Group shot of participants with there hands in the air in a celebratory mood with text overlay of

14th Annual HIGHER Ground 
Women's Leadership Conference 

Not Waiting to Lead 
Friday, November 6, 2020

Now Accepting Proposals!

Women are shifting the paradigm of leadership conversations by stepping into formal and informal roles, regardless of recognition. They are challenging dominant expectations of what leadership progress and change should look like and shaking up systems of hierarchies that reinforce the status quo. Designed to create space to imagine new leadership models, The 14th Annual HIGHER Ground Women’s Leadership Conference will: interrogate why deserved recognition for women's accomplishments is absent from prevailing leadership spaces; explore how to break free of leadership models that undervalue women; and embolden women to take the lead without needing to hold position, ask for permission, or wait for an invitation. Not Waiting to Lead will disrupt the narrative to catalyze the change that demands a future in 1st place.  

Coaches Corner - Call for Coaches

The VCU Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute is now accepting proposals from certified coaches for its “Coaches Corner” at the 14th Annual HIGHER Ground Women’s Leadership Conference on Friday, November 6, 2020.

“Coaches Corner” is an innovative conference experience during which attendees meet with certified coaches for mini coaching sessions. We invite proposals from coaches in diverse areas of expertise, including but not limited to leadership development, empowerment, career development, health, wellness, and spirituality.

We invite you to submit a proposal here. If you have any questions, please contact us at

About the Conference

The Annual HIGHER Ground Women's Leadership Conference provides high-quality education and networking opportunities. Each year, more than 300 participants come together to share ideas, illuminate innovative leadership practices and explore factors that influence their effectiveness at work, at home and in their communities. This conference provides participants with a tremendous opportunity to grow, develop and learn with practical solutions for success in their personal and professional lives. Our one-day, multi-track format offers a self-directed facilitated learning environment with education sessions and interactive forums. Key features include: plenary sessions, panel discussions, workshops, and regional and national speakers highlighting timely issues of importance to women. Continuing education units are available for full participation in this event.

Past Conferences

2019, 13th Annual HIGHER Ground Conference

Conference Date: November 1, 2019

Conference Keynote Speaker: Gayle Elizabeth Harris, MSW, QMHP, Founder and COO, LivingLifeMatters, LLC; Chef and Co-owner, 2U4U Mind, Body, and Soul Found Master

Opening Plenary Speakers: Paula Otto, Partner, LeadSpark Consulting; Nakeina E. Douglas-Glenn, Director, The Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute; Carmen Foster, Principal Consultant, Forward and Wise; Susan Wilkes, Preseident, Wilkes Consulting

2018, 12th Annual HIGHER Ground Conference

Conference Date: November 2, 2018

Conference Keynote Speaker: Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor, Graduate Department of Public Policy and Administration, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Opening Plenary Speakers: Christy Coleman, CEO, American Civil War Museum; Monique Greenwood, Chief Operating Officer, Akwaaba Bed & Breakfast Inns; Aradhana Bela Sood, Professor, Psychiatry, Virginia Commonwealth University; Pauline Weger, Founder, Quotabelle, Inc. 

2017, 11th Annual HIGHER Ground Conference

Conference Date: November 3, 2017

Conference Keynote Speaker: Vida Williams, Founder and Managing Partner, AXIS Partners, Inc.

Closing Plenary Speakers: Aaron Anderson & David Leong, Virginia Commonwealth University

2017 HIGHER Ground Conference Program: Front Matter, Agenda, Speakers, Back Matter

2016, 10th Annual HIGHER Ground Conference

Conference Date: January 29, 2016

Conference Keynote Speaker: Freda Thornton, President & CEO, FWL & Sons Inc.

