On the eve of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes Golf Club, some of the biggest names in business, politics, sports, media and the military gathered Wednesday to send an inspirational message.
The star-studded lineup included former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Navy Admiral Michelle J. Howard, broadcaster Michele Tafoya and Olympians Nancy Kerrigan, Maia Shibutani and Hilary Knight.
“It wasn’t long ago American’s considered my ancestors three-fifths of a man,” Rice said in her opening remarks at the fourth Women’s Leadership Summit in Kildeer.
Rice went on to discuss how she became Secretary of State and her experiences walking into rooms many believed she didn’t belong.
She wasn’t alone.
The Summit was filled with a list of women who have overcome the same adverse moments in male-dominated fields.
Howard achieved many historical firsts in her 35-year naval career and it was with courage and conviction that she said she got there. In 1999, Howard became the first African American woman to command a ship in the Navy.
She stressed that specific moment in her career.
“I knew it was substantial because of all of the press it was receiving,” Howard said. “When I began receiving letters from young girls, not just in the country but around the world, I thought, wow this is a special moment.”
Howard was presented KPMG’s Inspire Greatness Award on Wednesday.
Kerrigan, Shibutani and Knight sat on a panel moderated by NBC Sports Host Dan Hicks.
After taking silver in the two previous Olympics, the pressure to win gold in South Korea may have been insurmountable to some, but not to Knight and the U.S. women’s hockey team.
“We wanted to create a different culture,” Knight said, “and I think you saw some of that culture with our massive equitable support battle the spring previously.”
Knight dove into the experience of bringing home the first U.S. Olympic gold medal in women’s hockey since 1998 with the team’s victory over Canada. She said the team’s experience fighting for fair and equal treatment within the sport of hockey galvanized the women in a way that proved they were unstoppable.
“We’re expected to win gold just because we won all these world championships leading up,” Knight said. “But technically in the Olympics, we were the underdogs. We really wanted to offset that pressure but then also internally empower one another.”
It didn’t matter if it was one of the player’s first time competing in the Olympics, this team expected everyone to play like it was their fifth.
It was that kind of fearlessness and courage that Howard credited to being the reason for her success.
Every woman on stage at the summit shared a different story of overcoming adversity, but they all shared the same story of accomplishing the highest level of success in their respective fields.
“It takes courage,” Howard said, “and being fearlessly committed to your pursuit of happiness.”