The CCWA 2012 Women’s Leadership Conference

With a program packed full of successful leaders from all walks of life, this event focused on learning from the triumphs as well as the mistakes of women who’ve made their mark on their industries.

Update #1 — November 19th, 7:45 AM

It’s a tricky thing to put on a good event that’s aimed at female professionals. As we mentioned last week, the Community College Workforce Alliance’s second annual Women’s Leadership Conference looked like it had promise from the start: the goals were solid (encouraging women to find an effective leadership voice and make real change in their work lives), the tone was respectful (the word “diva” blessedly absent from all marketing materials), and the speaker lineup intimidating (CEOs and VPs with years of experiences to share).

And in this sort of conference, intimidating is a good thing. Developing your own leadership skills can’t be done without looking intimidation straight in the eye, learning what you can, and then pushing yourself even further out of your comfort zone.

I’d been unaware of the CCWA’s training and professional development courses when I first heard of this conference. A joint venture between John Tyler and J. Sargeant Reynolds, the CCWA offers instruction and consulting to better Richmond’s economic community by building the skills of its individuals. I spoke to Nina Sims, Director of Marketing and Sales for the CCWA, who told me that the idea for the Women’s Leadership Conference sprang from a conspicuous lack of leadership training opportunities for women in the Central Virginia area. Originally funded by grant money, the conference is now able to support itself, giving about sixty women each year the chance to absorb practical information and gain insight into their own abilities as a leader.

In keeping with those goals, the CCWA caps registration at around 70 so as to foster personal conversations in a more intimate environment. This year, about 60 women from a huge range of professions (and all with unique goals) spent the day at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. Each person I met was there for different reasons–one was encouraged by an employer, one was interested in starting her own company, one was feeling the pressure of remaining an involved leader as well as a new mother, and one simply felt like she’s not being heard in the workplace.

For me, the Women’s Leadership Conference wasn’t just a writing assignment. As one of my company’s owners, I’m keenly interested in what separates an effective leader from an ineffective one. Elizabeth Creamer (Director of Education and Workforce Development for the Commonwealth), Tuesday Stott (Training Manager at Owens & Minor), and Karen Coltrane (CEO of CMoR) came together for an unrehearsed and very frank panel that started the conference off with an inspiring bang. The three women had very different jobs in very, very different industries, but as they discussed their methods and dispensed advice, it became clear that each shared certain fundamental traits. Over the course of their careers, each woman had found it necessary to continually self-analyze, honestly recognizing their own flaws and doing what they could to minimize their impact on their professional relationships. Each attributed success to authenticity, directness, and a willingness to go to bat for their employees.

In other words, they suffered no fools, but you got the impression that they were pretty fun to have around the office.

Renee Johnson, the SLC Director for Chesterfield County Public Schools, stressed the importance of building relationships when networking, not just handing out business cards. Getting involved with the right organizations (instead of attending every event you hear about) allows you to form lasting connections with peers who can be tremendous resources in the future. The Senior VP of Sales and Marketing for SunTrust, Adrienne Whitaker clarified the difference between colleagues, mentors, and sponsors, and Nancy Thomas, President and CEO of the Retail Merchants Association, gave tips on staying cool and effective during the firestorm of criticism every leader inevitably finds herself weathering.

Again, the fundamental similarities in these presentations were striking: each woman explained situations (sometimes with photographical evidence to support their stories) in which they’d royally messed up. The effect was more than simply humanizing–it created a recurring theme of working through challenges, learning from defeat, and growing professionally as a result.

The strongest presentations were anecdotal, confident, and chock full of wisdom you really felt you could trust. A couple of the speakers started to lose their audience as they veered too much into biographical territory, but almost all of them regained our full attention during the home stretch.

We were asked at the outset to define our own goals for the conference. What did we want to learn? What issues in our own lives were we trying to address? By the end, almost everyone I talked to had found satisfaction and motivation to get the ball rolling at work and at home. In the few days since, I’ve noticed little changes in my own processes and communication methods at work–changes that I didn’t even consciously put into play, despite my ten pages of enthusiastic notes.

If they’re employing this same attention to detail and introspective moderation, the CCWA’s other development offerings are bound to please. And the Women’s Leadership Conference itself is poised to become the premier event of its kind. I’ll be back next year, and this time, I’m bringing every other female in my company with me.

Original — November 12th, 6:32 AM

The world has a long way to go before glass ceilings, boys clubs, and good old fashioned sexual harassment are truly things of the past. More and more events and organizations are popping up that are geared towards informing and empowering professional women. Yet it’s often difficult for those events to resist a patronizing tone and a “Come on, gals! You can do it if you try!” message. We know very well we can do it, thank you, and we’re no stranger to hard work.

But what about the obstacles women face in male-dominated professions? What can we do in our current positions to dissolve barriers and move forward as leaders in our fields?

The Community College Workforce Alliance’s 2012 Women’s Leadership Conference brings in several of the Richmond area’s most effective female leaders to share their stories this Wednesday, November 14. An all-day event, the conference focuses on building skills, relationships, and a voice that commands respect. And it’ll do it all with no pink flowery logo in sight.

As a managing partner of a small company, I’m always looking for ways to improve my career. As a woman, I’m no stranger to the gender-biased challenges that present themselves along the way. Will the 2012 Women’s Leadership Conference supply me with the tools I need to get ahead? Could this event be the droids we’ve been looking for? Check back after the conference for my take, or register yourself and hang with me at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden this Wednesday.

Scheduled speakers

  • Anedra Bourne — Tourism Coordinator, City of Richmond Department of Economic Development & Tourism
  • Laura Pence — Owner of Social Savvy Geek
  • Adrienne Whitaker — Senior VP of Sales and Marketing, SunTrust
  • Sarah Paxton — VP of Sales and Finance, LaDifference
  • Renee Johnson — SLC Career Integrator, Chesterfield County Public Schools
  • Elizabeth Creamer — Director of Education and Workforce Development – Secretary of Education,Commonwealth of Virginia
  • Nancy Thomas — President/CEO of Retail Merchants Association
  • Tuesday Stott — Training Manager, Owens and Minor University
  • Karen Coltrane — CEO Children’s Museum of Richmond
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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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