Building Confidence in Each Other
Arlene DiBenigno spent years working in government, but creating a space where women can build relationships and confidence in their abilities is her life’s work. She realized her dream when The Women’s Conference of Florida, 14 years in the making, launched in 2015.
“I worked for someone who was focused on ensuring women were included. I would call women who were capable and qualified for certain positions and nine times out of 10 they would turn us down. They said they didn’t think they were qualified,” the president and CEO of the conference says.
“It was difficult to get women to apply. That bothered me. I would spend time convincing women – women who were running companies and doing very well in the corporate environment – that they were qualified.”
Finally, in 2015, Arlene committed to creating a conference for women to learn from other successful women how to succeed in leadership, entrepreneurship and more. Arlene strives to find speakers and panelists in Florida who have cleared hurdles and are open and honest about how they achieved their success.
“It’s finding women like that who truly connect and do in a way women will react to,” Arlene says.
The conference also hosts the College Women on the Rise program. This program invites college women to participate in a day of workshops such as resume writing, interviewing skills and financial literacy, along with panel discussions with young, professional women.
State Farm® sponsors the college women to attend, this year sending 55 women. Before the conference, the students are asked to write a 500-word essay describing an accomplishment, event or realization that sparked a period of personal growth. State Farm awarded the top five essay writers a $1,000 scholarship.
Megan Morano attended the College Women on the Rise program and the conference, and took the advice she heard to heart.
“One of the speakers, Carla Harris said, ‘Fear is false evidence of things appearing real.’ For me, as a woman in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), it opened my eyes that we don’t have to be afraid of what we want. It’s empowering to know I can walk into a room without fear and have the confidence to change what people are thinking,” says the Florida Polytechnic University student. Megan is a sophomore majoring in business analytics: logistics and supply chain.
Megan first became interested in STEM because of her older brother.
“He basically raised me and we bonded over stuff he was doing in college. I loved that experience and wanted to pursue it,” she says. “Being in the STEM field is interesting. Sometimes I’m the only girl in class, but I love a challenge and to be able to say I have ideas that are just as good as yours.”
Shreyam Ranjan, freshman biological sciences major at Hillsborough Community College, was motivated and inspired by the conference.
“There were so many successful women who could stand up for themselves and take charge of their own lives,” Shreyam says. “That made me want to attend the conference. Coming from a traditional Indian household, that’s opposite of the environment I grew up in.”
Shreyam wrote her essay about her traditional Indian upbringing and the culture shock after moving to the United States. Both Shreyam and Megan won a State Farm scholarship for their essays.
“I saw women taking a stand against the many injustices that women faced. I began to see how women are allowed to voice their opinions and provide for themselves financially, something I had never seen before,” Shreyam said in her essay.
Shreyam adds, “Being in the STEM field pushes me forward and makes me not feel afraid. Even if it is a male-dominated field, women don’t have to feel less. There’s so much more you can do and be.”
Arlene says the college portion of the program teaches important skills to women dealing with issues every day. “We show the importance of networking and how women can define themselves to someone else,” she says. ”The sessions are educational and provide them with the tools they need to leave the conference and go out and find a job or open an investment account or put together their resume.
“It is powerful for these young women to see there are women supporting them and focusing on issues we hope we can rectify so they aren’t encountering them when they are in the workforce. It’s helping them begin to start thinking about the next step and how to present themselves in a work environment.”