Morning Plenary Speakers: Gwen Williams Dandridge, Former TV News Anchor and Professor, Mass Communications, Virginia State University; Melanie H. Green, Vice President and Provost, Bon Secours Memorial College of Nursing; Kelli Lemon, Social Entrepreneur; Colette McEachin, Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney, City of Richmond

2016 HIGHER Ground Conference Program

2015, 9th Annual HIGHER Ground Conference

Conference Date: January 30, 2015

Conference Keynote Speaker: Suzanne Malveaux, CNN Award Winning Journalist

Morning Plenary Speaker: Ava-Joye, Anchor/Video-Journalist, WRIC-TV; Ruth Jones, Executive Director, YWCA South Hampton Roads; Nancy Rodrigues, Secretary Administration, Commonwealth of Virginia; Angela Wilkes, Director Supplier Diversity & Sustainability, Owens & Minor

2015 HIGHER Ground Conference Program

2014, 8th Annual HIGHER Ground Conference

Conference Date: January 31, 2014

Conference Keynote Speaker: Anne Goddard, President & CEO, ChildFund International

Morning Plenary Speaker: Suzette Denslow, Deputy Chief of Staff, Office of the Governor, Commonwealth of Virginia; Tiffany Jana, CEO, TMI Consulting, Inc.; Ruth Jones, Executive Director, YWCA South Hampton Roads; Jennifer McClellan, Delegate, Commonwealth of Virginia's 71st District; Colleen Quinn, Attorney & Partner, Locke & Quinn Personal Injury & Law Attorneys; and Gayle Jessup White, Communications Consultant, Writer, Realtor

2014 HIGHER Ground Conference Program

2013, 7th Annual HIGHER Ground Conference

Conference Date: January 25, 2013

Conference Theme: Destination HIGHER Ground: Your Guide to Excellence in Leadership

Conference Keynote Speaker: Sonia Aranza, Global Consultant, Executive Leadership Expert, Aranza Communications

Morning Plenary Speaker: Mary Foley, Bodacious Ventures, LLC; Debbie Lennick, Vice President, Market Innovation, CREATIVE; Susan Mitchell, President, Guardians of Honor, LLC; Wanda Mitchell, Vice President, Diversity & Equity, VCU; Katherine Winstch, Founder, The Mom Complex

2013 HIGHER Ground Conference Program

2012, 6th Annual HIGHER Ground Conference

Conference Date: January 27, 2012

Conference Theme: Maximizing You: Unlocking the Treasures Within

Conference Keynote Speaker: Mary C. Doswell, Senior Vice President- Alternative Energy Solutions, Dominion

Afternoon Plenary Speaker: Mary Foley, Bodacious Ventures, LLC

2012 HIGHER Ground Conference Program

2011, 5th Annual HIGHER Ground Luncheon

Conference Date: January 21, 2011

Conference Theme: Transforming Ourselves Transforming the World

Conference Keynote Speaker: Gail Letts, President and CEO of the Central Virginia Region, SunTrust Bank

2011 HIGHER Ground Conference Program

2010, 4th Annual HIGHER Ground Luncheon

Conference Date: January 15, 2010

Conference Theme: Celebrating a Decade of Women in Leadership

Conference Keynote Speaker: Daphne Maxwell Reid

2010 HIGHER Ground Conference Program

2009, 3rd Annual HIGHER Ground Luncheon

Conference Date: January 23, 2009

Conference Theme: Living Today, Leading Tomorrow

Conference Keynote Speaker: Eva Teig Hardy, Executive Vice President, Retired, Dominion

2009 HIGHER Ground Conference Program

2008, 2nd Annual HIGHER Ground Luncheon

Conference Date: January 18, 2008

Conference Theme: Born a Woman, Born a Leader

Conference Keynote Speaker: Stacy Hawkins Adams

2008 HIGHER Ground Conference Program

2006, 1st HIGHER Ground Luncheon

Conference Date: December 1, 2006

Conference Theme: Leadership Presence: Courage and Confidence as Women Leaders

Conference Keynote Speakers: The Honorable Jean W. Cunningham and The Honorable Anne G. “Panny” Rhodes

2006 HIGHER Ground Conference Program