I’ve been thinking about women lately, thanks in large part to the Wichita Business Journal. I was among the roughly 200 women – of all ages and careers levels – that attended its inaugural Ignite ICT Women’s Conference last Thursday. It was billed as a way to get inspired, get connected and get empowered. And it achieved that trifecta.

High-level women shared their journeys and examples of shattering the glass ceiling. Wichita Community Foundation CEO Shelly Prichard challenged each of us to find a success coach, a cause and a champion. Right on. How else can we ensure the future is female? Panelist Jamie Harrison, Meritrust Credit Union senior vice president thinks we need to do this together, saying, “Behind every woman there should be 100 women cheering her on.”

ignite ict women's conference 2018
Roughly 200 women attended the Ignite ICT Women’s Conference last Thursday. It was billed as a way to get inspired, get connected and get empowered.

Stand Up and Be Counted

Panelists talked about issues facing women in the workforce – from gaining a seat at the table to achieving (at least a semblance of) work-life balance. They are problems we must solve. “Your organization will only know what you show them,” counseled Kriya Shortt, Textron Aviation senior vice president of customer service.

Change Your EQ If You Need To

I must be the only person in Wichita who has never heard Dotty Harpool give a presentation. I quickly saw what I have missed. This woman is phenomenal. Harpool’s been teaching at Wichita State University for more than 30 years, so she knows how to command a room. As Barton School Director of Student and Community Initiatives she also knows how to make connections. I loved her advice to ask for feedback, encourage other women and realize that you can lead at any level. “Misery loves company,” she said. “Success also loves company.”

Harpool asked attendees to take an assessment to determine our emotional intelligence (EQ), i.e. our ability to understand and manage our own emotions and those of others. Of course, she clarified that we can’t change anyone but ourselves, but we can change how we respond to others’ actions. A no answer to all six means you have a high EQ. A yes to all means you have a low EQ.

“Listening is a choice,” she said. “Hearing is a sense.” She encouraged us to choose to listen as a way to increase our social awareness and EQ. Unlike IQ, which we’re stuck with from about age 2, we can change our EQ – and our behaviors. She urged us to find our happy places. One way she gets through challenges: “I still like to enjoy myself a Twinkie,” she said.

Lots of Good Advice

Dress for Success Executive Director Portia Portugal suggested that we create our own personal board of directors, to surround ourselves with people we respect, to seek their counsel, and, whenever possible, to act upon it. Leah Sakr Lavender, a talent specialist for the Greater Wichita Partnership, emphasized the need to build people up and show them a career path. She also spoke about modeling kind behaviors to ourselves, too, including changing our self-language if it’s not as encouraging as it should be.

My longtime friend Sarah Hampton had the day’s longest title, I believe: 6 Meridian wealth advisor, partner and first vice president. It probably takes that many to contain her awesomeness. Her advice to compliment rather than compete against other women is good. I think it’s good to complement them, too. Help when you can.

Hampton hasn’t gotten where she has by not having a plan. “Set goals and don’t let your position or gender slow you down,” she said. “Life comes in seasons. Know your priority during that season and act on it.”

Learn from the Best

My boss, Sonia Greteman spoke on the entrepreneurship panel alongside other trailblazing business owners. Sonia’s inspired me since we first worked together almost 20 years ago. I was at Dallas-based Flexjet and a client of Greteman Group. That relationship gave me a unique vantage point to see a professional business woman in action. I saw firsthand how a woman could be accommodating, yet strong; creative, but also driven by the desired ROI. I learned how you could build a true friendship while still maintaining the unique boundaries of a client-agency relationship.

As a creative director, you expect Sonia to be an idea machine, which she is. But what not everyone may know is how professional she always is. Arriving on time. Giving a firm handshake. Being prepared. Her panel comments included really thinking about the competition and ways to move the needle for your business – before you ever walk into that meeting with senior leadership. Don’t wing it.

She shared a life lesson that a mentor gave her many years ago: “If you’re invited to a party, it’s not what the party can bring to you, it’s what you can bring to the party.” Sonia took that to heart.

Sonia communicated softer, but vital, lessons learned since launching her agency almost 30 years ago. “Take care of yourself. Take time to be around your friends and family. Find ways to learn and grow. Become part of the community. You’re better at work when you have a full, rounded life.” Fellow panelist Regina Miller, who runs a consulting firm of the same name, echoed that thought, saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”

ignite ict women's conference entrepreneurship panel
Michelle Becker, Profit Builders; Mary Billings, Love of Character; Jennifer McDonald, Jenny Dawn Cellars; Sonia Greteman, Greteman Group; and Regina Miller, R Miller Consulting sat on Ignite ICT’s EntrepreneuHERship Panel November 8.

Sonia also said it pays to be yourself and to make yourself standout. Early in her career she worked at Boeing Wichita. When she left, a colleague gave Sonia a compliment: “You are fuchsia silk in a gray-flannel world.”

I don’t mean to brag, but it was super cool throughout the day when I would introduce myself to people and they would follow with, “Is Sonia your boss? She seems like a great person to work with!” And of course, I could sincerely reply with, “Yes she is.”

Pull Up the Next Generation

One of the most standout parts of the day was when a Millennial attendee ran up to Sonia in order to get their photo together. Both she and her friend were really chatting Sonia up. I got the biggest kick out of watching these young women meeting someone they so obviously admired. This truly was one of the best parts of the conference, giving young professionals an open forum to connect with local women like Sonia who have paved the path. I would add that all the women at this panel seemed to have what it takes. Let’s watch and see. And help where we can.

March to Your Own Drum

As a mother of a toddler, I especially connected to the advice and example offered by other working mamas, such as my friend Mary Billings, who opened her fantastic Love of Character shop at the corner of Hillside and Douglas almost four years ago. I’ve seen the heart and soul she’s poured into her business and the tenacity she’s shown in fostering and growing it.

ignite ict women's conference attendees with ashley bowen cook
Mary Billings, Love of Character; Ashley Bowen Cook, Greteman Group; and Angela Green, Wichita Moms Blog attended last week’s Ignite ICT Women’s Conference.

The WBJ’s Bryan Horwath reported that in 1960, mothers with kids still at home were the primary or sole earners in 11 percent of U.S. households. That number has jumped to almost 40 percent today. Ernst & Young Partner Ginger Farney said her firm hires around 60 percent women, but lose them as they advance up the ladder. In spite of efforts to mentor women, she said, they’ve found there are simply times in a woman’s life when she wants and needs to spend more time with her family.

As a result, the firm is looking at how both women and men can scale back when they need to, then return full force when situations change. I know men who are stay-at-home dads, and I bet you do, too. Farney said, “We’re in an interesting time and place because the dynamics are changing so much.”

Yes, they are. And isn’t that great?