Know your corporate DNA, realize that risks are necessary for extraordinary achievement, always know where to secure support for your endeavors. That was advice offered by Kim Nelson, president of Snacks Unlimited Corp. and vice president of General Mills, to 500 black female executives during BLACK ENTERPRISE’s inaugural Women of Power Summit, hosted by State Farm. Nelson, a panelist in the power session titled “Fearless Leadership: Making Real-World Decisions in Real Time,” shared lessons on strategizing, leadership, and networking. Held in February at the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa in Phoenix, the summit was a rare opportunity for women of color within the top tier of their industries to share experiences and impart hard-won wisdom on how to gain and retain solid footing within the corporate arena. The picturesque city of Phoenix, with its expansive mountain ranges and desert climate, provided a serene setting for this ground-breaking four-day event.
Speakers culled from BE’s roster of the “50 Most Powerful Women in Business” included go-getters from consumer goods, finance, and media industries. Nelson, a WPS advisory board member, joined a roster of women including Donna James, president of Nationwide Strategic Investments, and Deborah C. Wright, chairman and CEO of Carver Bancorp Inc., the nation’s largest black-owned bank. Building and sustaining business relationships, achieving corporate success, and participating in honest dialogue about corporate politics and workforce diversity were among the themes this year.
By sponsoring the event, State Farm gained access to the powerful and influential female executives and entrepreneurs who attended the summit. “These women are respected and connected in their companies and communities and they’re tough to reach through traditional advertising and marketing channels,” says Pam El, State Farm’s vice president of marketing. It was an important event because it effectively harnessed the power of the attendees. It offered an environment that promoted fellowship and allowed women to network, bond, share strategies, and leverage the experiences and perspectives of their peers. Of equal importance was the opportunity to establish a support network, which opened avenues for women to hear about and benefit from the best practices of leaders in diverse industries.
By 2010, the number of women in the U.S. labor force will increase by almost 10 million-a growth rate almost one-third higher than that of men-according to a 2003 Catalyst Census of Women Board Directors. Yet, another Catalyst study revealed that only 1.6% of female corporate officers were women of color. “Women need to understand that they are at the forefront of opportunities in the corporate world,” says Ella Edmonson Bell, professor of organizational management at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. The workforce has become increasingly diverse, particularly with women of color. “They need to develop their business acumen, pinpoint their niche market, determine how their company is fairing, and what steps should be taken to make their company successful,” says Edmonson Bell.
For Alicia Ross, a financial planner at Los Angeles-based Independent Capital Management, the conference confirmed that she was not alone in her career struggles. The session “Up Your