Creating social change and gaining entrepreneurial success as a woman were among the emphasized topics discussed by female business leaders at the Women, Entrepreneurship and Social Change Conference Wednesday afternoon. 

Fostering conference, held in the Michigan League, was organized by LSA senior Hayley Maybaum. Maybaum met Sonya Passi, the founder and CEO of FreeFrom, while doing pro bono work at a law firm in New York City during a summer internship, and the pair collaborated with the Center for Entrepreneurship to connect social justice with entrepreneurship at the University through the conference.

After the initial networking breakfast, Passi began the speaker portion of the conference. Passi is based in Los Angeles, where she runs FreeFrom, a national organization dedicated to providing economic justice and entrepreneurial empowerment to survivors of domestic violence. The goal of her organization’s efforts is to help survivors achieve financial stability on their own.

“The number one reason that survivors say that they stay in abusive situations is because they can’t afford to leave,” Passi said. “Financial security is also the number one reason they return to an abuser.”

Maybaum discussed her passion behind the power of legislation. 

“(Law is) where I think I can make a change,” Maybaum said. “I actually want to maybe be a criminal defense lawyer and work for prison reform.”

Alice Vilma, an executive director at Morgan Stanley, discussed her role at the firm, where she works to identify and develop opportunities to do more business with minorities. Vilma encourages women to speak out against unfair treatment in the workplace.

“The most tragic form of discrimination would be the one that goes untold,” Vilma said. “You can’t get help if you’re not vocal. Don’t suffer in silence. … At the very least, there’s support for you so you don’t have to deal with something like this alone.”

During lunch, attendees had the opportunity to purchase products from female student and local business owners whom organizers invited to lend support and encouragement for their entrepreneurial endeavors.

LSA sophomore Arthur Shi, who is involved in CFE and other related organizations on campus, said he attended the conference because he felt it was important to understand and overcome the disparity between genders in the business world.

“(At) the forefront of a lot innovation, especially with tech, it’s not a very diverse scene,” Shi noted. “A lot of people have expressed concerns about not being able to have the perspective to make decisions that are (going to) be more representative of the entire population.”

The conference concluded with a panel discussion featuring eight female business owners and gave students and other attendees the chance to ask questions.

Similar to Shi, Business sophomore Jasmine Forbers said she attended the event to meet successful female leaders, noting the University does not always balance the ratio of male to female speakers that they bring in to talk to students.

“Definitely in my classes at Ross, there aren’t many African-American females, (as well as at) recruiting events,” Forbers said. “But it’s all about being comfortable with myself … I think that if I can put my best foot forward and do things to the best of my ability, I don’t think anybody can stop me.”

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