Student-driven event sold out in advance of weekend speakers

In recent months, awareness of gender equity issues has skyrocketed thanks to the Me Too movement but as students at The Brentwood School prepare for their annual “It’s Our Turn: Young Women’s Conference,” it seems like culture has finally caught up to their curriculum.

The sold-out 2018 event is the fourth since 2012 and the student created event is a chance for local girls to develop leadership skills in a real-world setting. The school’s conferences are open to anyone in grades 7 through 12 and attract hundreds of attendees from the greater Los Angeles area to discuss a variety of issues. Speakers this weekend include Senator Barbara Boxer, Amy Wakeland, Katy Tur, Iskra Lawrence, Debbie Allen and Cleo Wade.

Topics this year will include advocacy, entrepreneurship, professional paths, self-expression, identity and body image, social media empowerment, relationships, and transforming stereotypes.

Officials said the event is tailored to the needs of students who are the driving force behind the conference.

“Since the very first conference, the girls really are at the heart of the creation of this conference,” said Sarah Bishop, School Registrar and a member of the conference committee.

She said the event began with 11 girls who were inspired by Maria Shriver’s first Women’s Conference while she was the State’s First Lady. Shriver has been the honorary Chair of the Brentwood event since its inception and the organizational committee has now grown to 94 students, including two boys.

“There are two boys on the planning committee and that is special to us this year,” she said. “Those are boys who came forward and wanted to be part of the conversation on gender equity and have been particularly focused on getting boys to attend the conference.”

She said the event has grown and evolved with the broader culture.

“We’ve talked about social media awareness, relationships, representation in the media,” she said. “The continued growth in the conference, the fact we are sold out in advance of the event, speaks to the fact that our young people are paying attention to what is happening in the international and national scale.”

Brentwood’s Director of Communications Shirley Blake is also a member of the committee. She said students are interested this year in talking about political action including how to run for office.

“We really do go by what the girls are most passionate about and what they want to talk about,” she said.

In addition to setting the agenda for the event, students introduce the speakers, moderate discussions and run break-out sessions. Officials said the experience is a way for students to create leadership skills. Some former students have taken the conference model with them upon graduation and replicated it at the college level.

“These girls are thoughtful about how they are leaving their mark and how to create their own legacy,” said Bishop.

While the conference is held every two years, the school incorporates aspects of the event into the ongoing curriculum. The school offers a gender studies class and hosts an annual guest lecture series that brings prominent speakers to the campus.

“In alternate years, we have other events that are not quite to this scale,” said Blake. “The women’s conference is the one that brings in the most people.”

The Brentwood School is a private school with two campuses. Visit for more information.