2019 Great Dame Icons

The 2019 Great Dames icons Anna Welsh, Bebe Coker, LaVerne Harmon

The novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic continues to force organizations to change their large gathering plans, but Great Dames is looking at a virtual move as a silver lining. President Sharon Kelly Hake says it just lets Great dames reach their international members more easily. 

"That's been our goal and, honestly, COVID-19 accelerated that significantly. We have always considered ourselves a high touch, high impact organization," she said. "Most of our programs have been in Delaware. So people cannot fly to Delaware from Copenhagen. They just can't do it...What happened during COVID is, our powerful conversations quickly went virtual. We never did that before...To our surprise, it worked. We never imagined that there would be so much impact when we could get people in a virtual room, who had never met each other, living in different states, different countries."

Great Dames' late September conference is open to both men and women, but the group got it's start when Hake spotted a trend of women--even women who already held powerful positions--having trouble finding their voice. 

"It started, frankly, with a series of experiences that I had globally working working with women all over the world. I've worked in corporate America for almost 30 years, and I found that there was a pattern. No matter what country I was in--the United States, or India, or China, or Scandinavian, wherever--I found a pattern of women that discovered that they had trouble finding their voices," Hake said. "They struggled with that. They described struggling with being heard and being valued, whatever role they played. I'm talking about women who were scientists, engineers, leaders of nonprofits, leaders of companies. It didn't matter."

Eleven years ago, Hake found the group's footing in Delaware, but it's grown internationally since then. And she focused on finding women from all walks of life and bringing them together to help support each other and find inspiration for innovation, evolution, and growth. 

"You don't have to lead a major company or be a corporate executive, you can be a person who wants to create powerful change in the world, making your mark," she said. "We actually have people from Gen Z to Boomers in our community. We literally have thousands of women in our community. And with respect for Gen Z women that come into the room, we love to hear what they have to say. These are teens and students who are going to be our future leaders, and we have women from all cultural backgrounds and all experiences, and every experience matters, every story matters, because it's inspirational. And that's what this conference is all about. It's about bringing these women together in powerful conversations to help us spark our imagination."

Which has always been the goal, Hake said, because more can be accomplished together than apart. 

"We are a community of women who believe in their power to create change. And we believe that all women and girls have that power to do so," she said. "We are about women who come together to support, mentor, and motivate one another to achieve their goals and to discover, essentially, their Great Dame-ness."

Starting Monday, September 21, 2020, through Friday, September 25, Great Dames will host Reimagine Your Remarkable Life from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern Time. The list of speakers includes U.S. Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, Delaware’s first Black female congresswoman; Joan Pendergrass, author, speaker, and wife of the late musician Teddy Pendergrass; Dr. Wendy Smith, a University of Delaware professor and founder of the Women’s Leadership Forum; Leticia Gomez, pioneering Latinx literary, film, and television agent; Kay White, best-selling British author and career mentor; Miracle Olatunji, a GenZ Phenom and founder OpportuniMe; and DeLores Pressley, an international speaker, author, and former guest of The Oprah Winfrey Show. Additionally, 10 women will present their business idea for "reimagining their community," and one will win a $1,000 cash prize. 

"We're very excited about our first global virtual conference...We're going to host a series of real conversations with internationally known and renowned thought leaders," she said. "We have a number of women who are going to share their stories, but then engage the community in powerful conversations, so that we can hear from everyone in the room. Their voices matter, so we've designed it so we have breakout sessions so people can participate. It's an hour a day that's going to feed our brains, our hearts and our souls. And we're going to come away at the end of the conference with a game plan for reimagining our remarkable lives, both personally and professionally, and in our communities."

Those interested can register online at GreatDames.com/Reimagine.