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Roughly 80 students and professors gathered on the top floor of the Smith Campus Center for the Association for Black Harvard Women’s 16th annual Road to Success Conference on Saturday afternoon.
The conference, sponsored by the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, the Undergraduate Council, and the national hospital network MedStar Health, aimed to facilitate pre-professional development and mentoring opportunities for black women on campus, according to organizers.
“I don’t think Harvard does enough to really prepare, particularly black women, for the unique challenges that come when we do enter spaces, whether it be finance, consulting, entertainment, whatever,” Kacey E. Gill ’20, President of ABHW, said. “Our goal for the event this year was really to make sure that we are trying to fill that gap.”
In contrast from past events, this year’s iteration of the conference featured guest speakers in addition to the recurring breakout discussion sessions, where participants could reflect on topics addressed during the conference.
“Those attending the event are also amazing people, so we want to make sure that they have the space to talk to and learn from each other,” Adinawa D. Adjagbodjou, Vice-President of ABHW, said. “Sessions cover topics on what to do once you have your foot in the door of your dream job, and how to continue growing.”
The conference’s featured keynote speaker was Loretta Y. Walker, Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resource Officer of MedStar Health. Walker said that when she started her executive career, there were few black women in senior level positions.
“I absolutely feel like the tides are shifting,” Walker said when asked about the role of women of color in the workplace. “I think the more diverse decision-making body is, in any industry, the better decisions you will make. It is really important to me when I get the opportunity to give back and to help others see a path that may not necessarily be clear to them that I take that extra step.”
Gill said after the event that the conference played a necessary role in addressing the many obstacles faced by minorities after college.
“I think that everyone who is a person of color, everyone who is a woman knows that entering the professional world has unique challenges,” she said. “Oftentimes people consider box braids to be unprofessional in the workplace, but that is one of the most important protective styles for black women.”
Several attendees said they went to the conference in hopes of gaining perspectives from currently successful professionals at the conference.
“I’m undecided in what I want to study,” Unique O. Hodge ’22 said. “Hearing from other black woman professionals is very important to me when I’m deciding how to channel my interests in my future career.”
Other students at the conference said that the program provided support in more ways that just pre-professional guidance.
“What is so empowering is that [ABHW] is not just about the professional side of college,”
Alexis A. Elliot ’22 said. “It is also a great place to build communities. The Association of Black Harvard Woman provides this space for people like me.”
Both women said they thought Harvard should encourage more events like this in the future.
When asked what advice she had for undergraduates unable to attend, Walker implored conference attendees and undergraduate women to take advantage of all the resources that the College provides.
“To all the young women of color,” Walker said, “I would say never fail to seize the opportunity to learn something new and meet different people. Always exhibit intellectual curiosity. It can only help you to continue to grow.”
Gill said that ABHW members are planning similar conferences and on-campus board meetings in the near future.
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