On May 23, I hosted a Zoom conference called Project Athena, which addressed sexism in education and different fields of work for middle and high school girls. Sexism is an issue that every girl faces in her life; it’s unavoidable. Women must work three times as hard to arrive at the same point as their male colleagues, and while incredible strides have been made towards gender equality in recent decades, American society is still much tougher on girls. This is not an issue that can be solved overnight, but we can take small strides to do our best to equip girls with the tools to succeed despite the bias, which was the goal of the project. 

My conference consisted of five speakers, each a powerful woman from a different professional background. Each spoke to her experiences in her own specific field, focusing on the biggest barriers she faced as a female and how she dealt with it. 

Ashley Judd, the keynote speaker, discussed her experiences as a woman in the film industry as well as her involvement in activism. Judd has received much recognition for her incredible talent being nominated for numerous acting awards. At the conference, Judd shared her journey, including how she became involved in film, and where she faced the hardest difficulties there. She then discussed her role in activism, advocating for gender equality, and shared several stories which spoke to sexism and how to combat it.

The other speakers covered similar topics. Catherine Faddis, the CEO, and founder of Grace Capital spoke about her difficulties as a woman of color in the finance world. She found that although finance may seem to be a black and white world, personal connection can still be quite influential, and so she determined that she was able to apply her skills most in smaller business, where connections mattered less. Mary Murphy, a journalist, and teacher at USC Annenberg spoke about her involvement in journalism and what that looks like as a woman. Cynthia Bamdad, CEO of Minerva Biotechnologies, discussed her experiences as a pioneer in the medical field. Natalya Bailey, CEO of Accion Systems, talked about what it was like starting her own aerospace engineering business as a woman, sharing how many people assume she cannot be so accomplished due to her age and gender. 

Each woman has an incredible story to tell, and I could write dozens of articles on each of them. If you would like to read more on them, feel free to do so on the Project Athena website. The biggest take away for me, however, is how despite their different backgrounds and interests, each speaker has experienced gender-based injustice. Together, they showed girls that there are many paths to success and that it is possible to go into any field as a woman. I found each speaker’s confidence and determination inspiring, and the participants seemed to mirror this response. 

My favorite part of the conference was the discussion groups. Everyone was sorted into breakout rooms after the first few speakers, and these smaller discussions were hosted and led by some of the teenage girls. The space allowed for more relaxed comments and questions, leading to considerate, insightful discussions. The discussion groups were a great way for me to see what the girls took away from each speaker and the conference as a whole. This was the most rewarding part of the conference by far, showing me the impact that the event made.

My biggest takeaway from the event is that each of us has the ability to do so much, regardless of what others say. Through this conference, I wanted to show that anyone has the potential to achieve their goals regardless of being told it is impossible.