The Cal Poly Women in Business Club invites more than a dozen working professionals to speak about courage, empowerment, and diversity, equity & inclusivity at the Defining Her Future Conference.
By Grace Power Smith
Cal Poly’s Women In Business (WIB) Club hosted its sixth annual Defining Her Future Conference on March 5 in a virtual format. According to assistant director of logistics Kritika Mahajan, about 450 people attended the event, which aims to provide students of all majors and identities the opportunity to network with and hear from working professionals.
The organizers chose “courage” as the theme for this year’s conference as a way to inspire and uplift students despite the uncertainty many are feeling due to the pandemic, according to conference director Frankie Galuppo.
“We started brainstorming over the summer and, at that point, the pandemic was six months in, so we were like ‘What embodies this time of growth and opportunity and inspiration, and what are we all needing to hear right now,’” says Galuppo.
The event began with a speech from Emily Harrington, a professional rock climber in the U.S. and five-time National Champion for climbing.
Harrington spoke about her experience free climbing Yosemite’s El Capitan in under 24 hours in 2020, making her the first woman to conquer the Golden Gate route in under a day. She reflected on the emotional stress, physical challenge, and fear that she faced during her attempts to finish the climb.
Her story demonstrated the courage it takes to try something she thought seemed impossible at times, to fail, and try again.
“I was really, really bummed that I could not complete that section without falling, but at the same time I was encouraged. It was this moment I realized ‘oh my god I can actually do this’ and I set out to try again that year,” Harrington said.
Mahajan said many attendees told her they were inspired by Harrington’s presentation, and it made some prospective Cal Poly students, who were also in the audience, excited about attending the university.
“I believe that impossible challenges, fear, failure, and discomfort are not things that we should shy away from. They’re there to be embraced and utilized so we can reach our full potential and be better humans for ourselves and those we touch along the way.”
The second keynote speech was given by Bing Han, who works in global communications for Adobe. Han moved to Canada from China as a young child and then to the U.S. after graduating college. She emphasized the importance of speaking out for and looking out for one another in both a professional and social context. She also said courage is often about “being comfortable with discomfort.”
“I believe that impossible challenges, fear, failure, and discomfort are not things that we should shy away from,” said Han. “They’re there to be embraced and utilized so we can reach our full potential and be better humans for ourselves and those we touch along the way.”
Sophomore business administration student Samantha Holland said she was especially inspired by Han, and she learned the importance of asking for help when needed and offering it when available.
“I came away from her presentation so empowered and so courageous to try new things,” says Holland.
Panels and workshops were offered later in the day on topics such as taking risks, overcoming adversity, entrepreneurship, allyship, and diversity, equity & inclusion.
The first ever Defining Her Future Conference was held in April 2015, and although this is the sixth conference, this year was the first time the event was completely virtual. Galuppo said this was her first year planning the conference, and her team originally planned for both a virtual and in-person format.
When Galuppo, Mahajan, and assistant director of marketing Layna Hathaway found out the event would need to be virtual, they said their main concern was audience engagement and attendance. The organizers came up with the idea of virtual swag bags for all attendees that included gift cards, access to podcasts, a yoga series, and more. Galuppo said she put in a lot of time connecting with and finding inspirational and engaging speakers.
“I think with the work of our team, the in-person and virtual swag bags, the amazing speakers, and the way the conference flowed we were still able to capture that excitement and energy you would’ve felt in person,” says Hathaway.
Freshman business administration student Simone Pucher said she was looking forward to networking with the speakers and learning about ways to grow personally and professionally.
“Listening to powerful women speak about their stories and how they overcame challenges was really insightful. They made me realize that I could do anything I put my mind to,” Pucher says.
“Listening to powerful women speak about their stories and how they overcame challenges was really insightful. They made me realize that I could do anything I put my mind to.”
The Women in Business club began at Cal Poly in 2015. Club member Cristina Shaffer said WIB is a great place for women who seek a career in business to network and support each other through their time at Cal Poly.
“Whether it’s learning about different career opportunities that exist, or learning how to be a better future employee at a company, or learning how to be a better friend, a better ally, or a more empowered woman, that’s why the work that WIB does is so important,” Shaffer says.
She noted it’s not uncommon for there to be only five women in a class of 30 in some business concentrations such as information systems, economics, and finance.
“It’s not without its challenges, but I think the College of Business, especially in the last year, has made a lot of strides in making it a more inclusive environment for women and students of color,” she adds.
Galuppo said she wants to challenge the idea that business is an “all gentlemen’s club” and wants attendees of all majors and identities to realize their full potential.
“When I leave the conference, I feel like I can do literally anything I set my mind to. I want attendees to feel empowered and inspired and just know that everything will be okay,” she says. “And if you’re not okay right now and feel like you’re struggling, I’m hoping you walk away feeling excited about whatever opportunities you have ahead. I want you to feel like you’re capable of what we all know students at Cal Poly are capable of.”