More than 700 of the Dallas Region’s top professional women and business leaders sparked new ideas, connections, and growth at the Dallas Regional Chamber’s (DRC) 25th Women’s Business Conference (WBC), presented by Jackson Walker LLP, Thursday, March 9, at Gilley’s Dallas.
This year’s program boasted three engaging keynote sessions that touched on all facets of what it means to be a woman in business. In developing the program, the DRC set out to empower women at all stages of their careers to ignite their spark and help create a stronger, more inclusive Dallas Region.
“We want you to be inspired, catalyzed, motivated,” Latosha Herron Bruff, DRC Senior Vice President of Inclusion and Community Engagement and the event’s emcee, told attendees. “Whether you’re looking for a spark in your workplace, in your community, or in your personal life, we want you to find it.”
The day began with Deryl McKissack, President and CEO of McKissack & McKissack, in conversation with Hattie Hill, President and CEO of the T.D. Jakes Foundation. The keynote centered on McKissack’s prolific career and rise to leadership as a Black woman in the male-dominated architecture, construction, and engineering industry. McKissack was candid about the adversity she has faced and her dream of what could be accomplished with better representation.
“When I look at [women], I see untapped potential and creativity. I see talent; I see innovation. I see answers to questions we’ve had for years,” McKissack said. “Think about [the work that could be done] if we were tapping into unutilized Americans, the Americans who have been left out for so many years.”
McKissack added that, despite her frustration with the number of industries she sees overlooking women, she notices the Dallas Region setting itself apart with its desire to create intentional change and inclusion “not just for women, but for all minorities who have been typically left out.”
Megha Tolia, President and COO of Shondaland, helmed the second keynote session. In a conversation guided by April Allen, President and COO of the Southern Gateway Public Green Foundation, Tolia shared wisdom gained from leaning into the journey of her career instead of an end goal. Tolia’s flexibility for what life brings most recently sparked a transition from a career in consumer products to operating the global production company behind many smash-hit shows.
While Tolia said her first weeks in a new industry were like building a plane while flying it, she said her sense of responsibility is heightened developing media that reaches millions—but she has a philosophy to guide her through the decisions that come with that responsibility.
“I think about doors,” Tolia said. “In life, there are one-way doors and two-way doors. One-way doors are when you make a decision and it’s pretty final; to go back through that door would be really difficult. But I’d argue that 80-90% of the decisions that feel like one-way doors are often two-way doors. Thinking about a two-way door I can go back through gives me the courage and confidence to make the necessary decision.”
Four-time New York Times best-selling author and podcaster Jen Hatmaker closed the show with a resounding reminder that nurturing oneself is just as, if not more, important as nurturing a business.
“How we are doing ‘behind the counter’ makes all the difference in our work,” Hatmaker said. “When we are unhealthy, our businesses suffer, our work suffers. At best, we are distracted. At worst, we are destructive. We end up having no energy for innovation, and our motivation disintegrates. We cannot create a spark in our work when our personal light is extinguished.”
Hatmaker encouraged the women in attendance to maintain their spark by inviting people in and leaning on them, taking “radical, nurturing care” of themselves, and to not give up on hope.
“The healthiest, truest you is, of course, who your business needs,” Hatmaker said. “But more importantly, you deserve to get to be her.”
During the program, Ashlee Davidson, Vice President of Communications at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, was presented the YPL ATHENA® Award, presented by Thomson Reuters. Dr. Candice Lucas-Bledsoe of the Action Research Center and Southern Methodist University received the ATHENA® Award, presented by Wells Fargo. These awards recognize exceptional women who excel in their careers, contribute to their communities, and develop future leaders.
The great happenings at WBC were not limited to the inspiring women on stage, though. In between keynote sessions, attendees visited a vibrant marketplace, presented by Frost, featuring local founders, creators, and entrepreneurs. The “Let’s Kick Glass Together Table Talks” powered by BGSF offered an opportunity to connect with peer mentors and career coaches, and the KPMG Happy Hour provided meaningful networking and fellowship to end the day.
“This is one of the most important events we do every year,” said Dale Petroskey, President and CEO of the DRC. “I hope the great leaders you’ve heard from today and the chance conversations you’ve had have lit a spark. I hope you’re fired up to try a new idea or take a new approach when you head back to the office. That’s what this is all about.”