Sagashus Livingston

Women in America still face significant wage gaps and hold fewer senior leadership positions than men. The YWCA’s annual Moxie Conference, which will be held Tuesday, May 23, at the Monona Community and Convention Center, works to change this and to fulfill YWCA’s mission of eliminating racism and empowering women by strengthening conference attendees’ personal career skills and creating a coalition of people dedicated towards collective action aimed at removing structural barriers for women in leadership.

“One of the things that people really get out of the Moxie Conference are the connections that they make,” says Colleen Butler, Interim Chief Mission & Resource Officer at YWCA Madison. “The conference is about giving women a space to come together and talk about what leadership really looks like. What does it mean for us to be leaders in whatever kind of work or organization we are currently in?”

Butler has helped to organize 13 YWCA Racial Justice Summits, this is her first year working on the Moxie Conference.

“I’m personally excited about this year in that I feel like we are bridging the two pieces of our mission more this year than we have in the past,” Butler tells Madison365. “When we’re talking about gender equity we’re also making sure we are using the lens of racial justice at the same time … I’m particularly excited about that this year because we have a lot of exciting speakers and breakout sessions that will be bridging that gap between race and gender equity.”

The Moxie Conference will have two keynotes this year. The opening keynote is “Pink Hats, Power and Performance: Harnessing Emotional Intelligence for Effective Leadership” by Annahid Dashtgard, the founding and senior partner at Anima Leadership, Inc.

Annahid Dashtgard
Annahid Dashtgard

Dashtgard has over 20 years experience designing systemic change initiatives and coordinating programs at local, national and international levels in government, education, non-profit and health care sectors.

“Annahid Dashtgard will be talking about emotional intelligence for effective leadership. We’re familiar with her because she is part of a consulting firm in Toronto, Canada called Anima Leadership. We’ve had some of their speakers come to our [YWCA] Racial Justice Summit before and we’re excited to have her as a bridge between our race and gender equity work,” Butler says. “So she’ll be doing her keynote in the morning and then she will be hosting a breakout session in the afternoon that is specifically for authentic leadership for women of color.”

The closing keynote speaker will be Sagashus T. Levingston, the founder of Infamous Mothers. Levingston’s work focuses on the empowerment of women who mother from the margins of society. She is an award-winning social entrepreneur and educator. Her talk is about pushing against the edges of our understanding of superwomen to include subversiveness and self-care.

“She will be talking about her work both with the book and with her organization, Infamous Mothers,” Butler says. “She’s pretty amazing. Every time I hear her speak I just feel like she really brings an important perspective. Her keynote will be ‘Not that kind of Superwoman’ and she’ll be talking about what it’s like to be a mother and work at the same time and who do we include in those conversations.”

Over the luncheon the YWCA Madison will present its annual Women of Distinction Leadership Awards to women who represent outstanding achievement in their field of endeavor.P_YWCA94

“We’ll be honoring six outstanding women who have been doing great work in their fields and are also connected to the YWCA mission,” Butler says.

The keynote and breakout sessions throughout the day will feature topics such as negotiation and effective communication, authentic leadership for women of color, building your brand and living it, mindful leadership, and women in office and other opportunities to engage in local leadership. Attendees will learn skills for building confidence, planning career development and defining a personal leadership style from established female leaders.

The vision for YWCA Madison is a community where people of all racial, ethnic, socio-economic and gender groups are valued and included, and discrimination and injustice are eliminated.

“I feel like the YWCA is part of a lot of organizations and initiatives that are pushing all in the same direction. I like to think that we are part of a greater coalition of organizations and individuals in Madison who have this focus on equity that is moving the needle,” Butler says. “Sometimes it feels like it’s slow, but for people who have been doing this work for a long time, it’s hard to deny that there has been some progress made. The focus is different. The energy is different. The spaces that have been created in our community are starting to evolve.”

Colleen Butler, Racial Justice Director at YWCA Madison
Colleen Butler, Interim Chief Mission & Resource Officer at YWCA Madison

The Moxie Conference is a day of great energy, activism and sisterhood that you don’t see too often in Madison. Butler says that it is one of the YWCA’s goals to keep it going beyond that one day and throughout the year.

“As part of the conference we actually have built in multiple places where we are asking people to think about what their next steps will be and asking them to come up with people they’ve met at the event that they will check in with at points after the conference to see how their goals are going,” Butler says. “Sometimes just having somebody who you know will give you a call in a week or two to check on you provides you with some external motivation to stay on track with the goals you are setting for yourself.

“Another piece that is important is a lot of times when we do this work we focus on the individual, but we’re really encouraging people to see that we are talking about systems and structures,” she adds. “Part of what we are asking people to do is to think about where they might have influence. What structures and systems are they part of that they might be able to bring this information back to and start this transformation. This conference can be a catalyst for a lot of future growth and work and effort and resources and support.”

There is still room if you are interested in attending the YWCA Moxie Conference. Click here for more information.