Shattering the Glass Ceiling: Reflections on the 2020 Women for Women Summit

Around 8 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 27, women from across South Carolina filled Sterling Hall at the Hyatt Place Hyatt House Charleston Historic District for the first-annual Women for Women Summit presented by the College of Charleston School of Business. Energy ran high as Whitney Houston’s “I’m Every Woman” erupted from the speakers and over 200 women filled the ballroom. Their mission? To celebrate, elevate, share and connect with their peers; embrace change; and be inspired to become leaders in their industries.

“It was an honor to be there,” says College of Charleston senior and communication major Grace Samuelson. “The room was decorated beautifully, and it was such a positive atmosphere.”

Joanna Lau, founder and CEO of executive consulting and investment company Lau Technologies and member of the School of Business Board of Governors, was the visionary for the Summit and provided direction to a group of talented women who supported the W4W planning efforts.

“Having been a woman in business for the past three decades, as well a mother to a young professional woman, I am humbled to promote the advancement of women in the workplace and the economy with our first-ever Women for Women Summit,” says Lau. “Studies have shown one of the greatest predictors of success and happiness is social connection. It is my hope that the Summit fosters personal and professional success for attendees through a shared sense of community.”

The sense of community was palpable as attendees soaked in tokens of wisdom from the powerful W4W speakers who continue to break barriers in their fields.

Cathy Bessant, chief operations and technology officer at Bank of America, kicked off the day by encouraging the crowd to use their own superpowers — not someone else’s — to be effective in the workplace. She also doubled down on the importance of life-long learning saying that there isn’t a functional discipline that cannot be learned over time.

Communications coach Micky Kerwick taught attendees how to own the room, reminding them to never chase their audience and always create a plan to get attention back if it should drift. She outlined a structure of “think, edit and then speak” for approaching meetings in order to be most effective.

Former Ambassador to the United Nations and Governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, was also in attendance to receive the 2020 Woman of Courage Award. After accepting the honor, she gave brief remarks that challenged the women in the audience to set themselves up for success. “Ask for things that will allow you to be your best person,” she said. “Everyone else is.”

After a panel on taking action in the office and a workshop on coping with betrayal, the Summit closed with an emotional panel discussion on courage and tenacity. The big takeaway came from local broker associate Sarah Coleman-Lee, when she reminded us, “if you can’t see it, you can’t be it.”

After more reflection on her experience at the Summit, Samuelson says she is reminded that there isn’t one right way to launch your career because everyone has their own journey. “I learned that I need to be confident and true to myself no matter what!”

And Samuelson isn’t alone. The uplifting atmosphere of the W4W Summit left women asking, “what glass ceiling?”

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