Why do we need women only conferences? I often hear  that question when I talk about female focussed conferences, followed by … are women interested in different topics than men? Are women further isolating themselves by going to women only conferences?

At the Women in Technology International (WITI) conference I recently attended in San Jose, the answer seemed obvious. Women face different challenges than men. Don’t misunderstand me. They do have some of the same challenges as men, but men aren’t called pushy when they interrupt a conversation with a new idea, or when the same point is presented by a man it is accepted and not when it was said by a woman, even if it was brought up by a woman just before the all-knowing male speaks up. One of the conference participants had the ideal response to this “Good point. I am glad to hear you support the idea I just tabled a few minutes ago”.

In a Forbes article “Are Women’s Conferences Effective?” Lelia Gowland, (whose research was originally published in the Harvard Business Review), reported that well organized women’s conferences can increase both the attendees’ income and optimism. The research compared female conference attendees to those who had registered but had not yet attended.  That study found that “attendees were twice as likely to receive a promotion within a year of the conference and were three times as likely to get a 10%+ pay increase”. If these all seem far fetched, the HBR article had lots of information to back its findings.  Unfortunately the article did not detail what a well organized conference is other than that it is “well-curated”.

And the WITI conference was certainly well organized. With over 900 conference attendees (a 10 % increase over last year) there were a variety of speakers, panels, workshops and coaching circles.

 One of the workshops was conducted by Renessa Boley Layne, Founder of the Perfect Work Academy.  She shared that the first step to get highly paid doing work you love is to answer four specific questions honestly and authentically: 1) What do you do best? 2) What do you enjoy most? 3) What’s your “story”? 4) What is the market willing to pay for? Layne insisted that “Most people focus solely on Question 4, chasing opportunities that on the surface seem great” but may be going in the wrong direction in your career.

 Kim Meringer conducted a coaching session titled: Maximizing Your Seat At The Table. Having a seat at the table means having an influential voice in the decisions that impact your work, career and your family life. In the discussion Kim suggested that in order to get ahead in your career you should clearly define the kind of leader you are and/or want to be and understand your style and values. Getting ahead without considering your leadership style and values may land you in a job that you may not like or fit in.

This was the 25th WITI conference. They used this occasion to announce the formation of the Mini-WITI group for young women, ages kindergarten to grade 12. To get more women into technology, young girls need to know about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) early on. Having an organization like this supporting this initiative will ensure that young women know about the options and opportunities that await them if they are truly interested in that broad career field.

 Yes, women do need women only conferences like WITI. They provide opportunities to make connections and allow for stimulating discussions to help women learn about new strategies such as asking for promotions, seeking out challenging assignments and ways to be heard.  More importantly, attendees realize that they are not alone in dealing with these issues and that they can work together with others to improve areas important to women.

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