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August 16, 2007

Union County hosts women's conference

Robin Landsman
Extension's Robin Landsman (left), along with "Dorothy" and members of the Women's Leadership Coalition, leads workshop participants down the yellow brick road to accountability and competence. (Photo Courtesy Robin Landsman)

Last spring, Monroe became the Emerald City, as the yellow brick road led to Union County’s Agricultural Services and Conference Center, site of the 2007 Union County Women’s Leadership Conference and Luncheon.

Hosted by the Women’s Leadership Coalition, the annual conference is an initiative of North Carolina Cooperative Extension. Robin Landsman, Extension Family and Consumer Sciences agent in Union County, worked with the Coalition in organizing the event. Dr. Deborah Crandall, director of Extension’s Southwest District, delivered opening remarks, and Monroe Police Chief Debra C. Duncan was keynote speaker, following a workshop called “Leadership According to Oz: Accountability Competence.”

Approximately 170 women participated in the workshop to gain skills in networking and diplomacy, relationship building and professional development, and leadership skills and mentoring.

Workshop participants represented “the diversity that is Union County,” Landsman said. “Our demographics include diversity in age, race and professions. We reached an audience of women in business; women employed in local government and public service; entrepreneurs, students and community volunteers. There were also a few at-home mothers considering their options for returning to the workplace.”

This year’s workshop theme was based on The Oz Principle, a business book about getting results through individual organizational accountability. Co-authored by a business writer and the cofounders of a management-consulting company, The Oz Principle uses L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz stories as metaphors for a journey toward greater accountability in business, with the destination of “home” as analogous to a focus upon results.

The luncheon was likewise an over-the-rainbow experience: On a stage full of Munchkinland blooms (scenery created by the Union County Master Gardeners), singers from area high schools performed songs from the 1939 “Wizard of Oz” film.

Dr. Wanda Sykes, Southeast District Extension director, suggested the Oz Principle approach during last year’s state FCS training, “and upon reading it, I agreed,” said Landsman, who provided copies of the book to the Coalition members. They unanimously decided to theme the conference around the book’s messages -- including the use of Wizard of Oz characters to illustrate the courage to See it, the heart to Own it, the wisdom to Solve it and the means to Do it in exercising accountability.

The event organizers included Coalition members Doris Belk, Kathie Easton, Holly McEachin, Julia Mitchell, Joyce Rentschler, Carol Tyson and Anne Velasco, as well as Landsman and Chris Austin, FCS secretary in Union County. Landsman also notes the support of Crandall and Jerry Simpson, Union County Extension director.

The workshop was led by Belk, McEachin, Mitchell and Tyson, along with Landsman, who said, “They were all volunteers who took the risk to learn about how to develop and present a workshop to their peers. It was extremely important to us to model what it means not only to be accountable but to set a goal, take risks and stretch ourselves to meet those expectations.”

The result? The audience gave the workshop leaders a standing ovation.

“Each year we get better by listening to the feedback of our participants,” said Landsman. In this year’s evaluations, participants indicated that it was time well spent, with 90.82 percent of them rating the workshop as excellent.

A similar high percentage – 94.74 – gave an excellent rating to the remarks of keynote speaker Duncan, who shared her experiences of being a woman in a leadership role. “As long as the job is done right, gender doesn’t matter,” Duncan told the group in her speech, “Holding Yourself Accountable and Succeeding in a Man’s World.”

Her message dovetailed neatly with the conference’s goals to inspire area women to accomplish change, empower one another and make a positive difference in the community.

The event was underwritten by the Real Estate Link of the Carolinas and sponsored by numerous local businesses, groups and individuals.

“Our sponsors include organizations that employ large numbers of women and have a high percentage of women in management and leadership positions,” Landsman said. “These businesses continue to support us financially, as well as by sending large numbers of their employees to our event.”

–T. Leith

Posted by Natalie at August 16, 2007 11:21 AM