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Randolph Ctr. Hosts Women’s Economic Conference

Jun 13, 2024

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Sen. Peter Welch, comedian Tina Friml, and Rep. Becca Balint share the stage at the Women’s Economic Opportunity Conference. (Herald / Kassie Tibbott-Hull)
Sen. Peter Welch, comedian Tina Friml, and Rep. Becca Balint share the stage at the Women’s Economic Opportunity Conference. (Herald / Kassie Tibbott-Hull)

On Saturday, June 8, U.S. Senator Peter Welch (D, Vermont) presented the 27th annual Women’s Economic Opportunity Conference at the Vermont State University Randolph Center campus.

To kick off the event, Senator Welch, U.S. Representative Becca Balint (D, Vermont), and comedian Tina Friml shared the stage and told stories about personal growth and opportunity. “Everyone here is ambitious,” Welch said, during his opening remarks. He spoke of the solidarity the conference creates year after year, where attendees “provide mutual reinforcement and support to move ahead.”

Free to the public, the conference offered morning and afternoon workshops, followed by a closing panel. The workshops covered topics related to marketing, management, personal power, and resilience; and the closing panel discussed the impact of generative AI. Senator Welch is a multiyear conference attendee, but a first-time host of the event. The Women’s Economic Opportunity Conference was founded in 1996 by U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) who hosted the event until his retirement in 2023.

“As a woman leader, it’s really important that we find our mentors and supporters where we can,” said Rep. Balint, who spoke of the professional support she has received from Senator Welch throughout her career.

Noting that empathy and compassion are lacking among her colleagues in Congress, she encouraged listeners to make deep and lasting connections with others. A self-proclaimed nerd, Rep. Balint went on to share her interpretation of the book “The Power Paradox” by Dacher Keltner, Ph.D.

“’The Power Paradox’ shows that the traits that bring people trust in us as leaders, are the very traits that we lose with the more power and influence that we gain. For lasting impact—not clickbait or headlines—you have to focus your work on other people. That has to be the center of the work that you do,” she said.

Influence was also the theme of Tina Friml’s speech. Friml, raised in Vermont, is a standup comedian in New York who made her late-night debut on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon in 2023.

Raised by theater-set designers, Friml was introduced to the stage at a young age. When she began performing standup comedy, she wasn’t old enough to drive.

Friml lives with cerebral palsy, which she refers to as “the elephant in the room” when she gets on stage; something she has to address so that others don’t feel “uncomfortable.”

“I want to be seen as a comic with a disability, not a disabled comic. The truth of the matter is that my disability will always influence my opportunities, both negatively and positively. The same goes for being a woman in a male dominant field.” she said.

Friml’s long-term goal is to show her audience not just how she got to where she is, but why she continues to be there.

“She leaned in and embraced who she is, candidly, humorously, lovingly, and I’m inspired.” said Senator Welch.

Story Written by Kassie Tibbott-Hull, The Herald

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