By Elizabeth Sears
The Women’s Leadership Conference is turning up the heat this year.
When Bay Path University’s signature annual conference returns to the MassMutual Center on Thursday, April 6, the theme will be “Ignite” — an extension of last year’s theme of “Reimagine.” The goal, simply put, is to ignite the post-pandemic professional plans of conference attendees and help turn them into reality.
“Last year, it felt important to bring the community back together to reimagine what may come next that may have shifted over COVID and from being away from the office place,” said Melissa Welch, Communications and Content director at Bay Path and co-chair of this year’s Women’s Leadership Conference (WLC). “That went so beautifully last year, with people in the community coming together to reimagine what came next for them. So this year, how do we build on that? How do we bring that same excitement and motivation back to the community?”
Bay Path President Sandra Doran echoed this sentiment.
“We want them to reignite their passion,” she said. “They’re professional women looking to further their career, looking to further their own professional journey, whether it’s in their existing career or looking outside of that. And this is the place to do it.”
The university’s 26th annual conference will feature TV host Robin Roberts and several other speakers (more on them later). The conference typically draws attendees not only from the Pioneer Valley, but from Eastern Mass., Connecticut, New York — anywhere within driving distance, due to the power of the speakers and the power of community.
“This is a new group, a new community … they’ve got their work community, they’ve got their family community, but now maybe they have a professional-development community. That is incredibly powerful,” Doran said. “If you are a mid-level manager or somebody who’s looking to executive leadership, or somebody who’s just entering into your career, and you’re trying to figure out, ‘what are those skills? What are those attitudes? What’s that growth mindset that is going to propel me to success in the workforce?’ Those are the professionals that you will find in the audience.”
“It’s very much experiential. Some people describe it as transformative. Some people describe it as the only conference they go to in any year because of the value that it brings to them personally as well as professionally. “
She explained that people keep coming back year after year because they’ve experienced growth, and they want to share that growth with others in the room. The conference provides a unique environment — a sort of support system — where professionals can share how they’ve grown in their career, and what comes next on that journey.
And this isn’t a conference where people just come and sit in rows to listen to speakers, Doran continued.
“It’s very much experiential. Some people describe it as transformative. Some people describe it as the only conference they go to in any year because of the value that it brings to them personally as well as professionally. I can’t emphasize enough how this is not a conference where we’ve just got 1,400 chairs lined up in a room. It is not that — everybody sits at a table. Every table is a conversation topic around something to do with personal or professional growth.”
This is the second year WLC has returned since a two-year absence during the pandemic. With such a deep focus on the experiential quality of the conference, a virtual alternative was simply not an option, so no conference at all was held in 2020 or 2021.
“I think what was telling in the pandemic is a lot of things stopped, so in our case, our conference stopped for two years — and to come back last year and have 1,400 people come … people missed it so much over those two years,” said Karen Woods, Bay Path’s assistant vice president of Brand Strategy, Marketing, and Integrated Communications and WLC co-chair.
In addition to individuals who buy tickets to attend, Woods noted that companies call in inquiring about the upcoming conference far in advance. Businesses eagerly await to hear who the speakers each year will be and buy tables for their employees, knowing the professional-development value the conference holds.
Indeed, this year’s keynote speakers come from vastly different backgrounds and careers, but share something in common: the ability to ignite motivation in others.
The conference will begin with a motivational and humorous talk from author and speaker Betsy Allen-Manning that will guide attendees through exercises that aim to set the tone of the conference and ignite a day of learning. The founder of Corporate Culture Training Solutions, a leadership-training company, she specializes in creating positive employee experiences as well as developing leaders who are equipped to handle a hyper-competitive marketplace.
“Success doesn’t necessarily mean the top person in the company,” Woods said of the first keynote session. “Every single one of us needs that secret sauce to our own success, and how do we get there?”
The luncheon keynote talk will be given by Tunde Oyeneyin, a cycling and bike boot-camp instructor from Peloton who has become known for her empowering and motivational cycling sessions.
Oyeneyin was a professional makeup artist for 15 years, but after lifting the confidence of her clients through her beauty skills for so long, she realized that her true calling was in motivating others. She became a cycling instructor in Los Angeles and ended up being hired onto Peloton’s instructor team. She trains up to 20,000 riders per day through her live motivational classes. Now, she’s taking to the WLC stage to spark the energy of attendees and bring forward their inner passions.
“When you’re going to ignite new business plans, and you’re going to bring those forward, whether it’s personal or professional goals, you really need to have that ability to trust your gut — to find your voice, to be able to advocate for what’s next in your career,” Woods said.
The day will end with a keynote talk from Roberts, well-known as a Good Morning America co-anchor, Emmy Award and People’s Choice Award winner, author, entrepreneur, and Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, among other achievements. She’s going from the screen to the stage for a moderated Q&A session with Doran.
“We are so excited to introduce Robin Roberts to our WLC audience,” Woods said. “Everything she has done has been a way to ignite what’s next. From the court, when she played basketball, through all of her interviews, those that she’s spoken with and worked with over the years, to writing books — award winners — she’s the perfect person to end our day.”
The conference will also feature four breakout sessions offering lessons and activities designed to give attendees valuable takeaways that can be applied to their professional lives.
Session A, titled “Forging and Managing the Hybrid Workspace” and led by Alexandra Samuel, will address how attendees can better navigate the hybrid workspace culture that emerged post-COVID. Samuel is an author and digital-workplace expert who seeks to help her audience solve the puzzle of balancing in-person and remote work in hopes of making the now-popular hybrid format a more viable piece of their workday.
Session B is called “Igniting Your Innovation and Understanding Your Onlyness” and will be presented by author and speaker Nilofer Merchant. She will discuss the concept of ‘onlyness’ — identifying what you alone bring to the table that somebody else can’t, what makes you stand out in the workplace, and how to find power in this self-knowledge. Merchant will help attendees discover their ‘onlyness’ and teach them how to socialize it to create real change.
Session C is titled “You’ve Got the Seat at the Table, Now What?” and will be led by Pirie Jones Grossman, a TedX speaker, author, and life-empowerment coach. She will offer an extension to the common conversation of how to reach corporate positions as a woman — and what to do once there. Sharing her research, she will challenge the idea that successful women in the corporate world need to show up like men, instead offering information on the unique leadership instincts and strengths of women’s brains.
Session D is called “The Power of Inclusive Leadership,” and will be led by Juliet Hall, an advisor, leadership consultant, speaker, and author. Objectives of this session include how workplaces can transform their leadership teams to build a strong foundation and promote equity, how workplaces can adjust their internal work teams to create a more inclusive environment for their employees, understanding unconscious bias and microaggressions, and how leaders can remodel internal culture.
For more information on the 2023 Women’s Leadership Conference, visit www.baypath.edu/events-calendar/womens-leadership-conference.