Frustrated with conferences that catered to rich white people, this Philly woman created an inclusive one

Now in its fourth year, FearlessCon has workshops on charging what you’re worth and building community.

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Courtesy of FearlessCon
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Melissa Alam has traveled to more female empowerment conferences than you ever knew existed. In Los Angeles, New York, Washington DC, Miami and Mexico, she’s paid roughly $300 a pop to attend weekends of inspirational speeches, networking encounters and skill-sharpening workshops.

But much as Alam believes conferences like these are “the best thing you can do for personal and professional development,” she began noticing some troubling patterns.

For one, there’s always the “size two woman bemoaning patriarchal standards of beauty,” who gives a talk that is supposed to somehow make you sympathize with her slimness. There’s the “Hey, my net worth is in the millions but you can be just like me ‘cause you’re a badass woman!” speaker, whose outfit is worth more than your salary. There’s her overall observation that the events tend to cater to Caucasians, and are held in drab convention centers.

Alam’s least favorite thing about these conferences? They’re not held in Philly.

“They’re always in New York or Boston or D.C. and it’s like helloooooooo, we’re here,” she said. “There are women doing amazing things in Philly who want to learn from other women, too.”

That’s why Alam, a digital startup founder and Fox Business School grad, took it upon herself — with barely any outside financial backing or staff— to bring a female empowerment conference to her home city.

Now approaching its fourth edition, FearlessCon is a Philadelphia conference that is multicultural and “multi-passionate.” The event began in 2015 as a one-day event at The Hive, a now-defunct all-female coworking space in Old City that Alam founded. It has now matured into a three-day affair, which this year takes place Sept. 28-30 at three different locations around the city.

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Courtesy of FearlessCon

By a brown woman, for all women

As a daughter of Bangladeshi immigrant parents, a Muslim and a self-proclaimed “brown girl,” Alam — who was one of Billy Penn’s early Who’s Nexters — felt it was crucial for her conference to recognize stories and to encourage speakers from varied backgrounds.

Confirmed speakers at this year’s FearlessCon include political activists, founders of media platforms and tech companies, relationship experts, attorneys and chefs. Many, if not most, identify as women of color and/or LGBTQ. The target demographic is women who are 21 to 35 years old, and many of the presenters are in that age range.

“We’ll have the female empowerment conference basics,” Alam noted, “like Instagrammable photo-ops, free headshots, a vendor marketplace, yoga sessions, a goodie bag and a sushi bar.” But there will also be workshops on financial literacy, mental health, charging what you’re worth, building community and dating.

Because FearlessCon is basically a one-woman show “with a couple of friends helping out here and there,” Alam has had to learn since the conference’s inception how to budget wisely, collaborate effectively and ask for help.

“FearlessCon is my side hustle,” she explained. It’s funded through Femme & Fortune, her digital creative platform that creates content for female entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses.

Outside support has come in the form of enthusiastic volunteers and co-workers, plus partnerships with local and national organizations. Urban Outfitters will be providing decor and furnishings for the conference. Bumble is another significant sponsor, and a deal is “in the works” with RedBull for an after-party event.

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Courtesy of FearlessCon

If you want to get in on the action tickets are still on sale for the conference and are priced at $249. They include:

  • Full access to all FearlessCon activities
  • Breakfast, lunch, snacks and refreshments throughout the weekend
  • Admission to the mix and mingle party on Friday, Sept. 28 at Athleta Rittenhouse
  • Admission to the closing cocktail party celebration on Sunday, Sept. 30 at BOK Bar
  • Goodie bag full of “boss-worthy items”

Contact hey@fearlesscon.com for more information or for sponsorship, volunteer or speaker opportunities.