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Photo provided via Athens Area Chamber of Commerce's website.

Athens Area Women’s Summit to inspire female entrepreneurs, build connections

A woman walks into the business she owns, one she is proud to have created. She is talented, successful and works hard, but still sometimes finds it hard to achieve her goals because of the barriers she faces. Even in 2021, it can still be difficult to enter typically male-dominated fields as someone who was not assigned male at birth. The Athens Area Women’s Summit is trying to help.

The Athens Chamber of Commerce is presenting the hybrid summit for women in business Friday, Oct. 22 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Stuart’s Opera House, 52 Public Square, Nelsonville. This is the event’s fifth year running, and the program consists of three sessions throughout the day where attendees are able to pick one of three speakers per session to attend. 

The day-long event also includes time reserved for networking opportunities, as well as on-site mammograms and professional headshots for the first 50 attendees. The summit concludes with a keynote speaker, Michelle Greenfield, who will speak about turning stress into productivity.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, almost 20% of all American businesses are women-owned. Dani Underhill, president of the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce, and chair of the Women's Summit Planning Committee, explained it can be difficult to enter a male-dominated field, so the summit hopes to provide resources for those facing that barrier. 

“Ultimately, this is for any person of marginalized voice who identifies either as a woman, non-binary, gender fluid to be inspired and uplifted, and to understand how they can navigate a world that is built for men and how to overcome some of those challenges and obstacles,” Underhill said.

Though the summit is for anyone who feels they will benefit from it, Underhill said it is called the “Women’s Summit” because women remain the event's largest target demographic, and the summit features entirely female speakers. The topics that will be covered at the summit include financial advice, better allyship and healthy boundary setting. Each lecture is intended to teach audiences how to confront issues that may arise for marginalized voices and how to unlearn taught habits or beliefs that may be holding participants back. 

“This event is geared at any person who thinks that they would like to learn from these amazing, strong and powerful women, to step in, reach out and lift up,” Underhill said.

This is the first year where speakers applied to speak at the conference, rather than lecturing on an invite-only basis. Underhill explained speakers were selected by a committee, just one of many committees who have been working on the event since January, an entirely volunteer effort. Majority female-run, Underhill said the efforts going into the event reflect the summit’s goals of female leadership and collaboration.

Another example of the summit’s commitment to its goals includes paying all speakers, in effort to address a common problem for female professionals.

“We have strived to make sure that the folks who provide their time and expertise as presenters are compensated with an honorarium for their time,” Underhill said. “Far too (often) are women asked to do the work for free or for reduced or for the experience. So we're really trying to literally put our money where our mouth is with that.”

The event also worked hard to be accessible for all attendees, making sure the event is considerate both physically and in regard to women’s schedules and needs. The summit offers hybrid options for safety concerns, along with a mask requirement and proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test at the door. However, the online option also serves concerns of the demands of working women and those with duties at home. All hybrid experiences are interactive and captioned to best support viewers at home.

“Women wear many hats, especially between caregivers and professionals,” Underhill said. “We try to give them the access, both physically but then also accessibility in regarding different levels of ability to access (the event).”

Underhill said they hope to grow the event in future years so they can continue to inspire more people. This year already there are five attendees from outside the Athens area, a number they hope will only grow. Underhill hopes all participants are able to learn from the mission statement of the event: step in and take control of your destiny, reach out to help someone achieve success and lift up those around you through positivity.

“The founding members of this committee worked really hard to make that term to where it will stick and speak to folks, women especially, for years to come,” Underhill said. 

The Center for Entrepreneurship at Ohio University is sponsoring several students to attend the event, and other students are watching the livestream from the CoLab on Alden’s third floor. The student director of the CoLab, Willow Mattison, a senior studying biology, said she is helping transport students to the event and will be attending. She said she is most looking forward to the networking opportunities the summit provides. 

“I'm a senior this year, I'm looking to network, to make connections, to make sure that I find a place in a career that is well-suited for me,” Mattison said. 

Mattison said she was grateful for the opportunities OU has brought her, and hopes to build lasting connections. She encourages younger students to attend the summit because she feels it will be enormously beneficial. 

Aside from the opportunities the summit would provide for a student, Mattison said the event is also important because it provides a chance to share viewpoints between individuals in similar situations. 

“I think it's very important to encourage people who have had similar experiences to connect,” Mattison said. “I think that everyone has a different experience, even if you've had the ‘same experience’ … Everyone has experienced it differently.”

Emma Watson, a junior studying wildlife and conservation biology, said she appreciates the emphasis the summit places on the female experience, as spaces specifically designated for marginalized voices often help them be better heard.

“I think it gives women more of a safe space to share their ideas,” Watson said. “Sometimes it can be a little bit intimidating to be in a convention where it’s mixed. Sometimes I feel like you can get overpowered.”

Underhill said the event is designed to be by women, for women, and those connections are the most important part of the experience. 

“This event was geared to showcase the diverse group that is here in Athens and to really elevate the folks who have traditionally been underserved or under noticed,” Underhill said. “(It’s) to really  show that anyone has the ability to step into who they need to be and, through collaboration, really step into their own strength and power. The importance of this event is truly the connections that come from it.”


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