Throughout the conference, people heard messages that left them feeling inspired and empowered. Our keynote speaker, Carey Lohrenz, is the definition of inspiration. She was the first fully qualified female F-14 Tomcat pilot to fly in the U.S. Navy. Think Top Gun! She told the audience about the importance of handling stress in the cockpit.
“Under stress, can you still be successful and adapt to different scenarios,” she asked the crowd. “If you lose sight, you lose the fight. When we start to try to do everything, we dilute our focus. When you dilute your focus, then you dilute your power. Focus on what matters.”
Lohrenz delivered a message that determination is key, whether it be as a fighter pilot or in the office. She encouraged women that, when an opportunity arises, they should raise their hand, even if they don’t feel as though they are ready for the challenge. Often times, she said, they are.
“When we’re afraid to fail, we end up passing up really good opportunities, simply because we’re afraid to fail,” said Lohrenz. “Don’t be afraid to push the limits. Don’t be afraid to fail.”
She also talked importance the importance of performing well for the team. “Great teams embody two qualities: belief and trust,” said Lohrenz. “Your job is to make the person to the right of you and to the left of you look good.”
She closed her keynote with one more message of inspiration. “You have the ability to write your own story but you have to show up,” said Lohrenz.
That wasn’t the only message of inspiration for those who attended this year’s conference. The conference opened with a panel discussion about women in the workplace and in higher education.
On the panel was Farad Ali, president and CEO of The Institute, Leah Brown, president and CEO of A10 Solutions, and Margaret Spellings, president of the UNC System. Amber Rupinta, news anchor for ABC-11 Eyewitness News (WTVD), moderated the panel.
Spellings talked about the importance of mentoring young leaders. “I love it,” she said. “It gives me insight into the struggles of those younger than me. You get as much as you give.”
Brown said a call to action is needed to do more to champion women in the workplace. “Of all the Fortune 500 companies, only 24 have women CEO’s and none are African American,” she said. “What are we really doing to change things?”
Ali said, “When you look at the top companies in North Carolina, there are only three with women leaders. There is a lack of equity. We need to create opportunities, not obstacles, to people’s success.”
The panelists also talked about the importance and challenges of balancing life as a mother with a career.
“We’re not going to get change until we have more mothers in higher levels of leadership,” said Brown.
Spellings encouraged women to bring their children into their work life when they can. “Make it a family affair so they see the value of how you spend your time,” she said.
Another key aspect of the women’s leadership conference are the five breakout sessions. Those who went to the conference got to pick which sessions they attended.
One session was called, Building Your Own Brand. Audience members heard from four speakers, including Allison Conley and Emily Cutts, the co-owners of Parlor Blow Dry Bar, Rebecca Quinn-Wolf, vice president and director of client and community relations for PNC’s Eastern Carolinas market, and Dickens Sanchez, associate director of business development for Clean.
“It started with us wanting to create a culture that was empowering to people,” said Cutts, talking about the formation of her company’s brand. “We knew we wanted to do something. Our personal brand started with what we wanted to give to the community.”
Quinn-Wolf talked about the importance of core values at PNC. “We have a set of core values that are intertwined,” she said. “They are performance, customer service, respect, diversity and inclusion, teamwork, and
quality of life.”
Another session was called, Finding Your Strengths and the Strengths of Your Team. Those at this session heard from Jenn Mann, executive vice president and chief human resources officer with SAS Institute, Inc., Joy Ruhmann, president of Level Up Leadership, Inc., and Shelley Willingham, who leads Vision and Passion International, LLC.
“If you’re not confident in your work, then you’re going to feel disillusioned,” said Ruhmann. “If somebody is not interacting with the team the way they need to, somebody in leadership needs to help them or be supportive of them making a transition outside the organization.”
Mann also talked about the importance of employees having one-on-one meetings with leadership.
Next door, there was a session called, Workplace Advocacy. Sexual harassment in the workplace has been a significant topic nationally. This session took a closer look at what companies and individuals need to know.
Those who attended heard from Sarah Ford, an employment law partner and Title IX attorney with Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP, and from Ursula Mead, the founder and CEO of InHerSight.
“If sexual harassment is not addressed by an employer, there is a risk of quid pro quo,” said Ford. “There is clearly a lot of that still happening. It’s come to light in the entertainment and movie industry. There also is fear of retaliation.”
In the next room was a session called, Why Championing Women is Good for Business. The panel included Kristy Dixon with KMD HR Solutions, LLC. She also is the former president of the McLaurin Parking Company. It also included Kelly Gruber, the inclusiveness and flexibility leader for the southeast region at Ernst & Young, LLP, and Ronnie West, the chief people officer at Ipreo.
“We are seeing better market penetration when we see diverse teams,” said Gruber. “If you have better balance on your teams and women are involved, then you’re going to get to better innovation.”
The final session was called, How Women and Men Communicate Differently at Work. It was led by Fred Hutchison, the founder of Hutchison PLLC, and Beth Ritter, an associate professor of practice in management, innovation, and entrepreneurship at the Poole College of Management at NC State.
Hutchison said studies have shown men take more risk going for bigger wins, even though the wins are less likely and more costly. Ritter said women are better at reading people’s body language. She also told the audience not to undersell their knowledge by calling it intuition.
Thank You to Our Sponsors
The Women’s Leadership Conference was a huge success! We could not have done it without our sponsors and are so thankful for their support. We can’t wait to start planning WLC 2019!