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For more than 400 attendees, IWLC’s leadership event in Des Moines on October 25, 2012, provided an action-packed day filled with inspirational speakers and scores of new friends and contacts.
“You could hear and feel the ‘buzz’ as the room began to fill,” says IWLC Executive Director Diane Ramsey. “And the energy level stayed high all afternoon. People were really excited about the speakers and about making so many new connections. It was a great day, and we’re tremendously grateful to our sponsors and volunteers for helping make it all possible.”
“Leveraging Your Personal Power” began with a luncheon and brief update from Iowa Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds on the 2012 SHE MATTERS report on the status of women and girls in Iowa. More specifically, Reynolds addressed some of the top 10 issues that emerged from discussions about the report at the April 2012 IWLC conference in Coralville.
Among those issues is the lack of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) careers, and Reynolds spoke about statewide efforts to get more K-12 girls involved in STEM through experiences such as school-based LEGO competitions. She encouraged attendees to support such efforts in their schools and communities. She also reminded the audience of another disturbing trend revealed in the SHE MATTERS report: that Iowa ranks last in the nation in revenue growth of women-owned businesses, and next to last in increase in the number of firms and overall employment by women-owned businesses.
When Lydia Brown of Cedar Rapids heard those statistics at the IWLC conference in April 2012, she decided to do something about it. Following Lt. Governor Reynolds to the podium, Brown announced the start of Ascent, a new nonprofit aimed at helping women business owners succeed. “Because this idea grew out of the IWLC conference last April,” Brown said, “publicly launching Ascent here today, in the company of so many current and future business owners, seemed like the best possible starting point.”
Following the SHE MATTERS update, attendees readied themselves to hear from the day’s first keynote speaker, Charlotte Beers—and they weren’t disappointed. Beers, former Chairman/CEO of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, captivated the audience with her very personal story about why, in the words of her most recent book title, “I’d Rather Be in Charge.” She urged audience members to discover their unique gifts, communicate with clarity and conviction, and never miss an opportunity to lead.
Beers’ messages about self-knowledge provided a perfect lead-in for the day’s next keynote speaker, Helene Lerner. An Emmy award-winning television producer and author, Lerner relayed some of her own life challenges, and asked the audience to participate in some exercises to reveal self-imposed limitations, such as old habits or assumptions. She urged attendees to be firm and forceful in asking for what they need to succeed; in fact, one of the day’s most powerful moments came when a recent immigrant asked for help in writing her biography, and an audience member quickly stood up and volunteered to assist.
Soledad O’Brien, the day’s final speaker, is a well-known and award-winning CNN anchor, reporter, and producer. She shared her story of growing up in a mixed-race home, of often feeling like an outsider, yet constantly encouraged by her mother to ignore those who might seek to judge or impede her progress. In her years in broadcast television, O’Brien has produced more than 25 documentaries, nearly all of which deal with segments of the population whose voices are often unheard—including women. Like Beers and Lerner, O’Brien encouraged the audience to speak up for their needs and speak out about injustice.
The day ended with a lively networking reception, attended by hundreds of conference goers who were eager to get books signed by Soledad O’Brien (as Charlotte Beers and Helene Lerner had done earlier in the day), and make new connections with sponsors, exhibitors, and peers.