Cultivating a support network around women’s leadership and health

Hundreds of alumnae came together for events designed to deepen their sense of belonging and provide them with tools for success in their careers and beyond.

Earlier this year, the Brown Women’s Network organized two professional development opportunities aimed at fostering community, inspiring connections, and strengthening women’s leadership skills. 

The networking events involved virtual and in-person gatherings where speakers and participants shared their expertise and experiences. The first discussed ways in which women could support other women in the workplace. The second focused on the importance of women’s wellness. It also examined innovative ways to support mental health and well-being independently and through organizational change.

Building Connections

On Monday, April 10, more than 250 Brunonians heard from an expert panel of diverse women leaders who have created businesses or centered their work around women’s empowerment. 

Panelists included Morra Aarons-Mele ’98, best-selling author and host of “The Anxious Achiever” podcast; María Camila Arbelaez Solano ’21, community birth worker and case manager at Smart Start; Yanely M. Espinal ’11, author of “Mind Your Money” and director of educational outreach at Next Gen Personal Finance; and Talya Parker EMCS’19, a Google engineer and founder of Black Girls in Cyber Security. 

In addition to discussing their career paths after leaving Brown, panelists spoke about the rewards of their careers and challenges they faced in their industries. Follow-up breakout sessions provided a safe space for shared learning, where Brunonian women were able to ask questions and forge connections with the panelists and each other. Those who were further along in their careers were empowered to reaffirm their commitment to paying it forward.

Feedback from the panel discussion included: 

  • “I thoroughly enjoyed the speakers’ passion for their work and willingness to share their experiences—highs and lows—with fellow Brown students and alumni.”
  •  “I have been working for more than 25 years. Participating today helped me recommit to mentoring Brown students.”
  • “Great group of interesting women who were willing to be vulnerable. They were very welcoming and created an intimate setting even over Zoom.”
  • “Since graduating I’ve been very engaged with Brown sports programs and my sorority alumni groups. But until now, I haven’t felt or found a broader connection with a part of the Brown community that I was not a ‘group’ member of during college.”
  • “I appreciate the focus on women. We do have some special needs. And I believe this type of event addresses that.”

Prioritizing mental health

Held on Monday, May 8, “Weaving in Well-being” brought more than 500 Brown women together for a lively and informative multigenerational discussion on women’s mental health. Faculty experts shared practical methods for enhancing individual well-being and inspiring organizational change in the workplace.

The conversation, which highlighted the unique health care needs of women, featured three leaders from The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University: Kelly Holder, PhD, chief wellness officer in the Division of Biology and Medicine (moderator); Stephanie Catanese, MD, FACP, assistant professor of medicine and clinician educator; and Katherine M. Sharkey, MD, PhD, associate dean for gender equity. 

Breakout sessions were centered around successful wellness practices, from knowing when to seek help to identifying drivers of stress. Together participants deepened their understanding of wellness, shared their varied experiences, and further strengthened bonds with members of the Brown community who are dealing with similar issues. 

Additionally, at a salon-style watch party hosted by Tamara B. Horwich ’94 in Los Angeles, twenty alumnae watched the discussion in person and continued the conversation after the virtual program closed.  

Many attendees were struck by the range of ages and perspectives that were represented:

  • “This event provided a unique Brunonian space for connection and belonging across the years. My group was terrific and included a nice range of alumnae—from an 82-year-old Pembroke grad to a Class of ’09 alum.” 
  • “I enjoyed meeting others [and] normalizing that even in middle age we all share some common things: looking for well-being, finding ourselves, being true to ourselves, etc. and that these things manifest in ways that sometimes feel challenging, but can be seen as a part of the journey.”