A virtual who’s who of powerful and influential women from the world of politics, workforce development and academia assembled at California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) on Nov. 12 to share their struggles, triumphs and advice during the “Women in Leadership Conference: the Path to Political Power.”
Hosted by the Mervyn. M. Dymally African American Political & Economic Institute (Dymally Institute) at CSUDH, the day-long conference featured 22 prominent women leaders in the state and nation who conveyed powerful messages and stories—borne through experience and told with enthusiasm—during keynote addresses and four speaker panels.
Ellen Junn, CSUDH provost and vice president for academic affairs, welcomed the nearly 250 participants during the conference’s opening remarks. Among the topics she discussed was the importance collaboration plays in the development of power, both in politics and in the daily lives of young women.
“One can think about power as the ability to work collaboratively with a group of people to achieve a larger goal. And if you choose that as your definition of power, then each and every one of you can become even more powerful than you are,” said Junn. “I want you to think about how to enlarge your sphere of influence, and how to work with other people, not just within your family, but maybe at your school, university or college, or in your community. I want you to think about becoming leaders in other domains and spheres of influence to have more impact on the future and the lives of people around you.”
Congresswoman Maxine Waters, 34rd Congressional District of California, delivered the morning keynote address. She reminded the audience of mostly women—many who were college and high school students—that any story of women in politics must begin with an “understanding that women had to fight for every ounce of power that we have obtained over the last 50 years.”
That is what it takes to be a woman leader and a woman in politics. You must find and involve yourselves in projects and causes that you’re willing to fight for. And once you’ve found them, you must find the courage to keep fighting. -Maxine Waters
“That is what it takes to be a woman leader and a woman in politics. You must find and involve yourselves in projects and causes that you’re willing to fight for. And once you’ve found them, you must find the courage to keep fighting,” said Waters. “Yet, even after the fight has been waged and many of these laws [for women’s rights] were radicated, we saw the persistence of the gender gap. We saw the persistence of the imbalance of power between men and women. … Even once elected, women have to fight for a seat at the table, and to get their voices heard.”
Brenda Riddick, director of the Dymally Institute, was joined by California Assemblyman Mike Gipson, 64th District—the only man to speak during the conference—to acknowledge the elected officials at the conference.
“I was raised by a strong, smart and nurturing woman. And I was so blessed to marry an incredible woman with many of the same attributes as my mom,” said Gipson. “What I have noticed about both of them is their organizational skills, their diplomacy, their advocacy, and their quick direction and wit to get issues and things done at home and abroad. These are many of the same skills that these great women who will speak to you today have.”
During the morning program, Hilda Solis, Los Angeles County supervisor, 1st District, joined the panel “From the Fire to Power in Public Policy, Academia, and Community.” She said that leaders “can only go as far as our community takes us because we all rely on one another,” a reality that she said helped guide her during her successful run for the California State Assembly, the State Senate, and for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Along the way, I have been inspired and supported by many, including some of the phenomenal women who are joining me here at Cal State Dominguez Hills’ Women in Leadership Conference,” said Solis, who was the first Hispanic woman to ever serve in the state senate and the first Hispanic woman to serve as a U.S. cabinet secretary when she served as Secretary of Labor for President Barack Obama. “But, our work hasn’t ended. We need new leaders who will continue to give the residents of Los Angeles County a voice. I am sure the participants at the conference will continue that important work.”
During lunch, three additional keynote speakers addressed the crowd: Grace Napolitano, U.S. representative, 32nd District; Shirley Weber, California State Assembly, District 9; and E. Faye Williams, president and CEO of the National Congress of Black Women.
Jan Perry, general manager for the Economic and Workforce Development Department for the City of Los Angeles, participated in the two-topic panel “Economic and Workforce Development at the City, State and Federal Levels; Gender Wage Disparity.”
Perry asked the women in the audience to remember the complexities of being a woman and what’s involved, such as taking care of kids and aging parents, a need and desire for a good career, good health and “overall fulfillment,” and making sure the family is safe, particularly children.
“That’s what I stand for, that’s what I push for, and that’s what drives me each and every day,” said Perry. “I ran for mayor [of Los Angeles in 2013] and I lost. I didn’t like that very much, but one thing I can tell you women is to get back up. When you get knocked down you get back up. Reflect, learn and then stand up. This is why we’re here today. We are unique and we are special.”