Leadership conference encourages women to ‘sit at the table’


In 2010, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg recorded a TED Talk titled, “Why we have too few women leaders,” where she encouraged women to “lean in” and “sit at the table.”

The Ted Talk became so popular that in 2013, Sandberg published a book, “Lean In,” expounding upon the primary reasons she believes women are in so few executive positions, and she started leanin.org to attempt to remedy the situation.

Nancy Terrell, president of Terrell Marketing Group, said one of the Lean In Circles created as a result of Sandberg’s book and nonprofit will host the Lean In Michigan Leadership Conference from 12:30-5 p.m., Oct. 22.

“Lean In is comprised of about 29,000 Circles around the globe,” Terrell said. “There are six Circles in Grand Rapids.”

She said the Inspiration Circle is the only Grand Rapids Circle that isn’t part of a company.

“We are doing this (conference) on our own, because Circle members have found the Circle content to be so helpful, we wanted to make other people aware of Lean In, Circles and their benefits,” she said.

“Both internationally and locally, we still have too few women as hierarchy grows in corporations, nonprofits and government organizations. We have it so much better than our mothers, but there are still mountains to climb.”

Terrell said while 50 percent of college graduates are women and 46 percent of entry-level workers are women, only 37 percent of managers are women and only 4 percent of S&P 500 CEOs are women. She said women in nonprofits have it slightly better, with 20 percent of nonprofit CEOs being women.

“Women still get the ‘housekeeping’ duties inside corporations,” Terrell said. “They are typically asked to get the coffee or take the meeting notes, even though they may be the one leading the meeting. We still have too many instances of women continually being interrupted or talked over by men; men often being unaware of their behavior because it is so common.”

Terrell said the concept of Lean In is to encourage women to “sit at the table,” to seek challenges, to take risks and to pursue their goals with passion.

“Lean In encourages both women and men to support women in leadership positions, at whatever level it may be — both to reach that leadership position and to thrive upon appointment.”

The Lean In Michigan Leadership Conference will include keynote speakers Jacqueline Taylor and Mary Brown.

Taylor was president of Fulton Montgomery College at a time when only 3 percent of community college presidents were women. She also has served as vice president of development and as provost of Davenport University. Currently, she is a leadership consultant with Pondera Advisors.

Taylor said women are assuming more leadership roles, which means they need to “be prepared for the reality of those roles.”

“What is our leadership style? How do we build our leadership teams? And, how can we remain our authentic self in the face of the challenges that we meet? How do we prepare ourselves to create a culture of trust?” Taylor said.

Brown is a member of the Spectrum Health Inclusion and Diversity Center of Expertise. In her role, she uses her frameworks from design thinking and futuring in the areas of organizational learning, development and change.

She currently is a doctoral candidate at Pepperdine University and holds degrees from Gonzaga University, University of Phoenix, National Institute of Technology and has studied at Case Western Reserve University.

Brown said she plans to focus her presentation on the “current state of women in our culture and society” and share her thoughts on the challenges these pose for the future if they are not addressed now.

“Sandberg brought ideas to the surface of what some women are experiencing in the workplace, and what is important is that it puts forth a deeper conversation that needs to be had among both women and men in the workplace,” Brown said. “There is research as to why women face what they face in the workplace and society. And because the workplace is a microcosm of our larger layers of society — local and national — and of course with variation, it is also happening for women in West Michigan.”

In addition to the keynote presentations, there will be eight breakout sessions for attendees: “How to Manage Your Inner Critic,” led by Dr. Nancy Jonker; “Changing Careers Mid-Career,” led by Bonnie Nawara; “How to Take Control of Meetings, But Not Be Pushy (or a bitch),” led by Lisa Baber; “How to Reduce Your Fear of Networking,” led by Monica Sparks; “Resolving the ‘Do It All’ Mentality,” led by Steff Condon; and “How to Have an Empowering Impact on Young Women and Teen Girls,” led by LaRissa Paras.

Terrell said she hopes the conference will help create more Circles in Grand Rapids.

“We want women to realize they are not alone in their thinking — of self-doubt, of gender bias, of ‘wanting it all,’” Terrell said. “We want women to have each other’s back.”

Lean In Michigan Leadership Conference is being held at Grand Valley State University’s L. William Seidman Center, 50 Front Ave. SW. Attendees must register online by Oct. 17. For tickets or to learn more, visit bit.ly/LeanInMich.

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