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“Empowered Women Empower Women”: Women-Led Conversations are Changing Gender Equity in Michigan

Blog post by Olivia Johnson

As a Theatre and English student, I never thought I would find myself working for the government in any capacity yet that is exactly where I wound up last Friday at a Gender Equity Event in Traverse City hosted by the Michigan Women’s Commission and Governor Gretchen Whitmer. As an Event Specialist, I had the distinct privilege of collecting responses from over 90 professional women to various questions, including the first: “What is the greatest challenge women of Traverse City face related to gender equity?”

Throughout the conversation, my team and I worked to gather data, sort responses, and present our findings to the attendees and the Governor herself, in order for her to become more informed on the most pressing issues related to gender equity in the Grand Traverse area… directly from the women facing them every day. This was far from Governor Whitmer’s last event as she had already traveled to numerous cities prior to Traverse City and won’t stop until she has heard from the women in every county across the state of Michigan.

Now— you may be wondering how exactly I was even considered for such an amazing opportunity and, to put it simply, the Michigan Women’s Commission needed an extra pair of hands and put their trust in my good friend Kristina to bring along a fellow passionate woman to help the event run smoothly. In hindsight, it seems crazy to think that this was all it took for me to be involved in such an influential conversation but, after spending a single day alongside the women leading it, it made perfect sense. After all, if there is one thing I learned from the event, it is that women must support women— it is how we empower one another and create effective change in our community.

Pictured left to right: Olivia Johnson, Margo Van Camp, Govenor Gretchen Whitmer, Kristina Camaj

While a simple conversation regarding these overwhelmingly large issues may seem inconsequential to some community-members, my personal experience speaks to the opposite. It was disheartening to hear how many women faced discrimination based on the intersection of their gender and race, ethnicity, or age in the Grand Traverse area. It was eye-opening to hear how many women lacked access to healthcare and childcare (this was the number one issue recorded in response to the first question asked.) And it was absolutely inspiring to hear the call for more women in leadership positions as a response to almost every single question asked.
I have always taken pride in my own intimate community of women. They constantly provide me with emotional, professional, and artistic support. My mother, great aunts, and sisters. My former bosses. My professors. My directors. My very best friends.

The Gender Equity Events held by Governor Whitmer and the Michigan Women’s Commission are not only allowing women to influence actual government-issued change but are ensuring that we find power and support amongst each other. So often the world seems bent on dividing us, on denying us, on erasing us. Together we are cultivating a new world where women lead reformation, not just take part in it. I am so grateful to have been included in this event of empowerment and to have expanded my intimate community of women tenfold.

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