On Saturday, the 5th annual Women’s Empowerment Conference was held on USC’s campus, drawing nearly 100 high school girls who visited campus for a day of inspirational speakers and empowerment workshops.
The event was hosted by Maxwell Avenue, a fashion and lifestyle brand, in conjunction with USC TriO Educational Talent Search. The ETS is a nonprofit program unit, which aims to promote education and better living to kids from low-income backgrounds, and Maxwell Avenue’s brand name has become an emblem of female empowerment and accomplishment.
The day began with keynote speaker Serena Watson, who is the editor-in-chief of women’s lifestyle magazine Made Woman Magazine. Watson is also a USC alumna and is a now a writer, producer and entrepreneur. Watson has applied her passions to becoming a spokeswoman and advocate for woman empowerment.
“Just to see and be able to talk to women who have been so successful is inspiring,” said Catherine Romo, a sophomore at Southeast High School. “They make you feel as if you can do it, too.”
Later in the day, the girls were able to get more involved in the conference through workshops. One was directed by a USC Department of Public Safety officer, and was both a self-defense lesson as well as a presentation on safety in general.
Another workshop consisted of a panel of successful women in the workplace. They were asked about their accomplishments, their struggles and how they have overcome the challenges associated with working in historically male-dominated fields.
“All you have control over is yourself,” said panelist Darcy Alvarez. “It all comes down to attitude.”
Alvarez has worked in finance, accounting and management in her position with Liberty Tax Service. She noted that confidence is key.
“Don’t let yourself become your own worst enemy,” Alvarez said. “You are there for a reason, and you deserve to be there.”
Another panelist, Colleen Charles, a civil engineer, said not to let the unfair discrepancy between men and women in the workplace be intimidating.
“As a civil engineer, I’ve found myself at meetings where often I am the only woman at the table. I’ve learned you can’t let that ratio intimidate you,” Charles said. “Instead, turn it into something productive. Let it empower you.”
Those in the audience were surprised about women’s lack of presence in the workforce.
“Only 20 of the ‘Fortune 500’ CEOs are women,” said workshop host and President of Maxwell Avenue Alanah Joseph.
She stressed that women statistically make less money than men, but trends are changing.
“Women only make 77 cents to every dollar earned by men,” Joseph said. “The scale is tipping, though. It’s important that we know our worth and, with that knowledge, have the confidence to ask for what we want. It’s the only way we’re going to get it.”
The mission of the conference was to empower, encourage and promote education, positive self-esteem and strong self-awareness. The young women who attended the event left the event with a sense of determination to make positive changes for women.
“I want to be an aerospace engineer and seeing engineers here makes me so happy,” said Diana Palafox, a 17-year-old student from Belmont High School in Westlake, Calif. “These women have shown me that even though that field is dominated by males, I can still go into it and have success.”
Joseph’s success in empowering women can be seen in the mindsets of the girls who attended the conference.
“This is my second year at the conference, and I think more women should attend,” said Jennifer Marroquin, a 17-year-old from Belmont High School. “They tell us that we are strong and beautiful women and that we can make something of ourselves. I don’t think women hear that enough.”