Tuesday April 14, 2015 0 comments
BOULDER -- Take calculated risks, expand your networking circles and advocate for yourself.
Those were some of the confidence-instilling messages delivered to the 500-plus women attending the third annual Women Inspiring Leadership Development (WILD) Summit on April 10.
Sponsored by the Women’s Council at the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado, the mission of the WILD Summit is to provide a professional forum for women who want to learn and share, and inspire and be inspired in their businesses and professions.
A panel discussion on confident decision-making featured three female athletes who parlayed the skills they learned from sports into successful businesses. Erin Carson, owner of Rally Sports in Boulder, said she focuses on taking calculated risks. The former professional basketball player said when her gym was going to close, she knew she had what it would take to keep it from going under. Carson said she focused her fundraising efforts on her existing network and raised $5 million in a week to keep her dream alive -- saving 200 jobs along the way.
Nicole de Boom, CEO of Skirt Sports, combined her love of triathlons with her love of pretty things to launch a company of women’s fitness apparel that has grown to more than $25 million in sales in 10 years. Her prototype running skirt propelled her to win one Ironman competition, gaining a lot of attention along the way.
“It was an insane idea, running in a skirt,” she said, but the positive feedback she got that day launched a business, selling $325,000 worth of cute sportswear in the first year. She likened her business strategy to reaching the aid stations during a race. “Sometimes, I just want to walk,” she said. “I tell myself, just make it to the next aid station. Sure enough, I’d make it to the next station and continue to run.”
De Boom said Skirt Sports is designed to fit real women’s bodies. “I’ve had women thank me, because they didn’t even want to go out the door, but now they’re more motivated and confident because they have clothes that fit them,” she said.
Nancy Cranbourne of One Big Yes Production shared that, despite leaving college after three and a half years, she was able to make her dreams reality. Today, she directs productions and teaches dance for women over 40.
“When I dance, something in me just lights up. It gets electric, and that’s how I know it’s right,” she said. Cranbourne said that, as a 40-year-old dancer, she felt out of place in a field that celebrates youth.
“That’s when I became successful, when I switched from being exclusive to inclusive,” she said. Proving her point, Cranbourne included the whole crowd in a brief dance routine that got the audience on their feet, energized and having fun.
Lori Seward, who teaches Decision Making for Managers at CU’s MBA program, brought the panel discussion together, emphasizing the importance of separating risk from uncertainty. Seward said uncertainty is when there are unknown outcomes, while risk is potential loss from an outcome.
“Plan to mitigate those risks,” she said. “Find a balance between seeking information, but don’t be paralyzed by continuously seeking more information. Ask yourself, ‘Will more information change my mind?’ If the answer is no, then move forward.”
During a presentation on networking, Jan West and Phil Wilburn with the Center for Creative Leadership analyzed the different ways men and women approach networking. Surprisingly, in a room packed with women leaders, about three-quarters of the audience raised their hands when asked if they felt uncomfortable networking.
Common concerns included not knowing who to call or what to say, the fear of asking something from someone you don’t know, not having enough time, and being unsure that the idea is articulated well enough. West urged the audience to take action. “It doesn’t have to be 98 percent done. It can be 80 percent done,” she said. “Just take action.”
Wilburn urged the audience to forget mentors and seek sponsors. “Mentors will help you navigate office politics and be there to offer advice, but sponsors will help you get access to challenging projects and put you forward for that promotion,” he said. “Women are over-mentored and under-sponsored. Forget a mentor, find a sponsor.”
But lunch speaker Elaine Feeney, CEO of Wayin, did urge women to mentor each other.
“You have the responsibility to advocate for yourself, and when you step into a leadership role, you have the responsibility to advocate for other women,” she said. “Own your own power.”
Feeney added that often women are the ones who “keep the culture” in a business, acting as nurturers and letting maternal instincts drive their actions at work — actions that could be diluting their power.
“Don’t bring the donuts.” she said. “That’s not your job.”
Feeney closed her speech by urging attendees not to put up barriers that limit their potential.
“Most of the time it’s not external forces that are stopping us,” she said. “You have to give yourself permission to fail, because you know you give it to everyone else. I reward failure. I reward missing really high goals. You give them permission to stretch and try, but most importantly, you have to give it to yourself.”