Women’s Conference: Win by breaking the mold


By Erica Batten. Imagine eating dinner at your favorite Chinese restaurant, opening the fortune cookie in hopes of a kernel of wisdom, and instead reading this: “About time I got out of that cookie!”

“Don’t wait for the fortune cookie,” for guidance, said executive coach Amy Clement at the annual Lake Norman Women’s Conference held The Peninsula Club..

Hosted by the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce’s Diversity Council, the event featured inspiration from women in business throughout the region, a wine and cheese networking reception sponsored by Executive Women of Lake Norman, swag bags, door prizes, and a fashion show. The event was put on by women and all about women.

“Even if you’re in the corporate world, it’s good to frequent women’s businesses and get to know women who run those businesses,”

– Jenniffer Pickerill

Keynote speaker Cindi Basenspiler, managing director of Upshot Inc., presented “Breaking the Mold: A Non Traditional Path to Enlightened Success.”

Dr. Jessie Mullen, owner of Holistic Hands Chiropractic in Cornelius and chair of the Diversity Council, defined the conference’s “Breaking the Mold”. Chamber CEO Bill Russell welcomed the 117 attendees to the conference. He said that the Lake Norman Chamber has always had a strong female membership. The chamber is an agent of change, he said, and the Lake Norman area is welcoming to entrepreneurs—men and women—who want to break the mold.

The chamber itself broke from traditional membership paradigms several years ago when it began offering tiers of membership based not on the number of employees in a business, but on packages that members choose based on their goals, said Director of Membership Elizabeth Morgan.

Surprisingly, the conference eschewed conversations on workplace equality, focusing instead on gender-neutral success strategies. While North Carolina ranks a dismal 30th in pay equity for women, women business owners are an important factor in closing the gap, said a recent analysis by Bloomberg Business.

An American Express OPEN small business survey found that, on average, women business owners have been in business 17 years, have 12 employees, and have had nearly 20 percent revenue growth over the last three years. While both men and women said growth is a top priority, women were less likely to report investing personal finances to grow their businesses. At the same time, most—89 percent—said they invest a significant amount of personal time.

Conference attendee Trish Furino has skin in the game—literally.  Furino attended the conference as a representative of both Pet Paradise, an event sponsor, and her business, Lemongrass Spa Products.

She not only uses Lemongrass products, but she routinely asks women to change in an area that’s especially difficult. Lemongrass products are natural and animal-cruelty free, Furino said, but women are often reluctant to deviate from their favorite brands.

“I ask women to bring their favorite product and compare it to mine,” she said. Offering first-hand experience with the product and facts to support her claims, Furino is often successful in convincing customers to adopt something new.

“If the theme of the conference is breaking the mold, how can you be resilient while you’re doing that?” asked conference speaker Jessica Bronzert, founder of The Sparks Group, a change consulting firm. Bronzert outlined several keys to resilience in women’s business and personal lives: remaining positive, organized and flexible.

It’s also important to build relationships in unexpected places.

Jenniffer Pickerill of Wells Fargo in Charlotte attended the conference to learn about women-led local businesses and build a support network.

“Even if you’re in the corporate world, it’s good to frequent women’s businesses and get to know women who run those businesses,” she said.


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