Building a Better Future: Women in Community Leadership Advocate for Change in Work and Business

Deb Schell, CEO and Founder
3 min readOct 27, 2023

Over 8,500 women gathered on Thursday, October 19th, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia to support each other and connect. The Pennsylvania Conference for Women celebrated its 20th year of community, connection, and leadership.

This year’s theme was celebrating advancements made by women within the community and beyond. The former prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, and Comedian and SNL star Tina Fay were among the keynote speakers. Below, I’ll share a few takeaways from the event with you.

Women can be empathetic and human, but it’s tricky.

Jacinda Ardern became prime minister at 37, and during her time in office, she navigated the challenges, including a live-streamed domestic terror attack against New Zealand’s Muslim community, a volcanic eruption, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

When asked about dealing with crises, she shared that she knew she had to unite the community. By spending time with and being close to the victims, community members, and leaders, she developed her empathy into a strength by turning it into skills.

“If you prioritize the moment (when the crisis is happening) and work to understand the deep grief, pain, and anger, it is a sign of strength. There is nothing wrong with being seen as human,” Ardern said.

Some in society may say that empathy is associated with weakness. Arden disagrees, sharing that it was vital for her to grieve with the community and offer her presence. It takes discernment to know when to show compassion and when courage is needed to take a stand. Within 24 hours of the Christchurch shootings that took the lives of 51 New Zealanders, Arden announced changes to gun reform. In the following weeks, parliament voted 119 to 1 in favor of a ban on all military-style semi-automatic weapons.

But she didn’t stop there; she gathered a group of leaders from seven nations to push an initiative that calls for government and internet companies to do more to prevent the live broadcast of terrorist attacks and make sure content quickly when it does appear. When Arden was asked how she would be a leader and mother, she said that question was unacceptable and felt confident in not answering. She has since stepped down from leadership but feels a profound responsibility to improve the world.

The PA Women’s Conference speakers and attendees demonstrate how a community can impact change when united to save lives, feel compassion for the human experience, and fight terrorism. Ardern said that she sometimes doubted herself, and in these moments, her daughter inspired her when opposition. Women can do amazing things when they take space and choose to lead.

Fey tells women to stop apologizing for their presence.

In professional work environments, there has been a long-standing double standard around discussing work/life balance. Many women are asked how they handle raising a family and being a leader or a successful business owner. Is the same question asked of men in leadership roles?

Tina Fey, an American actress, comedian, writer, and producer, was the first female cast member of Saturday Night Live (SNL), a late-night comedy show. She learned to lead throughout her career and shared that community is vital to squashing self-doubt.

During the lunch keynote interview at the conference, Fey shared that she decided to lead by example for her children and peers. She said it’s good to be honest and admit mistakes, which is part of the human experience. Women should have a “seat at the table” in leadership roles but shouldn’t apologize for their presence. She encouraged women to start with a mindset of “yes, and…” (an improv term).

The women who supported Fey helped her feel confident when she was uncertain about the outcomes and pushbacks of others. She told the women that she connects with women inside a private Slack channel to get a “reality check” on women’s issues and social faux pas and to keep updated on changes to her friends’ lives or work situations.

Fey says building allyships is the key to building more diversified and inclusive communities. “We need to address the ‘how’ of inclusion. The pendulum is swinging back, and we must advocate for each other. It starts in your community. Don’t let yourself be afraid of what others will say; say yes and keep the conversation going.”

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Deb Schell, CEO and Founder

Community Strategist, Author, Podcaster, Designer. Find Calm Here, where community strategy meets intentionality.