Businesswomen must stick together to maintain their place in the corporate world, said participants and organizers of Friday’s 13th Annual Women in Leadership Conference at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business.

The conference was organized by the Michigan Business Women’s Student Club to bring together female business leaders, students and prospective students to share their experiences in leadership positions.

Business School officials said they have been impressed with the growth in the variety of professional women who attend the conference and the positions these women hold within their companies.

This year, speakers and panelists included women in a variety of positions – from self-employed businesswomen to consultants and corporate executives in manufacturing, retail and finance.

The conference provided a forum to, “celebrate success and talk about how to get there,” said conference co-chair Mindee Elam, a second-year MBA student.

Reaching top leadership positions in major corporations has become easier for women in recent years, conference organizers and speakers agreed.

“We are long past the day when women were told that they didn’t have a place at the table,” said Mitzi Short, keynote speaker and vice president of Multicultural Marketing and Strategic Initiatives for Pepsi.

During her keynote address, Short cautioned that past gains could be lost if women do not support each other and become involved in corporate policymaking.

But while the conference reflected this optimism, a recent report demonstrated that there was much room for improvement.

The C200 Business Leadership Index, a statistical study compiled by the Committee of 200 that examines differential influence in business based on gender, reported that women’s relative power in the business world increased only incrementally over the past four years, and decreased from last year. The report called for increased action by influential business leaders to reverse this trend. At the current rate of progress, women will not achieve equality in the business sector until 2018, according to the study.

Women lag far behind men not only in terms of salary, but also in the number of female-owned and led businesses, the number of female executives in Fortune 500 companies and the number of female MBA students at the top 20 business schools in the country, the study found.

For women, one of the most difficult aspects of advancing in the business world is achieving a balance between work and home, Elam said.

Meeting accomplished businesswomen helped students confront potential difficulties they may face after graduation, said second-year MBA student and conference Marketing Chair Rebecca Loveland. Hearing about the experiences of professional women allows students to “face the world with eyes wide open,” she said.

As women become more prevalent in business, it is important for them to have female role models, Elam said. The conference provided networking opportunities for students and professionals and interactive panels on topics such as entrepreneurship, the costs and rewards of leadership and defining personal and professional goals.

For Gloria Morillo, a prospective MBA student, the conference provided her a first taste of the executive world from a female perspective.

“It was really exciting sitting in a room full of women in suits,” Morillo said, adding that the conference reaffirmed her decision to pursue a business degree.

 

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