the sake of her privacy. On the second day, during lunch, I had just sat down after visiting the salad bar, and immediately her and I started talking. She started out by asking some questions about where I go to school, what I’m studying, what I want to do, and what I do outside of my academics. We then got on the topic of the youth vote as I had told her about the previous article I had written about voting, as well as my own personal experience voting for the first time a day prior to this conference. She then began to ask me questions about what I thought were the drivers behind the larger turnout of youth participation in the political arena as well as well as the motivations of students as they choose what fields they would like to seek a career in post college. I talked about both my own personal experience and drive, as well as those of my close friends and peers. She seemed genuinely interested in my generation, and even apologized for asking so many questions as she was just curious.
It was such a personal and insightful conversation as she asked question after question, but it was one of the best conversations I had this whole conference because I realized that I was actually in a unique position at this conference being the youngest guest there, because I could answer questions about my generation, a topic these women didn’t get to normally explore in depth while at these conferences. Many women, including the one I conversed with, thanked me for talking with them and giving them insight and a window into the younger generation, which seemed so funny to me because I was grateful for the interest in my small scale efforts in my own academic career, when sitting at a table with women who were far more successful and accomplished than I am.
The second conversation I had was with one of our guest speakers who was a professor at a college in California. The second night of the conference we were exiting dinner and walked back to the hotel when he sparked up a conversation with me about the panel discussion we had just listened to during dinner. This panel discussion had a moderator and Graham Allison, who discussed his book Destined for War, an exploration of the relations between U.S. and China during the era of Trump’s presidency. The conversation we had that followed was regarding World War I secret treaties and if there could be a parallel made between those and the secret meetings Trump has with world leaders. We expanded into the causes of World War I, agreeing that it was not in fact the shooting of the Archduke that had sparked a World War, but the secret treaties that dragged country after country into the conflict. He wondered, as did I, if the same would happen here in our political arena today, as those secret meetings are today’s versions of that era’s secret treaties, and how that could potentially play a role in a possible future conflict with China. We had been talking for a while when he asked me what I was majoring and minoring in and introduced himself formally. After I told him, he told me I was impressive and that he appreciated our intellectual discussion about past historical events and the current political events of today. I genuinely just felt honored to talk to someone who is a master of their political field and teaches it to students just like myself, who are studying in the same subjects I am.
The third and final conversation I had that has stuck with me was with a women, whose identity I will not reveal as well, who was kind, genuine and lighthearted. We discussed politics among a few other topics, when we started talking about the articles I was writing for Her Campus. She asked about the types of topics I was exploring. I told her that recently, I had been writing a lot of articles that were political, without leaning towards one party or the other, but more about the importance of voting – no matter what side you voted for. I told her that it was my small way of influencing other individuals of my generation to get out and vote, as well as simplifying information that they might not necessarily know or have a desire to try to find. She asked if I would send her my articles and any I was writing in the future so she could read them. This is a women who reads the New York Times, Huffington Post, and so many more important and well renowned writing platforms and she genuinely wanted to read my articles that I was writing under my school’s Her Campus website. The two articles I sent in a follow up email can be found here and here.
Overall, my time at the conference was short, however it inspired me and only instilled more passion to move forward with my academics, especially because a lot of the topics covered had to do with my majors and minors in small and big ways. I was able to network with incredible women who were interested in who I was, my studies and accomplishments in and out of my academic settings as well as those of my peers. I was able to act as a window into my generation in both politics and educational/occupational arenas which allowed for insightful conversations that I will carry throughout my educational pursuits. The message behind this conference was “ask yourself what you can do together to create gender equality” and this conference allowed me to not only talk and network with women who are making successful efforts and projects on a big scale in all fields, in the United States and other countries, but also showed me that my small scale efforts as a young woman, and those of the women I associate with in and outside of my academics, are going to make a difference as we follow the path they are paving for us.