Sharing HERspective: Embodying Authentic Leadership at the VFIC Women’s Leadership Development Summit

Students at the VFIC leadership conference.
Students at the VFIC leadership conference.
Olivia Heffernan ’25 and Kat Navarro ’24 attending the 2023 Women’s Leadership Conference sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges.

Posted on November 02, 2023 by Kat Navarro ’24 and Olivia Heffernan ’25

From October 26 to October 28, we attended the Women’s Leadership Development Summit, hosted by the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges. The summit proved to be an enriching and transformative experience that left a lasting impact on our leadership perspectives, combining students from private colleges across Virginia, including Sweet Briar College. Based in the Virginia Crossings Hotel and Conference Center in Glen Allen, Virginia, the summit offered a diverse range of sessions and activities, each designed to further advance our leadership knowledge. From exploring leadership lessons imparted by trailblazing women, to honing essential mindfulness skills, the summit provided a comprehensive platform for our personal and professional growth.

A highlight of the summit was its first session on “Leadership Lessons from Trailblazing Women.” In this session, we had the privilege of learning from a panel of accomplished women, all of whom have broken barriers and achieved remarkable successes in their various fields. The insights gained from these women were inspiring, as they taught us what it meant to forge our own path as a leader. The session served as a reminder that adversities are opportunities for improvement and that impactful leadership is cultivated from hard work and perseverance, not predetermined by gender.

On the second day, we participated in another pivotal session of the WLDS, focused on finding and developing our individual leadership style. The session moderator encouraged us to reflect on the strengths, values, and unique qualities that defined our leadership approaches. Through a combination of interactive exercises and group discussions, we explored how different leadership styles aligned with our personal attributes. We were also introduced to leadership traits that did not align with our personal attributes. The session reinforced the idea that leadership is not a one-size-fits-all task, but a tailored expression of our authentic self.

The summit’s focus on practical skills was an invaluable takeaway. Following the leadership styles session, we engaged in a resume and interview skills session that equipped us with indispensable tools for securing leadership roles at Sweet Briar and in our future careers. We received tips for crafting an effective resume and acing job interviews, learning how to present ourselves confidently and conscientiously in the job market. The moderator placed emphasis on answering scenario-based interview questions using the STAR method, defined as follows: explain the situation, highlight my responsibilities within it, summarize the actions I took to address the situation, and share the outcomes those actions achieved. Resume and interview skills are crucial in a competitive world where women need to be proactive in pursuing leadership roles.

In the session on mindfulness as a leadership skill, we surveyed concepts of emotional intelligence, studying how those ideas constitute influential leadership. In learning to manage our emotions and understanding the emotional states of other individuals, we build stronger relationships and are better able to lead with empathy. I now know that mindfulness practices, such as meditation and self-awareness exercises, will center the body, helping us to remain present, and work harmoniously in group settings.

To conclude the evening of October 27, a “leadership game night” was organized for participants. This social and interactive session allowed us to apply skills and knowledge gained throughout the day in a fun and engaging way. The activities were fantastic opportunities to network, bond with fellow summit attendees, and solidify lessons we learned during previous sessions. The game night began with a communication drill themed around the construction of LEGOs, forcing participants to gain an awareness of their leadership interactions and roles within a multi-faceted team. One of our favorite games of the evening involved my leadership group forming an island survival plan subsequently presented to all summit attendees, teaching critical thinking, oral presentation, and persuasion skills vital to modern leadership roles.

The conflict management styles session, occurring on the morning of October 28, manifested a comprehensive ending to the WLDS. The session taught us how to approach conflicts advantageously, turning disagreements into breakthroughs and improving team dynamics. Productive conflict resolution is a crucial skill for any leader, and the strategies and insights shared in this session were both enlightening and motivating. Having taken a conflict styles assessment as a prerequisite to the session, we were able to familiarize ourselves with our styles of conflict resolution, and used this knowledge to assist in constructive dialogues with other individuals who possessed similar and dissimilar methods of dissension.

The Women’s Leadership Development Summit was an unforgettable experience that enforced the idea that being in leadership is meaningful and our methods of leadership are ever-changing. Through the multiple sessions and activities offered at the summit, we gained knowledge and skills that will empower our leadership journeys, both at Sweet Briar College and beyond. The summit offered a holistic approach to leadership development, and lessons learned at the summit extended beyond the conference room, impacting not only how we approach collaboration with other individuals, but also how we overcome personal relationships and challenges.

As a woman striving to break through gender-imposed glass ceilings, the summit has equipped me with the confidence and skills needed to lead and make a difference in the world. Women, including ourselves, have a rightful place at the forefront of leadership, and the Women’s Leadership Development Summit has played a pivotal role in reinforcing this belief. We are grateful to the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges for organizing and executing the summit, as well as to Sweet Briar College for providing us with the opportunity to attend the summit. If not for the graciousness of these entities, we would not have been able to engage in such valuable conversations with so many powerful women leaders throughout the Commonwealth.

Sharing HERspective is a new column that allows students to share reflections on their lives and activities while attending Sweet Briar College. We invite all SBC students to submit articles for consideration at