University of Tennessee

Virtual Women’s Summit Focuses on Transformational Leadership

April 15, 2021

“Be open to a wide range of experiences. Get as many skills as you can, and really be open to all the different opportunities that will come your way when you’ve got those skills.” 

That was part of the advice Madeline Rogero, former mayor of Knoxville, offered in her keynote address at the sixth annual Women in Business, Entrepreneurship and Leadership Summit hosted by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business in March. 

With the goal of providing a platform for meaningful dialogue around issues women face in business, the half-day conference featured panels and presentations by female leaders from the UT community and beyond. The event, which was held virtually for the first time, drew more than 80 participants. 

“There was never any question in our minds about whether we would have the summit or not,” Nayasha Farrior, assistant director for academic support and partnerships in the college’s Office of Diversity and Community Relations and head of the event’s planning committee, said. “We just immediately pivoted and started planning for a virtual event.”

The day began with a welcome from Lane Morris, Haslam’s associate dean of undergraduate studies and student affairs, followed by three sessions for students, faculty and staff; the keynote address, and one session for students only.

In the first session, “Breaking Glass Ceilings: Women Climbing the Ladder of Success,” 

Chandra Alston, associate vice chancellor for human resources at the UT Health Science Center, and Gwen McKenzie, vice mayor of the City of Knoxville and executive director of the Legacy Housing Foundation, discussed taking risks, finding mentorship and handling frustration.

The second session, “Entrepreneurship: A Path to Becoming a Value Creator,” featured recent UT graduates Mary Cayten Brakefield and Lia Winter. Brakefield, co-founder of the ability-inclusive clothing line Brakefields, and Winter, co-founder of the medical device company Winter Innovations, offered advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, with an emphasis on pitch competitions.

Booth Andrews presented the third session, “It’s Hard to be Human: Practices for Self-Care in the Face of Constant Uncertainty.” Andrews, founder and CEO of The Booth Andrews Company, spoke candidly about her past struggles with burnout and emphasized the importance of prioritizing self-care during difficult times.

Rogero’s keynote address focused on women as transformational leaders.

“As women, we need to realize our power and claim that power to make a difference in this world,” she said. “We all have the power and the responsibility to make the changes we desire.”

Rogero urged event attendees to pursue leadership roles, to surround themselves with strong support networks that can help them handle adversity and to maintain focus in the face of criticism.

“Don’t let the fear of criticism stop you from doing constructive work,” she told the group. “In fact, if you haven’t done something that opens you up to criticism, you probably aren’t showing much leadership.”

The keynote was followed by a fourth session for students only. Chantal Rochelle, brand strategist and content lead for Cocoa Butter, BuzzFeed’s Black culture and entertainment vertical, led the session entitled “How to Build Your Brand and Lead with Authenticity.”

The summit concluded with closing remarks from Farrior, who was pleased with the success of the conference and already looking ahead to next year. The planning committee hopes to hold the 2022 summit in person, but may incorporate lessons learned from this year’s virtual event.

“Having the virtual summit allowed us to have speakers participate from greater distances,” Farrior said, pointing out that Alston participated from Memphis, Tenn., and Rochelle presented her session from Hollywood, Calif. “We are currently thinking of ways that we can potentially do some sort of hybrid to continue to offer more speaker diversity with future summits.”


Stacy Estep, writer/publicist,