Have you ever come back from a conference or workshop on a total high because it’s just that good?

I just returned from the University of Chicago Booth Women Connect Conference. As all experiences are at that University, it was amazing. The planning, professors, facilities, everything – including signs for how the women could take over the men’s restrooms – were well thought out and executed perfectly.

The agenda was jam packed with sessions pertinent to issues that women face, complete with outstanding speakers and panelists that really resonated with the audience of roughly 598 women and two men (poor guys – low numbers and hard to find bathrooms – it is a women’s conference after all!).

Issues We Dug Deep On

We covered important topics I know I’ll continue to think about well into the future…

  • Common themes – how women can better promote themselves and their brand, how women can use their wisdom in deciding when and how to lead, how women can stop putting ourselves at the bottom of the list, and how women can take more risks.
  • A recurring theme included how research suggests that women are superior managers and build better team – and how organizations with more women in the upper echelons of business perform better.
  • Important facts, such as that Corporate Boards with women involved outperform their competitors – as women collaborate more and the needs of women in that workforce are better represented.
  • Opportunities related to reentering the workforce. The need to take a break from your career was mentioned as a way to recharge and ensure you have the longevity in your career to truly succeed. Instead of being penalized, exiting the workforce was mentioned to be a very savvy career move. The conference’s keynote speaker, alumni Joyce Frost, an amazing women banking entrepreneur, told the audience how she took six years off of her career to be with her kids but stayed active professionally by networking and participating on boards before returning.

But My Personal Favorites…

One of my favorite topics of the conference focused on how, as there are fewer women leaders than men in the workplace, there are a few women whose leadership style is not so inclusive. A call was made for us as women to speak up when we see injustice – be it a leader (female or male) who is not behaving appropriately to the corporate culture, or when a leader does not recognize the idea selected did not come from the loudest person in the room.

Then we discussed the fact that corporations are no longer to blame for women not staying. Women’s groups have existed for decades, flex time and virtual workplace have been available, as has on-site daycare. The fact that the sheer number of women are not staying in corporations – thus not moving up, putting in the hours, and breaking the glass ceiling has really been a rally call for the University to find out how to help women.

And finally, the subject of entrepreneurship was given a 45-minute slot for all attendees as the end of the day. The attendees had been warned throughout the day that one of the entrepreneurship professors, Dr. Waverly Deutsch, was going to be outstanding. The topic, “Women in Entrepreneurship” The Story Behind the Data.” Dr. Deutsch challenged the audience – especially the Booth community – to change the landscape of the type of businesses we start. Women run businesses in the US account for only 4% of the sales, and the number is trending downward. Women tend to start businesses with one person only (88% of women), in the service business (43% of our businesses) but only account for 10% of the GDP. She encouraged us to Be Bold and Think Big by selecting to start businesses that will grow into big companies and are in industries that are not typical for women to start them in – as we can use our unique strengths to do well.

The Connections We Crave

But with all the amazing planning and engaging topics, the best part of the day was the camaraderie of all of those in the room collaborating to make the workplace a better place for us all. From prospective students learning about the data driven teaching styles at the university, to the alumni reconnecting, to interested supportive business leaders attending the conference – it was a great way for all to showcase what talents women have. The conference was also a rally call for more women to return to the workplace to make it better for us and our children – especially the future women leaders.

I want to keep this camaraderie going, this engagement on important topics that will to support each other. If you had a workplace where you could collaborate with your peers, how would this help you reach your goals?

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