by Katelyn E. Culpepper ’24, Communications major

On June 23rd 2022, the College of Charleston hosted its second annual Women for Women Summit, attracting participants from across the state. Co-founded in 2020 by Joanna Lau, founder of executive consulting and investment company Lau Acquisitions and a member of the School of Business Board of Governors, and Katarina Fjording, head of Volvo Car University and Sustainability Americas at Volvo Cars, this year’s theme was “Grit.” The definition of grit means courage and resolve and strength of character, qualities that described attendees and speakers from various backgrounds including CEOs, politicians, athletes and more. Throughout the summit these women shared personal stories and their own unique grit. The topics discussed included leadership, resilience, personal networking, sustainability and perseverance.

The conference kicked off at 8 a.m. in the Francis Marion hotel as speakers and guests had a few minutes to network and grab a bite of delicious breakfast. Most of the attendees were from businesses around the area and were all open to having discussions about their careers and how they got here. One of the attendees said “This conference is an awesome opportunity! It gives me the opportunity to feel comfortable networking with people who I know want to help me.”

Andrea Silbert, President of the Eos Foundation, an organization working to fight hunger and poverty and address structural barriers to gender and racial equity, gave the keynote address. Silbert is a trailblazer and a nationally recognized advocate of economic empowerment.

“We need to fix the system, not the women,” Silbert said, setting the stage for the rest of the conference by talking about her non-profit work and how women in the workplace are natural entrepreneurs.

Next up was a panel discussion with Jennet Robinson Alterman, a non-profit consultant and women’s rights advocate, Rachel Hutchisson, vice president, global social responsibility at Blackbaud, Lou Kennedy, CEO and owner, Nephron pharmaceuticals and Jodie McLean, CEO, EDENS. The women discussed leadership, resilience and the importance of a diverse workplace. Words of wisdom from the panelists included advice from McLean to “use your voice to make an impact from within” and for women to “Bring your chair to the table.”

Following the break, the audience heard from Mary Garrett, board director and global marketer, Kimmy K. Powell, author and entrepreneur, and Monique Wilsondebriano, owner of Charleston Gourmet Burger Company. During their talk these women discussed how they built themselves up and offered networking tips. Halfway through their session, the audience got a chance to practice networking by doing a speed round of introductions around the room. Through this exercise many of the attendees agreed that it allowed them to gain fruitful connections within a matter of minutes.

This year’s recipient of the Woman of Courage award was Barbara L. Melvin, the president and CEO of South Carolina Ports who was nominated for outstanding leadership and courage. Katarina Fjording, member of the School of Business Board of Governors, head of Volvo Car University and Sustainability Americas at Volvo Cars introduced Melvin with a heartfelt and humorous speech that left the audience drying their eyes.

“I’m honored to lead a team as the incoming president and CEO of the port,” says Melvin. “I’ve always said I look forward to the day when it’s not notable that a woman is in this executive position. But for today, I’ll celebrate it. And I’ll leave the door open behind me. It’s so important that women continue to show up, that we do the work and that we defy expectations.”

The conference concluded with speaker Sara Hastreiter, who is attempting to set a world record of being the first female and only the second person to sail the seven oceans and climb the highest peak on each continent. Her talk was captivating and she had the audience hanging on every word. Through the incredible ups and downs of her journey it was clear that this woman has grit.

As a communications major at the College, I was truly inspired by everyone at the Women for Women Summit. So much potential and opportunity were concentrated in one space that it was overwhelming. The Women for Women Summit will continue to grow in success through the coming years all thanks to the women who showed true grit in holding this conference and their courage to break all the ceilings.

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