Empowering women transforms societies: Women’s Summit 2012

Categories: Data Tags: Women's Issues

In Mecklenburg County, women are appointed to city and county boards at the same rate that they are applying. If more women run for board positions, more are likely to be appointed, and it takes just three women on a board to really influence decisions being made. This was just one of the messages presented to the more than five hundred people who attended the 2012 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Women’s Summit conference, held at UNC Charlotte on April 13. This is the second conference the organization has held, and this year, the theme Women, Wages and Work focused on how women fared after the Great Recession compared to men at the local, state and national levels.

The Women’s Summit Indicator Partner page offers a rich new source of data related to women in Mecklenburg County. Explore this interactive tool here.

Over the course of the day, one influential woman after another inspired the many women in the crowd to keep fighting for progress in their own careers and for women as a whole. Cynthia Marshall, President of AT&T North Carolina and cancer survivor, discussed the obstacles she faced raising three teenagers and having a major health scare while encouraging women to embrace and support one another. She said she has learned over time, “If you want something done, you give it to a woman.”

Former White House Press Secretary, Dee Dee Myers, who served during the first years of the Clinton administration and was the first woman to serve in that capacity, spoke of how she found herself with the same responsibilities as previous secretaries but with less authority, smaller pay, and a smaller office. Myers told the audience that she worked to gain more authority in her position as press secretary, but said “It was hard for me to establish the same authorities. It was very difficult.” However, Myers also said, “I had more power than I thought I had in the beginning.” She stressed to every woman in the room to know the authority she possesses in her job from day one.

In highlighting her book, Why Women Should Rule the World, Myers stated that her argument is not about replacing men but about why including women alongside men makes for a better community. “When you empower women, whole societies are transformed,” she said, noting that women see and do things differently from men. She encouraged the women in the audience to own the value they bring to the workplace, take credit for the work they accomplish, and to “embrace choices that other women make” because “if we don’t trust one another to lead then nobody will trust us.”

N.C. Governor Bev Perdue cited the low numbers of women serving in Congress and as governors. She emphasized that women still have a long way to go in assuming leadership positions and that women’s roles at the top are imperative in creating a positive impact on public policy issues. Governor Purdue stated, “Decisions just look different with women at the table,” and that women have the ability to influence and shape the decision making process whether it be in government or the private sector.

Jill Flynn, author of Break Your Own Rules, How to Change the Patterns of Thinking that Block Women’s Paths to Power, challenged the audience to think bigger and aim higher as leaders by presenting new rules for women to live by in the workplace to move forward, faster. Among them, Flynn encouraged women to take center stage and project personal power. Flynn also touched on verbal and nonverbal personal power robbers that keep women from advancing in their careers, such as using weak introductions, over explaining decisions, and deflecting compliments. She discussed the different ways men and women act and react to situations in the workplace and recommended that if women want bigger rewards, they should take note of what men are doing to advance their careers.

Topics discussed in breakout sessions ranged from how data can be used to promote workplace equity to preparing for retirement. Astrid Chirinos, Tana Greene, Jane McIntyre, and Shannon McFayden discussed their success stories and the mistakes they made while working their way to the top. Each woman encouraged the audience to take risks and have faith that those risks will turn into rewards. In speaking of her career, McIntyre, Executive Director of United Way of Central Carolinas, put it best when she said, “Know it’s about the journey; it’s never about the destination.”

The UNC Charlotte Urban Institute hosted two sessions illustrating how data can be used as a tool for women in the workplace and organizations advocating for women’s equality. Participants toured the Institute’s websites including the Women’s Summit Indicator Partner page and learned how to access the wealth of data featured on the site and how they could use these data to enhance their current work.

Not only did this conference feature a powerful collection of speakers and valuable breakout sessions, but it also served as a mechanism to bring women from across the Charlotte region together to discuss their own struggles and successes and learn from each other’s experiences. The end result? Hundreds of women with a new or restored sense of empowerment, ready to take on the world.

Elizabeth Workman

Claire Apaliski