“If you want something done, give it to a busy woman.” A group of more than 200 busy women joined the Chamber March 8 for its annual Women’s Conference, and boy, did the speakers, panelists and moderators get the job done. This was the first year that the focus of the conference was changed to Women’s Leadership rather than Women in Government Contracting as it had been called in the past.

Chamber President Leonardo McClarty kicked things off by introducing the morning keynote speaker, Laura Gamble, regional vice president, PNC Bank. Gamble focused on tips, rather than challenges. She said some of the most important advice she could offer was to know yourself, and then work from your strengths.

Panel Discussions

The first panel of the day, moderated by Lisa Anderson, CPA and strategic business adviser & virtual CFO of Anavo Transformation Solutions, was focused on mentoring and championing. Anderson set the tone early by referring to her panel’s discussion as black coffee conversation.

The straight talk that followed, with panelists Margaret Davis, president, Maryland Hall; Sharon Pinder, president, Capital Region Minority Supplier Development Council; and Holly Shook, executive director, CUPs Coffeehouse and Project I CAN, focused on how leaders can pass their skills on. All of the panelists talked about learning to lead, but also the importance of having people you can speak with openly and honestly.

The second panel, led by moderator Nicole Mitchell, partner, Aronson, included Lisa Cines, director of business development at Radius; Howard Community College President Kate Hetherington, Ed.D.; and Vice President of Population Health and Advancement for Howard County General Hospital Elizabeth Edsall Kromm, Ph.D., M.Sc. All of the panelists agreed that the struggles of the baby boomer generation are not always the same as today’s struggles. But they also emphasized the importance of “not making the next generation do things the hard way like we did.”

The third panel was about succeeding in male-dominated fields. Moderator Kim Watters, fearless leader at GovRealm, asked panelists Susan Brown, laboratory ombudsman, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab; Debra Cruz, managing partner, Levin & Gann Law; and Sallie Sweeney, principal cyber solutions architect, GDIT, about their experiences working in male-dominated industries. All three women talked about the importance of emotional intelligence and “picking your battles.” But above all else, the panelists agreed you have to know your audience, know your stuff and hold your own.

Distinguished Speakers

After a brief break, conference attendees received a visit from Maryland’s First Lady Yumi Hogan. The First Lady met with guests and exhibitors in the Exhibitor Hall and then addressed the entire conference, saying she was very pleased to be able to attend because of her connection to Howard County as a former resident and because the day was all about celebrating women. The First Lady shared some sage advice, offering that women should “continue helping each other and supporting each other.”

The last session was also one of the most inspiring, which is fitting considering the title was “Rising to and Inspiring From the Top.” Moderator Anna Fleeman Elhini, founder of Creatrix, introduced Major Gen. Linda Singh, Maryland National Guard; and Jane Campbell, director of Washington Office for Advocacy, National Development, and former mayor of Cleveland, who both shared their life stories.

Singh spoke about her hard-fought journey to success. She also said that, “when you get up here, you gotta start pulling.” Campbell talked about how she got into politics as a child through her religion and her family, but was consistently having to be the first woman to hold most offices in Ohio along the way.

Afternoon keynote speaker Col. (Ret.) Laurie Moe Buckhout, U.S. Army, and CEO of Corvus, kept the crowd laughing and riveted through her stories of public service, motherhood and entrepreneurship. She mentioned she had been reading a lot of presidential biographies and has learned that “the people who stand still in life aren’t the ones they write books about.”

McClarty closed out the conference by thanking everyone who attended, all of the speakers and panelists, the Chamber’s hard-working team of conference committee volunteers and the sponsors who make the Chamber’s events possible.