For many, the “Virginia Women’s Conference: A Financial Roadmap for Smart Money Decisions” started too early for a Saturday. But the four-hour program delivered an empowering welcome to the weekend as session speakers, resource tables and old-fashioned networking provided women, many involuntarily out of the workforce, hope and advice for entrepreneurship or traditional employment.
Hosted by Senator Mark Warner, it was his rocking female staff that organized the free program for 300 women, many over 40. Corporations and companies have and continue to boot seasoned employees — you know, the ones making decent salaries. The age disparity is so acute that a pilot program to increase entrepreneurship among job seekers in four states, including Virginia, dropped its age requirement from 52 to 45.
Held at the Richmond Marriott, the conference reflected what’s happening nationally as mostly college educated African-American women attended sessions on “Create Your Next Job…Become an Entrepreneur” and “Re-inventing Yourself During Employment Transition.” Other sessions focused on retirement planning, small-business funding and healthy financial habits.
For many women, the conference, which provided lunch and a gift bag, was a reminder they are not invisible. They matter. They are not alone.
As governor, Warner said he pressed to learn how much business the state did with women and minority-owned businesses and was shocked to discover just 2 percent. More than 50 percent of Virginians are women and one-third are people of color.
The first in his family to go to college, Warner spoke a truth during lunch that resonated. Having pursued and failed at other opportunities as a young man, he hit paydirt when he invested in the cell phone industry and cofounded Nextel.
“I’m blessed and I was lucky. If I had not been born a white guy with the appropriate degrees, I’m not sure I would have gotten a third shot, or a second shot or a first shot,” he said to wild applause.
Government has a role to insure everyone has “a fair shot.” And there is nothing wrong with failure as long as you learn from it, he said.
“Part of the seminar is learning from the speakers and networking among each other. That’s how a lot of folks have been doing it for a long time. You know who I’m talking about,” Warner said.
Politics aside, he spoke from the heart. So did Patricia Miller, a petite dynamo who is the founder & president of Miller’s Office Products, the largest woman-owned office products dealership in the Washington-Baltimore area. She shared her story about how a part-time job in a office supply store led to her becoming a manager a year later and then the owner a year after that. For years, she gave up night-time television to work 2 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Her mantra is “ food, shelter and no debt.” Words many more can live by.
Inspiration, information and connections go beyond boosting self-esteem on a Saturday morning. They are building blocks for women starting anew. As women rebuild themselves, we strengthen our families, our communities, our workforce and ultimately our nation.