story by Jamie Smith
Of the hundreds of events held annually in Northwest Arkansas, a growing number of them are geared specifically towards one demographic: women.
“Statistically, more and more women are entering the marketplace and more and more of them are assuming managing roles in addition to being decision makers in the 21st century,” said Chung Tan, manager of economic development for the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce.
From the traditional bridal shows to business executive professional development sessions, more events are reaching out to meet women’s specific needs, business leaders and event coordinators agree.
“The Fayetteville Chamber recognized (the increasing role of women decision makers) and started a Fashion Show event for ladies three years ago,” Tan said. “While it may initially come across as a social event, it is actually a networking and business event for ladies. The event allows ladies to have some fun and at the same time provide a platform for them to bring their clients as entertainment. It also allows them to network with one another and hopefully develop business to business opportunities amongst them.”
Steve Clark, Fayetteville Chamber president and CEO, said the chamber started the fashion and style show because they “needed an event that a female business executive believes is worth her time and investment.”
Clark said when it comes to professional development, women are not just interested in hearing about work/life balance issues. They want the same types of professional development that used to be stereotypically geared toward male business leaders including all facets of the changing nature of the workforce.
“There are 1,125 members of the chamber and more and more are led by women. The non-profit sector is also largely led by women,” he said. “The market is really responding to how the marketing is changing when it comes to ownership and management.”
Krista Khone, vice president of special projects and leadership at Bentonville/Bella Vista Chamber of Commerce, said that for many years, the world of women’s events was an untapped market. For example, it was mostly men who were interested in the charity golf tournaments and other events that were prevalent in the business community.
Companies and organizations have been eager to provide equal learning and networking opportunities for their female employees and management teams. Several companies will often purchase multiple tables’ worth of tickets for their women employees to attend events geared to that demographic.
“There was nothing really in our area geared specifically towards women but we are starting to see an increase in that,” she said. “Women make up roughly 50% of the workforce. Why not tap into that market?”
LEADERSHIP AND NETWORKING
The Bentonville-Bella Vista Chamber offers two major events designed specifically for women: the Northwest Arkansas Business Women’s Conference and the Athena Women’s Leadership Luncheon.
“At the Business Women’s Conference, we’re talking about issues that are relevant, that affect any woman in the workplace including how to make it to the next level in their career, leadership issues and work/life balance,” Khone said. “Those are the issues that women want to talk about. They want to know how other women deal with those issues. Those topics have made our conference very relevant.”
The Athena luncheon is during the women’s conference and Northwest Arkansas is one of only a handful of communities licensed by Athena to host a luncheon. The focus is on leadership and networking between women leaders and those wanting to rise in the leadership ranks.
“We keep the program very simple and allow the women time to visit and connect,” Khone said.
At the Rogers/Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce, women and minority-owned businesses are rapidly becoming a significant portion of the membership, said Geovanny Sarmiento, vice president / Minority Business Development.
“Last year we started seminars that discuss all aspects of small business from finances to effectively doing a marketing campaign,” he said. “Those types of events are well attended. Primarily our objective is to provide opportunities for inclusion.”
Since about 2008, an increasing number of people have looked at their experience and decided to start their own business. The minority-owned businesses (including women-owned) membership has increased 85%.
“That’s what we have seen is people who have the entrepreneurial spirit and want to start their own venture,” he said. “We have adjusted our programming to accommodate these new members.”
While many women’s events are geared to women across all industries, there is also an increase in the events for women that are industry specific. The Women’s Leadership Summit is a two-day professional conference geared for women in the recreation, sports, tourism and hospitality industries from Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma.
The second annual summit will be this April in Fayetteville, said Julia Rowe, programs manager at the Fayetteville Parks and Recreation Department.
“There’s definitely been a push for women to step up and take different leadership roles in their work and personal lives,” she said.
The summit focuses on learning from professionals about the latest leadership trends and finding ways to motivate staff to have a healthy work/life balance.
While many of the new events in the area have been geared toward women in the workplace, other new events have maintained traditional themes as they reach out to women of all backgrounds. The Women’s Living Expo has events all over the United States, including Northwest Arkansas and Fort Smith.
A national production company coordinates the event logistics and a local media partner promotes the event. The TV stations 40/29 and the CW are the media sponsors for the local events, said Brian Sather, president and general manager. The events center on lifestyles for the entire family including cooking, healthcare and fashion. The event lets exhibitors get their products and services in front of the people in the family who usually make most of the purchasing decisions in the home.
“We wanted to do an outreach in this fashion that appealed to women,” he said. “We wanted something that was broad in scope.”
Every year the attendance has grown, he said. January was the third event for Northwest Arkansas and Fort Smith has had two. Those who attend are from all socio-economic backgrounds and walks of life.
“We think it’s fun,” he said. “We have fun doing it.”