Why FLOTUS And Oprah Say You Should Be Authentic

Highlights and predictions from attendees of the White House’s United State Of Women Summit

Last week, for 43 amazing minutes, I watched and listened as Oprah interviewed The First Lady. The duo took center stage at the inaugural United State Of Women (USOW) summit in Washington D.C., gleaning brilliance and cracking jokes about our “swagalicious” Commander-in-chief (FLOTUS’ words, not mine!).

Convened by The White House, the summit brought together 5,000 innovators and changemakers. The purpose? To celebrate the progress we have made to change history for women and speak to the work we still have set out for us. Speakers included leading activists, politicians, executives, and entertainers – from President Barack Obama, Vice President Biden, Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and U.S. CTO Megan Smith to shonda rhimes, Billie Jean King, Amy Poehler, Warren Buffet, and Melinda Gates. I’m overwhelmed trying to sum up the best moments and takeaways. So who better to turn to for some help? Other badass women. Because, duh.

Here, attendees share their highlights from the summit and hopes for future USOWs:

Nely Galán, Entrepreneur and Author of SELF MADE: Becoming Empowered, Self-Reliant, and Rich in Every Way

Best moment: I open my book with a quote from Gloria Steinem where she says that the women’s movement was really an entrepreneurial movement. So the moment when Barack Obama gave her — along with fabulous kidpreneur Mikaila Ulmer — a shoutout in his speech was beautiful and poignant. We stand on the shoulders of amazing women like Gloria, and at the same time the great potential for our youth is limitless.

Gloria Steinem with Mikaila Ulmer (left), the 11-year-old founder of Me & the Bees Lemonade. Courtesy of Nely Galán.

Prediction for USOW 2021: I hope USOW continues to be as diverse and as much of a unifying force. And I hope that the thousands of people who experienced the events via livestream become active participants in creating their own local events and ensuring that women everywhere have a safe place to unite and lift each other up. Young women will Snapchat advice, host workshops around the world, and share drafts of their business plans (on the latest social platform, of course).

Gloria Kimbwala, Campus Program Specialist at Square

Best moment: Watching Oprah interview The First Lady, I loved that they focused on succeeding in spite of all that is around you. I was also so inspired by the people at my table. They became my soul sisters, and I spent the rest of the week with them discussing different ways we could collaborate.

Prediction for USOW 2021: I hope this year’s summit brings so much change to communities around the world that we are able to have a session retro in 2021 discussing all the great things that came out of USOW 2016.

Rhonesha Byng, Founder and CEO of Her Agenda

Best moment: Watching The First Lady and Oprah interact. It was historic and wonderful to see two women on stage embracing their power. They are so authentic, comfortable with themselves, and present. It was my third time seeing Oprah in person, and each time I’ve walked away learning something new. More than what she says, it’s how she says it, and her presence as a woman, a journalist and a mogul.

Prediction for USOW 2021: Beyoncé will give the keynote! I also hope that five years from now, the USOW will be a celebration of things we have gotten done instead of things that need to be done.

Ola Ojewumi, Founder and Director of Project Ascend; US Government Contract Specialist

Best moment: I was brought to tears when married couple Dr. Sonia Vallabh and Dr. Eric Minikel took the stage and discussed their research to find a cure or treatment for a rare disease Dr. Vallabh has been diagnosed with, and that her mother died from. As a person who has survived two major organ transplants, I identified with Dr. Vallabh’s ambition and her will to not allow medical barriers stop her from pursuing her dreams.

Prediction for USOW 2021: Five years from now, I think USOW will be a celebration of the strides made by the The White House Council on Women and Girls and of the goals set at this year’s summit. I believe in the strength of my government and public policy to make gender equality a reality for my generation and generations to come.

Jerelyn Rodriguez, Cofounder and CEO of The Knowledge House

Best moment: Networking with so many inspiring women. People often say that women don’t support each other, but events like this prove otherwise. There is an appetite for women all over the country to partner to make our efforts more efficient and to share each other’s stories. That really motivates me.

Jerelyn Rodriguez gives a lightning talk about “Engaging Women and Girls in STEM through Data Science” at NASA.

Prediction for USOW 2021: We’ll see more diverse leadership stepping up, whether it’s more female leaders of color or more millennial women leading companies. Women will be more confident, take more risks, be more vocal, and compete with men for the same opportunities.

When Mikaila Ulmer — the 11-year-old founder of Me & the Bees Lemonade — introduced Barack Obama, my good friend began to cry. She remembered being that same little Black girl, with her hair in braids and addressing large crowds, and having her peers never really understand her. — Brittany Packnett

Christen Brandt, Cofounder and Chief Programs Officer of She’s the First

Best moment: I loved that the summit kicked off with Vice President Biden discussing the progress we’ve made — and how far we need to go — in combating violence against women. It was such a powerful moment of reflection and a call to action on a topic that touches all of us. It reminded everyone why it’s so important to come together as we did. And, of course, any time Kerry Washington (aka Olivia Pope) takes the stage becomes a top ten moment in my book!

Prediction for USOW 2021: I’d love to see the USOW conference become a platform to launch important new initiatives for women. The room held such power, and it would be amazing to see that power truly harnessed in years to come.

