Empowering women in leadership: Six students to attend conference

Sarah Gudenau, Contributor

Six Oakland University students will have the chance to attend the annual National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL) hosted by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) at the University of Maryland this May. 

The Rochester branch of AAUW offers scholarships for six OU students to attend the conference each year. Two board members of AAUW at OU attended last year: AAUW President Maya Ford, junior, and Vice President Alisa Novelli, senior. 

NCCWSL aims to empower college women, prepare them for success during and after college, and inspire them to take on active roles on their campuses. The conference consists of professional development workshops, leadership panels and lectures from keynote speakers. Presenters from a variety of industries will speak about activism, identity and diversity, and prevalent women’s policy issues. Attendees have the opportunity to network with women from around the country. 

The Women of Distinction Awards are also presented at the conference each year, which honor women who have been revolutionaries in their particular fields and act as role models to other women. This year’s awardees include executive editor of Out magazine Raquel Willis, award-winning journalist Noor Tagouri and senior editor of ZORA magazine Morgan Jerkins. 

At the conference last year, Novelli had the opportunity to speak to a panel of women who worked in different fields in Washington, D.C., including a journalist and an FBI employee, which influenced her as a student leader.

“It was really neat to be able to ask them questions and see how they held their own space in a kind of dog-eat-dog, high-pressure community,” Novelli said. “I think that left the biggest impression on me.” 

NCCWSL seeks to empower women not only professionally, but also personally.

“Definitely know your worth. Know who you are and what you’re capable of and don’t doubt your abilities,” Ford said, regarding the most beneficial lesson she learned from her experience at NCCWSL. “Especially as women, [others] like to belittle us and play us down in a way and what not, but I kind of just learned how to value myself more and sell myself, especially when it comes to careers. I realize that I am still capable. Although everybody else may not think that way, I know that I am still capable of everything that a man can do.” 

NCCWSL targets gender equity issues both in education and the workplace. Women are gaining more representation in higher education nationally. The total fall enrollment in universities in 2019 was 56.7% female, according to the National Center for Education. The female majority trend in higher education has been persistent since 1979. 

The demographics at OU reflect the national trend. According to the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, 10,776 females and 8,237 males enrolled at OU in fall 2019, constituting a ratio of 59.3% women to 40.7% men. 

Despite the student female majority at universities, the leadership gap between genders persists. Women still fall behind their male counterparts in holding leadership positions across top industries including medicine, academia, the legal profession, government and financial services. 

In 2015, the Association of American Medical Colleges found that only 20 out of 125 permanent medical school deans were women. The American Council on Education reported that women made up 30 percent of presidents across all institutions of higher education as of 2016. As of 2017, the American Bar Association Market Research Department published that the legal profession consisted of 65% men to 35% women. In 2018, women made up only 20.6% of the U.S. Congress. Catalyst comprised a list of the female CEOs of the S&P 500, a group of companies in finance, health care, information technology, real estate, and more, and as of December 2019, women held only 6% of those positions.