Annual leaders’ summit returns in-person for the first time since the pandemic

Speakers shared their professional experiences at the annual leadership conference, USC OWN IT.

Students and speakers pose outdoors at the USC OWN IT event.

USC OWN IT organized its sixth annual Women’s Leadership Summit and resumed its in-person format on March 6 for the first time since the pandemic began.

The summit hosted women and non-binary people from a variety of industries to speak to attendees about their experiences and successes in the workplace.

Speakers included actress and comedian Ester Steinberg, nutritionist and content creator Rebecca Leigh, activist, author and 1000 Black Girl Books founder Marley Dias, and more.

“I truly enjoyed seeing leaders anywhere from the entertainment industry to the tech industry and so much more, joining us on a weekend to support our summit,” said director of speakers, Azrin Kahn. “It was also incredibly gratifying listening to speakers converse about their OWN IT moments. It’s the drive that keeps us all going.”

For the first time, the event incorporated a diversity, equity and inclusion team, according to OWN IT executive co-director Lauren Householder.

“I think that the DEI team really stepped into the role incredibly, considering there weren’t specific parameters that had been set in previous years,” Householder, a senior studying cognitive science, said. “We really wanted to make [DEI] a component of all aspects of the summit, whether that be in regard to the speakers that we were providing a platform for, providing access to the event to a variety of people and making sure that we’re reaching various groups on campus.”

The event hosted several panels discussing topics and issues relevant to diversity and gender, including the Black experience in the entertainment industry, ableism in Hollywood, the rise in racism toward Asian American and Pacific Islander women, and the experience of being a female founder or CEO.

Speaker Alexandra Givan, director of diversity, equity and inclusion at Sony Music Group, immediately noticed the summit’s DEI efforts.

“It was above and beyond anything that I could have imagined. I thought that the programming was really intentional through the DEI perspective,” Givan said. “It was really, really clear that they double-tapped on that this year.”

Tori Frank, a sophomore communications student who served as both a moderator and attendee, said the summit made her proud of both herself and the USC community.

Frank said that she had always struggled with feeling empowered by her gender, but this event helped her to celebrate her identity.

“It would be impossible to leave that not learning one new thing, if not 20 new things,” she said.

Many collaborative spaces were offered over the course of the event, including breakout sessions surrounding various issues.

Attendees of the summit were able to attend breakout sessions of their choice, which allowed attendees to participate in smaller discussions on topics like environmentalism, health equity, content creation and podcasting.

The summit also included an address from USC President Carol Folt, a musical performance from students in the Thornton School of Music and an outdoor marketplace featuring women-owned businesses.

Dias, who moderated the keynote conversation, said that she would have loved for the conversations to have lasted even longer.

“I feel like what we were able to say and any questions that I did ask were very powerful,” Dias said. “I would always wish for more time, but I was happy with the product.”

Householder said that any women or non-binary people on campus who are looking to get involved with OWN IT should look out for next year’s executive board applications on the organization’s website.

“The whole point,” she said, “is truly just to spread a positive message and inspire students at USC.”