Playing with power

Economic Summit offers message of empowerment to women

Improving the personal and professional lives of women in Tennessee directly affects the standard of living for everyone in Tennessee.

That’s the perspective Wendy Pitts-Reeves says she has following the East Tennessee Regional Women’s Economic Summit held in Maryville last week.

“When women do better, families do better; and when families do better, communities do better,” said Pitts-Reeves. “Tons of research show that when women are better educated, they earn better salaries, and when they earn a better living, that improves the standard of living for all the community. It’s about giving women the tools to stand on their own feet. It’s about raising the standard of living for all Tennesseans. It is something I think has a powerful impact for the future for our state.”

The June 3 event was held at the Clayton Center for the Arts on the campus of Maryville College. More than 160 women gathered to get practical tools to help improve their personal and professional lives, Pitts-Reeves said.

She added that the conference was designed to give women practical business information for personal and professional development, as well as motivation and inspiration.

“In today’s economy, so many people are out of work, times are hard, and it is about encouraging folks and giving them the tools they need to survive and thrive in today’s economy.”

The summit was a joint venture of the Tennessee Economic Council on Women and the Center for Strong Communities at Maryville College. Attendance, organizers said, was the highest it has been.

“It was fantastic,” said Pitts-Reeves, “the best we’ve ever had. Each year is better than the last. We’re getting close to double what we did in the past. We had women from all over East Tennessee.”

Christi Fightmaster was on the planning committee and said it was an incredible experience for everyone who attended. “I loved being on the planning committee. Being able to bring something like this to Blount County was great,” she said. “We had about 165 women, which was up from last year. We really focused on making this an East Tennessee Regional Economic Summit for Women as opposed to just focusing on women in Blount County. We really put forth an effort to invite women outside of our community to come participate in the workshop.”

Conference co-leader Sharon Hannum said the workshop went well. “I was really pleased. We had 165 registered ladies who were in attendance and everything went really, really well,” she said.

Reeves said the keynote speaker, Pam Fansler, did a tremendous job of explaining practical tips for being successful. “We also had Vrondlia ‘Ronni’ Chandler from the Knox Area Urban League who spoke,” she said.

Hannum praised Chandler, one of the directors of Project Grad in Knoxville who worked 23 years with Pellissippi State Community College. “She shared things with the women there and called to our attention there is always the ‘other’ bio,” Hannum said. “We have one bio, our public persona, and there is always another bio that makes up who we are on the inside. That was a key take-away for many of us.”

Hannum, who is vice president of the Blount Chamber Foundation, said Chandler also encouraged the ladies to remember they always have a choice. “Often times we think we don’t have a choice when we’re faced with a bad choice,” she said. “If we don’t like one choice, we can make another choice.”

Fansler left the listeners with “plug-ins to personal power,” principles that lead to success as her part of the conference. “One analogy she used related to how flight attendants always instruct passengers on a plane that in the event of an emergency and the oxygen masks drop, always put on your own oxygen mask before attempting to assist another,” Hannum said. “She talked about how we should apply that same analogy to our personal and professional lives. If we don’t plug into power first, we can’t assist anyone else.”

Hannum said Fansler explained that women should plug into the power of economic independence. They should also plug into the power of their own personal team. “We often think we have to do everything ourselves, but we have very able teammates so we should plug into the power of those around us,” Hannum summarized.

Hannum said Fansler advised the women to remember to choose their employers wisely. “Don’t accept the first job opportunity that comes along,” she said.

The importance of volunteer opportunities were also highlighted at the summit. “The message was to seek out volunteer opportunities to serve,” Hannum said. “We should plug into the power we can get from a sense of community and have a sense of humor when you’re doing it.”

Fightmaster said everybody got a little something different out of the conference. “Overall we got that we have power within ourselves to evoke change and each one of us can encourage one another to help improve the overall status of women not only in our community but across the state,” she said.

Hannum said there were also several break-out sessions, including a business success panel with Chris Combs from DCS Electronics, Inc., Caroline Silvy from Staffing Solutions and Melanie Cross from Chattanooga, owner of Lula-Ruth Online Boutique.

The conference co-leader said Phyllis Nichols did a session entitled “What Women Bring to Leadership,” and Linda Puccy had a session entitled “Attracting Abundance - Changing the Way We Think About Money.”

Hannum said one thing conference organizers did differently this year was to offer individual business coaching sessions. “Kathy Blanton, personal coach with the Regency Group out of Brentwood, offered 15, 15-minute personal business coaching sessions,” she said. “I think that went extremely well, and we will probably do that again in some fashion.”

This is the first time Fightmaster, director of public relations for MEDIC Regional Blood Center, has helped with the conference.

“I was only really involved with planning for six months. It was well underway when I joined the committee but it was women helping women - how could I not be involved?” she said. Fightmaster said when she was invited to be on the planning committee, she knew it would be a challenge because organizers wanted to branch out and make it regional event. “But I knew it would be rewarding work with the other women on the committee,” she said. “There are incredibly talented women on that committee, and we should thank everyone, for it was a great day.”

Reeves and her team are already planning for the 2011 conference. “It’s always the first Thursday in June, now at the Clayton Center for the Arts,” she said.

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