Inside Peek: Light City U Successful women entrepreneurs talk how to pay it forward

From left: Jamie McDonald, Vanessa Garrison, Sonja Sohn, Asha Curran and Brooke Hall
From left: Jamie McDonald, Vanessa Garrison, Sonja Sohn, Asha Curran and Brooke Hall

Light City Baltimore officially kicked off Monday not only its festival of lights at the Inner Harbor, but also its series of conferences, called Light City U. The conferences—focusing on social, health, sustainability and creative innovation—feature local leaders addressing important issues, problems and solutions within the community. Unlike the Inner Harbor festival, Light City U isn’t free. If you didn’t spring for a ticket this time around, STYLE will give you an inside look at some of these noteworthy talks.

The conference on social innovation started off Light City U Monday at the Columbus Center and continued Tuesday. Jamie McDonald, founder of Generosity, Inc., moderated the early Tuesday morning panel “Wonder Women: Change Makers and Innovators,” featuring Vanessa Garrison, co-founder of GirlTrek; Sonja Sohn, The Wire actress who founded ReWired for Change; Asha Curran, director of the Center for Innovation and Social Impact at 92Y; and Brooke Hall, founder of What Works Studio.

A topic the group kept coming back to was the importance of mentoring. Because women are still outnumbered by men in many fields, women often face a dearth of female mentors. Curran used an example from a recent Women in Power workshop put on by her organization where most of the women there could not think of a single woman mentor. “I want to be on that list for future women,” she said.

When McDonald asked what advice they’d give girls and young women, Garrison emphasized building a community of women—both professionally and personally—to inspire you and build you up, a thought echoed by the others. There’s a narrative, Garrison said, that a group of women is bound to descend into drama and cattiness, but that’s not the reality for most women.

All the women talked frankly about barriers they face as successful working women, especially women of color, challenging the idea that to be powerful women need to “act like a man.” Ultimately, said Sohn, while it’s important to recognize and analyze the barriers and systems that can hold women back, it’s just as important not to let those labels define you and to move beyond them. “I don’t have time to see your barrier,” she said, one of the big applause lines of the panel, and the main idea they left the audience to ponder.

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