With an engaging virtual celebration, YW Boston honors 25 years of the Academy of Women Achievers

Blog post image AWA2020

On Thursday, October 29th, 2020, we were honored to host our 25th annual Academy of Women Achievers. Thank you to everyone who made this event possible, including our awardees, sponsors, and attendees. Close to 300 guests joined us to celebrate our awardees and to support YW Boston’s mission of eliminating racism and empowering women. Although virtual, we could feel your energy and support through our chat, social media, and your donations. 

Together, we inducted the five unstoppable women into our 25th anniversary Academy of Women Achievers. Each of them pre-recorded their remarks, which you can view below:

Our 25th anniversary celebration began with remarks from our event Co-Chairs, Annis Gill-Miller and Jessica Ragosta Early, welcoming the audience. After sharing a video of former awardees speaking about the history of the Academy of Women Achievers, Beth Chandler provided her remarks. As she stated, while we regret not being able to celebrate 25 years in person, “It turns out – adapting to the digital landscape has helped us make this event larger and more accessible to many. It is through your support that we are able to make this year’s event extraordinary.”

Beth recognized each of the five awardees by introducing them to the audience and presenting them with their awards (which were mailed to them following the virtual event). We could not have such an amazing event without four-time emcee Latoyia Edwards. Latoyia, an Emmy Award-winning anchor on NBC10 Boston and necn, joined the event to moderate a panel of our five awardees. During the panel, which was lively and engaging, our awardees spoke about their efforts to advance equity in Boston and provided advice for how others can further their work, too. Learn more from our recording, below. Following the panel, Mayor Martin J. Walsh spoke to congratulate the awardees and to express his support for our mission to eliminate racism and empower women.

We were not expecting to celebrate 25 years of the Academy of Women Achievers virtually, but we were thrilled by the way in which it made this event more accessibly to many. We truly appreciate everyone who made this event possible. Our speakers, including our event co-chairs, the awardee panelists, emcee Latoyia Edwards, and Mayor Walsh made this into an energetic virtual. Thank you to everyone who contributed financially, including our sponsors, those who donated, and those who paid the optional ticket price. With our attendees support, we exceeded our $25,000 individual giving goal. We are thrilled that so many of you joined us, and we hope to see you again at our 26th Academy of Women Achievers in May 2021.

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Our key takeaways from the 25th Academy of Women Achievers: 

25th academy of women achievers event
1. 2020’s impact on women is a reminder of the importance of events such as the Academy of Women Achievers.

Women’s leadership has advanced considerably in the past twenty-five years, but there is still work to be done. This is especially true considering the impact of COVID-19 on women’s workplace advancement. McKinsey and Co. Found that at least 25% of women are contemplating downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce all together. Organizations are going to need to be creative about how they support their women leaders. This crisis we face underscored the importance of the Academy of Women Achievers to Beth Chandler, YW Boston President & CEO. As she stated in her remarks, “Women are not only leading in their frontline jobs, but they are also on the front lines of advancing equity and inclusion in their workplaces and communities. This work is not always recognized or valued. We must create spaces to champion Boston’s brightest, boldest, bravest and most influential women. Our support for one another is what will keep us strong through this challenging time.”

25th academy of women achievers event awardee Deborah Frieze
2. In order to achieve equity and liberation, we need to recognize our interdependence.

Each of the awardees spoke about their work and how they are creating more inclusive spaces. Deborah Frieze spoke more specifically about inclusivity, and stated that centering inclusion is crucial to everyone’s survival. As she stated, “there’s a narrative in dominant culture that we are by nature competitive selfish and separate […] but we know and often forget that we are by nature cooperative, generous, and interdependent.” She went on to state that while our fates are tied together, our systems do not support this. Rachael Rollins echoed these sentiments when she stated that she doesn’t just want allyship or partnership with white people, including white women. As she stated, “I want unindicted co-conspirators” who recognize that they need to put their efforts into achieving equity and inclusion alongside women of color.

25th academy of women achievers event awardee Rachael Rollins
3. The traditional career paths aren’t designed for women, and especially women of color. We need to create new pathways.

Many of the honorees are leading in sectors that have traditionally been exclusionary to women, including Geeta Aiyer and Deborah Frieze in the financial sector and Rachael Rollins in law enforcement. As Geeta spoke of, women in these fields have long been expected to act as “fake men,” when prevents them from feeling fully included in their workplaces. Rachael shared that it is still considered a massive change for her to walk into a room as a District Attorney who is a woman of color. The paths to leadership and success have been made for men, with less options for women and especially women of color. Rachael explained, “We are seeing a new generation of people saying, ‘You are not giving me power, so I will take it.’ People say I ascended to my position, but I was not given this. Power is not given; it needs to be taken.”

25th academy of women achievers event awardee Sheena Collier
4. If you aren’t afraid, it is not worth it.

A number of the awardee panelists spoke about the courage it requires, as women and as women of color, to speak up and center their work on fighting for equity. As Sheena Collier shared, “I do this work scared. Very very scared. I’m in rooms where no one in my family, our friends circle, has ever been So I know it’s up to me to speak on their behalf and and open up access.” She has found that community keeps her moving in spite of the fear, stating she’s grateful for meeting people “along the way who are also doing this very scared, because it lets me know that I’m moving in the right direction and […] that courage is not about not being scared. It’s about doing it anyway.” Afterward, Makeeba McCreary echoed her sentiment, stating “I believe that if you are not afraid, it is not worth it.”

25th academy of women achievers event awardee Geeta Aiyer
5. We cannot settle for being bystanders – we have to strive to be upstanders.

Makeeba McCreary explained further that it is up to all of us to speak up for equity and inclusion, stating “I ask myself, what is the consequence if I don’t say something? It is all of our responsibilities.” Geeta Aiyer expanded on Makeeba’s point, stating that we need to invest in everyone’s ability to speak up and act against injustice. She stated, “I think of bystanders who can be upstanders who are not going to watch and just not do anything and how to empower them.” We can all strive to invest our time into our own learning and the learning of others, in order to work better together to eliminate racism and empower women. YW Boston takes this approach through our DE&I services, by equipping program participants with the knowledge and skills they need to advance equity in their organizations and communities.

Nominations are now open for our 26th Academy of Women Achievers Celebration in May.

Do you know a woman who deserves recognition for her work to create change and break down barriers in Boston?

Submit Your Nomination


About YW Boston 

As the first YWCA in the nation, YW Boston has been at the forefront of advancing equity for over 150 years. Through our DE&I services—InclusionBoston and LeadBoston—as well as our advocacy work and youth programming, we help individuals and organizations change policies, practices, attitudes, and behaviors with a goal of creating more inclusive environments where women, people of color, and especially women of color can succeed. 

During this time, YW Boston is working to provide organizations with digital workshops and resources to help them better understand the challenges faced by their employees. As part of that work, we are helping organizations become socially connected while staying physically distant. For more information, please contact Sheera Bornstein at sheera@ywboston.org.