Brittany Packnett, Executive Director of Teach For America, St. Louis

Best moment: When Mikaila Ulmer — the 11-year-old founder of Me & the Bees Lemonade — introduced Barack Obama, my good friend Jovian Irvin began to cry. She remembered being that same little Black girl, with her hair in braids and addressing large crowds, and having her peers never really understand her. Jovian just founded the International Day of Purpose on June 20. Both she and Mikaila are inspirations to me.

Prediction for USOW 2021: I hope it will continue to bring in more diverse voices among women. ChernoBiko, a powerful Trans* activist, spoke critically about the need for our gatherings, boards, and organizations to be truly representative of our community. I hope we will see even more women of all backgrounds and that they’ll be treated with respect and dignity. That will be powerful.

Monique Carswell, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at NBCUniversal

Best moment: The conversation between The First Lady and Oprah was one of the most inspiring and transparent interviews I’ve ever witnessed. I felt as though I was eavesdropping on a chitchat between two girlfriends (albeit two super-human girlfriends). They were so candid and genuine. They reminded me that anything is possible and that, while our struggles are numerous, being a woman is powerful.

Monique Carswell at USOW last Tuesday.

Prediction for USOW 2021: I think it is safe to say that in future years we’ll see every man of influence clamoring for a USOW ticket :-). Aside from that, I could see this summit being a hotbed for startup incubators to drive solutions that come straight out of the USOW experience.

Vivian Nunez, Founder of Too Damn Young and co-host of the Forbes podcast Creating Espacios

Best moment: My grandma and mom immigrated to New York from Ecuador and raised my brother and me. As a first-generation American, it moved me to have the opportunity to be in the presence of all those women while Barack Obama spoke to the feminist ideals that I’d internalized, thanks to the strong matriarchs in my own family. When the President spoke, it was clear that he and his Administration had not just heard women’s wants, but truly listened.

President Barack Obama addresses USOW attendees. Image by Carrie Hammer.

Prediction for USOW 2021: This year we were a room full of women who came together from all walks of life, united around common goals like equal pay, universal early-childhood education, and affordable and accessible healthcare. USOW 2021 will be full of even more women who, thanks to all this year’s breakout sessions, were inspired to act. It will be a good year.

Maggie Dunne, Founder and President of Lakota Children’s Enrichment

Best moment: I spoke on a panel during a “Creating Pathways towards Equity: Advancing Opportunity for Women and Girls of Color” solution seminar, and the discussion built on the work that the The White House Council on Women has done to identify key obstacles that create barriers for women and girls of color. I really appreciated the emphasis on sharing best practices and solutions to problems we’ve faced in our work, rather than inundating everyone with statistics.

Prediction for USOW 2021: I hope the summit continues year after year, and I encourage women reading this post to apply to attend or nominate a friend or colleague!

I loved Barack Obama exclaiming, “This is what a feminist looks like!” in reference to himself.
— Carrie Hammer

Jana Landon, Diversity Intern Recruiter at Google

Best moment: Hearing from The First Lady and Oprah, I witnessed an intimate conversation about self love, self care, evolution, and success between two of the most powerful women in the world — who are also Black women. It felt like we were in their living room. It was powerful to hear them talk about walking in your purpose, being yourself unapologetically, and enjoying the journey along the way. I left with a stronger network and a stronger sense of purpose.

Prediction for USOW 2021: I can’t wait to hear from plenary speakers who were in this year’s inaugural summit audience as attendees.

Jada Ashley, Strategic Analyst at Goldman Sachs

Best moment: Listening to The First Lady and Oprah, I found myself rethinking my definition of “#squadgoals.” In mainstream media, we often admire people for their beauty and celebrity more than their accomplishments. As a Black Millennial, it was nice to see this different representation of impeccably intelligent, authentically honest women. They not only spoke about their jobs and celebrity status but explained how they are applying their clout to make the world better. That’s the sort of squad I admire and want to surround myself with.

Carrie Hammer, CEO of Carrie Hammer

Best moment: I loved Barack Obama exclaiming, “This is what a feminist looks like!” in reference to himself. Feminism is social, political, and economic equality for men and women. Women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights. And it’s fantastic to see prominent men joining the movement.

Tammy Tibbetts, Cofounder and President of She’s The First

Best moment: I’m down to the speeches from our President, The First Lady, Oprah, and the 11-year-olds! Mikaila Ulmer, founder and CEO of Me & the Bees Lemonade, introduced Barack Obama. And Marley Dias, founder of #1000BlackGirlBooks, was interviewed by Sophia Bush. There was something incredibly hopeful about linking up how much more work lies ahead to achieve women’s equality with the girls’ incredible optimism and ambition. They are our future!

Prediction for USOW 2021: It’s impossible to say, but maybe the Obama daughters will be cohosting with Chelsea Clinton, even further amplifying the voice and progress powered by Millennials and Gen Z.

Did you attend any USOW talks or tune in via livestream? What are we missing? Share your favorite moment or USOW 2021 prediction in the comments.

This piece was originally published on The Well, Jopwell’s editorial hub. Jopwell helps America’s leading companies connect with and recruit Black, Latino/Hispanic, and Native American professionals and students at scale. Sign up to find your dream job.

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