SALT LAKE CITY — Synergy filled the air as women chatted between workshop sessions while munching on pieces V Chocolates brand toffee that were handed out as a snack.
About 700 women gathered at the Hilton Salt Lake City Center throughout the day, attending workshops and networking during Wednesday's 37th annual American Express Women & Business Conference, organized by the Salt Lake Chamber.
Workshops were geared toward helping women with all aspects of business, from self-care and business strategies to employee health and strong work relationships.
"Imagine the power of all the women," Jackie Sexton, the Salt Lake Chamber's vice president of events and programs, told the Deseret News.
Sexton and Donna McAleer, businesswoman, aspiring congresswoman and the morning's keynote speaker, had been talking about the positive impact women can have — especially on the economy.
Evidence of this is in the numbers.
Utah saw 73.4 percent growth in the number of women-owned firms between 1997 and 2013, according to the 2013 State of Women-Owned Business report published by American Express.
Women make up half of the professional workforce, according to a study by the Women's Funding Network. Additionally, Fortune 500 companies with a higher ratio of women officers see 35 percent higher return on equity and total returns to shareholders than companies with fewer women, the study said.
"This is a perfect opportunity for women to connect," McAleer said of the conference.
Midmorning, a group of three women gathered to talk about service opportunities in the community. Two of them had moderated a panel that discussed the role of relationships in career, personal, business and community successes.
"I feel like networking is too light of a word," said Christy Thayne, business relationship manager at Chase Bank. "Networking is really thick and not just in getting a job."
Thayne and Gabrielle Lee Caruso, an attorney with her own firm in Park City, were talking with Catherine Wong, an MBA student at the University of Utah.
The three women later chatted about how women in business need strong relationships, especially with other women in business, to navigate through challenges that are unique to the gender.
Caruso, who graduated from law school in 1979, said she entered a market where men conducted business during three-martini lunches, which she did not attend.
"I had to integrate myself into that world in a different way," Caruso said.
During one workshop, City Creek general manager Linda Wardell began her presentation by showing a picture of herself at 4:30 a.m. — with no makeup.
More than half of the women in the room raised their hand after Wardell asked the roughly 100 women in the workshop to indicate if they worked in an environment that was mostly male.
While Wardell's male colleagues did not understand why she needed to show this photo of herself, she knew the women in the workshop would appreciate her willingness to be vulnerable and engage with them, she said.
During a workshop titled "Mankind (or Womankind) Is My Business," KSL NewsRadio host Amanda Dickson talked about her experience with writing three books. Dickson started, she said, out of a desire to bring in income for her family.
"Necessity is the mother of invention," she said.
Dickson later encouraged women to investigate what kind of friend they are to themselves.
"I must speak words of love and encouragement to myself," she told the women.
When Linda Leckman began her general surgery program in 1977, she realized that not many of her predominantly male colleagues took her seriously because she was a woman. She felt the need to prove herself.
Leckman embraced the challenge. In fact, she lives by the philosophy that challenges are opportunities and that "it's good to challenge your brain," she said.
Leckman is now the vice president of Intermountain Healthcare and CEO of Intermountain Medical Group.
"I think one of the things that's important is to have a passion for what you do," she said.
Leckman received the 2013 ATHENA Award, a national award sponsored by Wells Fargo Women's Financial Services. The award is given to a member of the Salt Lake Chamber who is successful in her profession, serves in the community and helps other women find leadership success.
Pathfinder honorees were also recognized at the conference. These women support women and work toward women's progress and recognition. Honorees were Jennifer Danielson, president of Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Utah; Jennifer Godfrey, health and family partnership manager of Salt Lake CAP Head Start; Mary Kay Griffin, managing director of CBIZ, an accounting and business consulting firm, and shareholder in sister company MHM; and Susan Mayo, regional director of Wells Fargo Private Bank.
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