About 12,000 women have registered for the Pennsylvania Conference for Women on Tuesday at the Convention Center, where they’ll hear Michelle Obama give one of her first public speeches since leaving the White House.
Shonda Rhimes, creator, executive producer, and head writer of such television shows as Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, will moderate a lunchtime panel with Obama at the sold-out event.
As first lady, Obama launched initiatives including “Let’s Move!” to fight childhood obesity and “Let Girls Learn,” all of which “really fits in with the mission of the Women’s Conference,” said Joanne Ryder, chief administration officer of Beneficial Bank and a board member of the conference.
Given the heightened political partisanship in Washington, the conference is walking a fine line with Obama as a speaker. The organizers tried to make clear that they chose her as a nonpartisan representative.
Said Leslie Stiles, board president of the conference: “With her career-long devotion to improving the lives of children, increasing nutrition awareness, and advocating for equal access to education, Michelle Obama’s impact clearly extends beyond her White House years.”
The nonprofit conference offers a full day of networking, professional-development and personal-growth workshops, speakers, and breakout sessions led by experts in the fields of business, philanthropy, leadership, finance, media, and health. (For more information, visit paconferenceforwomen.org).
“It’s been amazing to watch it grow over the years, since the conference used to go back and forth between Philly and Pittsburgh,” Ryder said. “But there wasn’t a lot of momentum that way. So we moved it back to Philadelphia for good, we’ve kept it here, and it’s it succeeded so well. We sold out in a week.”
Ryder said she joined the conference board in 2014, after trying to add more women to the ranks of Beneficial Bank.
“I was 33 when I joined the bank. And the majority of the men here were much older than me. Today, about 31 percent of our leadership is now female compared with only one or two women in leadership roles when I joined” over a decade ago, she said. “Not until I was living it, did I think I had to do something about it. I really felt like it was my obligation to do something. That’s why I sought out the conference. I went there on my own, the first year, and realized my organization needed to be a part of this.”
The 14th annual conference opens at 6:30 a.m. and kicks off at 8:15 a.m. with Rhimes; Tamala Edwards, coanchor, Action News Mornings on 6abc; Mayor Kenney; Sandra Leung, general counsel of Bristol-Myers Squibb; and Carla Harris, Wall Street executive and author. The lineup also includes Monica Malpass, coanchor of Action News on 6abc, and politicians such as Gov. Wolf.