USC Own It: Women’s Leadership Summit 2021 empowered female and non-binary leaders virtually

A weekend full of connections, inspiration, and opportunities.

The annual USC Own It: Women’s Leadership Summit virtually celebrated its fourth anniversary connecting female and non-binary leaders with the students who look up to them.

This year’s two-day Summit, hosted on April 10-11, featured keynote and main stage speakers, industry-specific breakout panels, interactive workshops, individualized networking sessions and wellness activities.

“We decided on two days in order to try to avoid some Zoom fatigue,” said Ines Ramirez, a senior at USC majoring in industrial and systems engineering and the co-executive director of Own It. “So I am really glad that we were able to keep the integrity of the event while also introducing new components this year.”

The online agenda consisted of several networking events connecting leaders and peers nationwide including keynote speakers such as Gloria Steinem and Julianne Hough, and 20-plus breakout panels of women leading intimate conversations about their industry experiences in technology, business, finance, entertainment and more.

On Feb. 11 the organizers posted the “Virtual Experience Explained” on Instagram stating, “we are committed to providing the same platform of connection and empowerment for our attendees.”

Own It was originally founded at Georgetown University in 2014 and it has now spread to over eight college campuses, including the University of Pennsylvania and Boston College. By focusing on the values of empowerment, representation, preparation, transparency, allyship and growth, USC Own It 2021 ignited meaningful conversations and equipped attendees with the tools and confidence to “own” their futures.

Known for bridging the gap between female and non-binary people, USC Own It’s annual conference seeks to celebrate everyone regardless of their identities and career paths. The goals of the conference align with their mission statement, “everyone has a seat at the table.”

“I would say the purpose of Own It is to start conversations and help individuals build networks and find role models within their industries,” said Mitali Shanbhag, a senior at USC majoring in business administration and computer science and the other co-executive director of USC Own It.

Shanbhag and Ramirez were excited to expand the scope of their audience with the added convenience of the virtual setting. They said they even received registration from parents and senior citizens nationwide. The average ticket cost for the virtual event ranged from $15 to $20 and the overall platform was very accommodating.

“Our whole board finds that we’ve been able to expand the accessibility of the event significantly in comparison to past years just because now we have the ability to have attendees from all over the world,” said Shanbhag. “We even have speakers from all over the world and it’s not just focused on Los Angeles.”

The organizers said the virtual setting was challenging but made the event more accessible to people beyond the USC community, allowing ticket sales to rise to over 300.

Shanhabg also said that the group’s yearlong event planning was also carried out in a virtual environment. “I haven’t even met half of my team in person, which is so wild that we have been working together for a whole year and haven’t even been able to meet everyone.”

The organizers decided to use Whova, an online platform, to manage the event. This created a live networking marketplace where participants could search for internships, jobs or mentors by connecting them with recruiters and professionals across industries.

“My favorite part of the summit was watching Julianne Hough speak about owning it in her own life and living a life full of movement,” said Shaye Hendricks, a junior at USC. “I liked the Own It Summit this year because we got more freedom being able to switch back and forth between what speakers we want to go to.”

Whova workshops gave students the opportunity to learn how to navigate the world as young leaders by offering focused sessions on skills like personal finance and “owning it” in the workplace.

Attendees also received “Virtual Swag Bags” with exclusive codes, discounts, free trials and other goodies from influential women-owned businesses. The event’s lineup was also conscious of including wellness breaks such as yoga, meditation and live music led by USC student and upcoming artist Ellie Williams.

The USC Own It team plans to continue to expand the event on a national level and build relationships with other businesses and organizations for future summits.

“I honestly hope that our board sets the precedent for years to come like even if it is a hybrid event in the future,” Shanhbag said. “If anything I hope the Summit is a start to light those conversations and shows that everyone deserves a place at the table, come take your seat at the table, and I hope that’s what it will do.”