Symposium lifts, honors female leaders

Chloe Chapel

Globally, only 29% of executive and senior-level management positions are held by women, according to the Center for American Progress. 

Imagine a room filled with dozens of women in executive, management and leadership positions. That is exactly what the Women’s Symposium was. 

Every year the Women’s Symposium partners with the Alumni Association to highlight influential women in the community. 

This was the sixth annual Women’s Symposium. After two years of not being in-person due to the pandemic, everyone was able to join together again to celebrate the achievements of women. 

The symposium consisted of an awards ceremony, a presentation by this year’s keynote speaker Leslie Durham, nine panels, a roundtable discussion and ended with a networking social. 

Durham is the alternate federal co-chairwoman for the Delta Regional Authority. She has served in other government positions under Gov. John Bel Edwards and former Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

Durham said one thing she learned from her many positions is that you’re never too old to set your mind to something. 

“You never know where life takes you. I think it’s important to remember that it’s never too late to learn and to accomplish your goals,” Durham said. 

She said she has seen changes that allow opportunities for women, yet they still struggle to accomplish their goals because they’re seen as lesser. 

“As a woman who has worked in government my entire life I have witnessed the glass ceiling breaking again and again and seen women make progress,” Durham said. “We are still breaking glass […] yet we still remain in the minority.” 

Durham said to change this women must stand together and support each other. 

This was one of the reasons they had many panels. Women could find support in three key areas by attending a panel that they thought would benefit them most. The three different panel tracks were professional growth, professional development and cultural awareness. 

The nine panels consisted of a wide range of topics from childcare, workplace discrimination, mentorships and how to be a boss without being considered bossy. 

One of the panels on the cultural awareness track—“In the Sandbox”—focused on the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. 

Lyla Corkern, the owner and CEO of Finding Solace, said her goal as CEO is to make the workplace not only diverse but also inclusive. 

“Just because you have a diverse staff doesn’t mean you have an inclusive office,” Corkern said. “Inclusion to me is making sure that they all have the same opportunities, the same voice, the same experience, the same room for growth, the same value, etc.” 

The “Dare to Lead” panel on the professional development track also talked about the importance of inclusivity at work. 

“Dare to Lead” educated young women on how to be assertive and how to be heard as women in leadership without being criticized. 

Wendi Tostenson, the vice chancellor of Education and Student Services at Louisiana Delta Community College, said she is a very bubbly and happy person, but she’s been condemned for it because people wouldn’t see her as a leader. 

“I had someone […] tell me that I would not be taken seriously in leadership because of how happy I was,” Tostenson said. “At that moment I recognized the very best thing for me to be was me—to be authentic and allow that to shine.”