What We Learned From Unstoppable Women: Takeaways from AWA 2017


“Whether from your own family or the world at large, every
single one of us knows
an unstoppable woman.”
– Liz Brunner, 2017 AWA Awardee

This past Monday, YW Boston hosted the 2017 Academy of Women Achievers Luncheon entitled “Unstoppable Women Changing Boston.” We were thrilled to induct five women – Liz Brunner, Dr. Beverly Edgehill, Valerie Mosley, Rebecca A. Lee, and Sandra L. Fenwick, into the Academy. Hosted at the Park Plaza Hotel, over 400 guests enjoyed the opportunity to hear the honorees speak about their pathways to success and the obstacles they overcame along the way.

The luncheon was hosted by Latoyia Edwards, Emmy Award-winning anchor on NBC Boston and NECN. She was joined by two 2017 InIt graduates, Ashley Sanchez and Lindsay Gould, who spoke about their InIt Community Action Projects and introduced the honorees.

Latoyia Edwards with YW Boston President and CEO, Sylvia Ferrell-Jones, and Chief Operations Officer, Beth Chandler

In line with our theme of “Unstoppable Women Changing Boston,” each of our honorees spoke about a time in their lives, be it personally or professionally where they faced what could have been a roadblock in their path. Their stories were diverse, but each talked about experiences many women can relate to. Check out these five takeaways:

1. Boston is not immune to gender inequity.

In her opening remarks, Beth Chandler, YW Boston’s Chief Operations Officer, noted how remarkable it is that these five women have made it to where they are today, “Statistics tell us that women, especially women of color, face tremendous obstacles, even right here in Boston.” Women of color in Boston face an unemployment rate over twice that of white women. Women in Boston make up only 15% of corporate directors, 9% of executive officers and 20% of financial company board members.

In her closing remarks, Beth shared that, “Recent data from The World Economic Forum revealed that progress towards closing the gender economic gap has slowed over the past three years. At the rate we’re going now, it will be 169 years until that gender gap is closed. My seven year old daughter would be 176 – the fact of the matter is, she won’t see gender equity in her lifetime.” We may be making progress, but we have far to go. Our awardees are fighting these odds, and paving way for more women in their respective fields.

2. No matter their title, women face “manterrupting” and other workplace challenges.

During her remarks, Rebecca Lee shared a term from The Boston Globe’s Renee Graham: “manterrupted.” “‘To be female,’” she quotes, “‘is to be interrupted.’” Rebecca shared a recent example of “manterrupting” she recently witnessed in the workplace in which a woman in her office’s idea was rejected, only to be picked up by a male colleague and enthusiastically adopted without attribution to the woman.

Each honoree has experienced incredible success in her field despite workplace sexism and discrimination. When Valerie Mosley was up for consideration to be the first black woman partner at an investment firm, she was told by a male colleague, “you know this has always been an old boy’s club.”

3. We find strength in those we love.

One goal of our Academy of Women Achievers event is to demonstrate to women in Boston that there are many pathways to success and role models to look up to. No unstoppable woman works alone, and throughout their speeches, the 2017 honorees spoke about those in their life who helped them get to where they are today.

Liz Brunner spoke of her mother and grandmother as her personal models of strong women. Sandi Fenwick, too, credited her parents’ advice, “‘Have impact and take care of other people,’” as a reason she decided to go into healthcare.

Rebecca Lee thanked her siblings who she has always been able to lean on, and her friends who, “have helped provide me with buoyancy amidst the rocky tides of life.”

4. Don’t be afraid of failure.

Dr. Beverly Edgehill pointed out that “Failure isn’t really failure” when you learn from the mistakes you’ve made. “All of the stop signs and detours have made me the woman I am today, and the woman I am becoming.” Valerie Mosley, too, spoke of learning to use her voice to advocate for herself, sharing that she “made a pledge that I would commit to using my voice…and that’s unstoppable.” Continuing along a path, in spite of roadblocks, is what makes an unstoppable woman.

5. There is a way forward.

Both Liz Brunner and Rebecca Lee spoke of empowering future generations, and  Dr. Beverly Edgehill offered concrete advice: “Get clear about what you can change. Create a personal mission, and pursue it every day.”

Many speakers pointed to YW Boston’s leadership programs, LeadBoston and Youth Leadership Initiative (InIt), as avenues towards developing leadership potential. Rebecca Lee, a LeadBoston alumna, spoke of the inspiration she gathered from her fellow classmates. LeadBoston helps grow Boston’s executives into a network of socially responsible leaders. Learn more about LeadBoston and how you may become involved here.

Ashley and Lindsay, our co-emcees and 2017 InIt alumni, spoke of how the program opened their eyes to the social inequities present in their communities today. InIt provides students with social justice education and training outside of the classroom, and supports their growth into socially responsible youth leaders. As Ashley stated, “Being in the InIt program helped me learn about systems of oppression and what to do about them.” During her year with InIt, Ashley worked to integrate more privilege awareness into her high school’s history class, and Lindsay worked with other students at her school to investigate why turnover for staff of color was so high. Learn more about InIt here, and consider sharing with a student or school community you know.

Our speakers, pictured left to right: Sandra L. Fenwick, Lindsay Gould, Ashley Sanchez, Beth Chandler, Valerie Mosley, Rebecca A. Lee, Latoyia Edwards, Dr. Beverly Edgehill, Liz Brunner, and Sylvia Ferrell-Jones

 Thank you to all who attended and to our sponsors!

Learn more about our LeadBoston and InIt programs.
Your support matters. Please consider donating to support YW Boston.