Senator Leahy’s 24th Annual Women’s Economic Opportunity Conference

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Date(s) - October 23, 2021
9:00 am - 11:00 am


Fee: Free
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Senator Leahy has proudly hosted the Women’s Economic Opportunity Conference (WEOC) since 1996. Each year this highly anticipated event brings together hundreds of Vermont women for presentations on how to navigate workplaces, grow businesses and succeed in a modern economy.

Xusana Davis, the State of Vermont’s first Executive Director of Racial Equity, will deliver the keynote address at Vermont’s 24th Annual Women’s Economic Opportunity Conference (WEOC), to be held on Saturday, October 23, 2021. This year’s virtual conference will run from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

In addition to Xusana’s compelling keynote message, the morning event will feature a panel discussion, Evolving in a World of Change: Best Practices for a Business Refocus. This session will be led by three Vermont women who will share personal stories of how they adapted their businesses, or even changed direction, to meet the challenges of the pandemic. The panelists include Abby Lechthaler of The Downtown Grocery in Ludlow; Akshata Nayak, founder of Little Patakha and owner of Alternative Roots Wellness; and Julia Birnn Fields, president of Birnn Chocolates of Vermont.

We are grateful to host this important event once again, even in its more abbreviated version. We are already looking forward to WEOC returning in person next year, when we will celebrate 25 years of this great tradition.

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Keynote Speaker: Xusana Davis

Xusana Davis, Vermont’s first Executive Director of Racial Equity, will be this year’s keynote speaker. Xusana was appointed to the position in June 2019 by Governor Phil Scott. In her role, she works with state agencies to identify and address systemic racial disparities and support the state’s efforts to expand & diversify Vermont’s population. She relies on data to inform this work, and on the State Strategic Plan to guide it. Learn more about the duties of the Executive Director of Racial Equity here.

Prior to joining the State of Vermont, she served as Director of Health & Housing Strategic Initiatives at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and as the Director of the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus of the New York City Council.

She holds a Juris Doctor with a concentration in International Human Rights Law from New York Law School, where she also directed a civil liberties education program for low-income and minority youth. She studied Anthropology and Philosophy at Fordham University, earning the Rev. J. Franklin Ewing, S.J. Award for writing on the relationship between global human rights violations and the proliferation of HIV/AIDS.

Xusana is a first-generation U.S.-born Latina and has always been passionate about promoting open access to government for all people, regardless of their background or place of origin. She is fluent in Spanish, and her name is pronounced like the phrase “Seuss on a”.


9:00 am: Opening introduction

9:05 am: Welcome from U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy

9:15 am: Keynote Address by Xusana Davis, State of Vermont Executive Director of Racial Equity

9:30 am: Audience Q and As (moderated)

9:55 am: Panel member introductions

  • Abby Lechthaler – The Downtown Grocery
  • Akshata Nayak – Little Patakha
  • Julia Birnn Fields – Birnn Chocolates of Vermont

Speaker bios

10:00 am: Evolving in a World of Change: Best Practices for a Business Refocus discussion led by three Vermont women who will share their personal stories on how they adapted, and in some cases, changed the directions of their business plans as a result of the pandemic.

10:30am: Audience Q and As (moderated)

10:55am: Wrap up