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Report From the Invincible Women’s Summit: The Power of Personal Stories

By Joyce Ganthavorn, WEN Board Member


As a child, I never saw myself as a leader. I was quiet and shy (still am) and did not believe that I possess the attributes of what I believed to be a leader. I was also compassionate, however, and had a burning desire to stand up for what I believed was right. I believed in making a difference  But having a voice and using it? I didn’t think it was possible.

As I grew older, life proved me wrong and I found myself in many leadership positions. This summer I attended San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s Invincible Women’s Summit, where I joined over a thousand women from different industries and sectors at an event to celebrate the progress of women.

There were women in the room in all phases of their careers – women who are just starting out, and women who are mid-range and maybe looking for a change. There were executives and CEOs. Entrepreneurs. Elected officials. It was extremely powerful and humbling to be in that room, as in this moment in time we shared the same space and a common belief. We shared the belief that now more than ever, women have the power to shape our future.

The event showcased many high-level speakers, including Mayor Breed, Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, and Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to former President Barack Obama. All shared incredible stories of resilience, perseverance, and strength.

In addition to the speakers, there were also opportunities to attend a wide range of workshops such as financial empowerment, giving back to one’s community, and self-care. One of the sessions I attended was titled ‘Never Settle for Less Than You Deserve’ which was about self-advocacy and negotiation…two things that I, along with many women, struggle with. As we know, women are still being paid less than their male counterparts for the exact same position and work. According to a report put together by PayScale, “Women still make only $0.79 for every dollar men make in 2019.”[1]

Ganthavorn and WEN Board President Anya Deepak make a summit statement

At the same time, salary and compensation can be a taboo subject. It is often seen as rude to ask someone about their salary. Yet doing so is extremely helpful in informing successful salary negotiations, and essential in order to get paid what we’re worth. The financial empowerment workshop emphasized that women should share compensation with one another in order to determine if they are paid a fair salary. The workshop also advised that our male allies can be supportive by sharing their compensation rate with female friends. This can expose inequity in pay, giving women support to take the opportunity to close the pay gap.

The personal stories shared by speakers and attendees made the biggest impact on me. Valerie Jarrett shared a story about how her parents raised her aspirationally, giving her a sense of what was possible beyond the life experiences they had, which ultimately led to her many successes. Nancy Pelosi shared a story about the assumptions men make about her, and how being a woman does not need to limit our opportunity or voice.

My favorite story was from Lateefah Simon, President of Akonadi Foundation and MC of the event, who recounted how she and London Breed used to take the bus to get to school. Oftentimes we can forget that these inspirational leaders were once children themselves. In that moment, I was able to see a young London Breed and a young Lateefah Simon in the Fillmore district on a Muni bus, on their way to school. I wondered if these young girls ever imagined the incredible, powerful, and invincible women they would grow up to become. One is now the Mayor of San Francisco, and the other is a nationally recognized civil rights advocate.

I watched these two powerful women, two daughters of San Francisco, now leading this summit to unite and raise up other women. In that moment, I saw myself as a young girl going to school on the Muni bus. And I saw other young girls on the Muni and felt the common aspirational spirit that we all hold within. I felt a strong and lasting sense of unity and inspiration.

No matter how different each woman’s path to the summit, the central theme of empowerment resonated universally, no matter where we are in our career journeys. Even with the diversity among the attendees, there was something for everyone at the Invincible Women’s Summit, and I left with a renewed sense of support and unity among Bay Area women leaders.


Happy summiters