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Business women’s conference offers tips in a frail economy

By Arooj Ashraf, La Prensa Correspondent

The annual Ohio Business Women’s Conference & Expo hosted by Cleveland’s Hispanic Business Association attracted over 250 guests on May 21, 2009 and provided a wealth of information on acquiring business certifications, sustaining an existing business, and helping startups thrive in a frail economy.

The event was held at the LACENTRE Conference & Banquet Facility in Westlake.

Barbara J. Danforth, President and CEO of YWCA Greater Cleveland.
Photo by Arooj Ashraf.

Gus Hoyas, HBA Chair, said there was an overwhelming demand by the members to host the annual conference and with the support of sponsors the organization did better than expected. Hoyas said the workshops focused on simple themes that will help regional businesses plan their growth in the next three years. And better position themselves in sectors like construction, healthcare, and energy.

Keynote speaker Marcia Pledger, Plain Dealer’s business reporter and author of ‘My Biggest Mistake and How I Fixed It: Lessons from the Entrepreneurial Frontlines’, began the conference by sharing the most common mistake patterns entrepreneurs make and encouraging ‘out of the box’ solutions.

Pledger said the biggest pitfall is trying to do it all; “People don’t reach out for help.” She suggests taking advantage of support organizations and trying different approaches to find creative solutions. Pledger also distributed free, signed copies of her book.

Afternoon keynote speaker Barbara J. Danforth, President and CEO of YWCA Greater Cleveland, said the main reason women lag in competitive salaries and climbing the corporate ladders is simple: because they do not speak up, ask for what they deserve, or negotiate. 

Danforth said women are conditioned as girls to foster relationships and play for the win-win solution whereas boys are taught to be aggressive and accept a simple fact: you cannot win unless you enter the game.

“Negotiation is not ‘I got what I want and you get nothing,’” she said.

Danforth outlined steps to negotiation—make the decision, be concise in what you want and why, look at the request from the other party’s perspective, listening carefully to their response. Take a pause and let the other party process the request, and have backup resolutions. Recognize when you have reached the best win-win situation; and determine beforehand when to walk away.

Danforth said it does not have to be limited to money; vacation time, a better title and fringe benefits can be negotiated as well. In fact, in unbalanced economic times, negotiating for a title that commands more respect may be better than demanding a raise.

Another key to successful negotiation is recognizing you will fail sometimes so she recommends practicing on small things—like negotiating chores with kids or prices at stores. “It helps to have the money in hand,” she said and explained how she bargained a lower price on a high-definition television (HDTV).

Marcia Pledger,
Plain Dealer’s business reporter

Danforth said women are uncomfortable expressing their own success and that’s precisely the reason the YMCA executive leadership program includes a workshop on ‘toot your own horn without blowing it’. She said women need to do some critical self-evaluations: “Determine where you are, what you bring to this table and not where you were or left behind.”

She encourages women to move away from the ‘deficit mentality’ where they drag other women down to keep the power structure flat; whereas men are comfortable with the hierarchy and use it as a motivator for a competitive edge.  

Danforth said negotiating is crucial in today’s job environment where one can no longer expect to be employed for 20 -25 years with the same company.

TaRita Dioone Johnson, Recruiter for the Rotational Analysts and Internship Programs at KeyBank, spoke about career sustainability and emphasized the importance of networking through leadership organizations like the Junior League.  Johnson said it is important to network within the company you currently work for too, “If you get laid off tomorrow someone needs to be screaming about it.”

She suggests being passionate about your responsibilities, going the extra mile, and branding yourself. She recommends keeping an updated résumé, and if you are laid off, view it as an opportunity to explore other options.

With the lack of money and resources weighing heavily on everyone’s mind in this economy, Patty Quiñónez, CRPC Financial Advisor of Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc., and Tony Dean, of State Farm Insurance, offered practical solutions for creating and maintaining personal wealth in a competitive market. Quiñónez recommends seeking the advice of a personal financial advisor to help you understand the market, invest wisely, and avoid taxable retirement savings.

She recommends planning for future expenses; healthcare, insurance, hobbies, vacations; and adjust the cost for inflation. Quiñónez said as life expectancy is increasing, the cost of living doubles in the next 18 years. “Life can be unpredictable, knowing that you have a plan can make unforeseen difficulties easier,” she said.

Dean concurred with Quiñónez and said write down goals, create an execution plan, take small steps to achieve that goal in a set period of time. “Our vision creates what happens in the future,” he said.

Dean emphasized that becoming wealthy requires self awareness—stop lying to yourself, live a little below your means by separating wants from needs, get off the side lines and invest, and begin with an end in mind, research resources and accept free money like 401K match program and pay yourself first.





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