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Empowering women in business

by: COLLEEN CAHILL STUDIOS - LaKeisha Michelle, singer/songwriter/entertainer, inspires the room to stand up and clap along to her song at the 2014 Oregon Womens Conference.“I’m an ordinary woman, doing extraordinary things,” sings LaKeisha Michelle, who wrote the song specially for the Oregon Women’s Conference.

In the downstairs ballroom, more than 400 women stand up from round tables, clapping and swaying to Michelle’s beat. The lyrics are the theme of this year’s OWC, which took place downtown at the Hilton Portland and Executive Towers.

The second-annual OWC, held on on July 14 and 15, focused on bringing men and women together to support global economic change. OWC partnered with the Women Network and California Women’s Conference, which is the longest-running event of its kind.

The Women’s Conference was brought to Oregon because Portland has the second-most women-owned businesses in America, topped only by San Antonio, Texas according to the 2013 State of Women-Owned Business Report.

Keri Murphy, CEO of her own company Inspired Living, is also a television host and the executive producer of the OWC. She spoke, hosted panels and led the event. In her opening speech, Murphy teared up at the sight of the ballroom filled with successful, leading women of Oregon all there to support and network with each other.

Even though women-owned businesses make up 30 percent of all American businesses, they only receive 16 percent of conventional small business loans and 17 percent of Small Business Administration loans, accounting for only 4.4 percent of total venue from loans. That amounts to $1 going towards women-owned businesses for every $23 in conventional loans.

“Women try so hard, put themselves last so we can be everything for everyone else,” says Murphy. “We can’t walk around with one leg. In different times of life, we have to focus on different things, not sacrifice ourselves to fulfill the needs of others.”

Women attending the two-day event learned about balancing the five pillars of life: career, social, financial, community and health.

Stephanie Arnheim, managing director of the Portland chapter of eWomen Network (a partner of the OWC) attended, networking with the hundreds of entrepreneurs. Through the eWomen Network, Arnheim encourages success-oriented women and connects entrepreneurs.

by: COLLEEN CAHILL STUDIOS - Michelle Patterson, CEO of Women Network and Executive Producer of California Womens Conference; Michelle Robson, founder of EmpowHER; Keri Murphy, CEO of Inspired Living and executive producer of Oregon Womens Conference; Sharon Lechter, best-selling author and CEO of Pay Your Family First; Jaclyn Patterson, daughter of Michelle Patterson.“Your goal is not to meet the room,” says Arnheim, giving advice on managing the masses of excited women looking for old friends—and new ones. To network properly, “focus on two or three individuals,” says Arnheim.

Speeches and panels filled up a day and a half, broken up by live music, happy hours and networking sessions with exhibitors and sponsors tabling in the adjacent lobby and hall.

Jewelry, fashion, marketing, relationship advice, cookware, website design, blogs, acupuncture and personal training are offered in the exhibitor hall. Fifteen sponsors in the lobby include Colleen Cahill Photography, Taxanista, EmpowHer, FAB Marketing and Communication Magic with Men.

Some of the women CEOs and executives of the sponsor companies were featured speakers or on discussion panels.

Having a sense of belonging to a neighborhood, including connections with other members, is a key component to happiness through community. The community panel was chaired by Dafna Michaelson, Michelle King Robson, Jensine Larsen and Gail Watson.

Michelle King Robson, founder of EmpowHer, started her online health network after an unnecessary hysterectomy in order to create community around stigmatized health topics.

“In order for me to create community, I had to share and continue to share my own story every day,” says Robson. “Everyone thought it looked easy, but I didn’t want to get out of bed” after losing all of her hormones in 24 hours.

“You have to start with heart and you have to start with passion and you have to test your theory,” says Robson. “Will women share health information with each other on the web, to help each other?”

The answer is yes, and EmpowHer now has thousands of members and followers across social media platforms.

Between panels, motivational speakers talked. Michelle Patterson, CEO of Women Network and the executive producer of the California Women’s Conference, walked on to the stage to Alicia Keys’ Girl on Fire.

“You matter and the world needs us,” says Patterson. “The first time someone outside my family told me you matter, I remember thinking I can do anything I want.”

That moment happened for her in the eighth grade, when she interviewed the governor for her school paper. He told her that was the best interview he had ever had. Patterson became the first woman in her family to go to college.

“You have the opportunity, every day, to inspire,” says Patterson. Once, she was invited to a United Nations conference but turned it down to prioritize her daughter Jaclyn’s 16th birthday. They asked her to bring Jaclyn along, and the U.N. ended up singing happy birthday to her.

“Thank goodness I have my priorities, I didn’t opt out,” says Patterson.

Sharla Jacobs, award-winning Million Dollar Mentor and founder of Thrive Academy, was one of four keynote speakers on the career panel, including Lisa Manyon, Teri Hockett and Allyson Byrd. Through Thrive Academy, Jacobs helps struggling entrepreneurs turn their companies into six-figure incomes.

“At the beginning, invest in mentorship.

Invest in team members who rocket,” says

Jacobs. “Hire people who match your values, don’t just hire people because you like them. Make it your mission to show up like a rockstar in your work.”

According to Jacobs, women default to undersharing their stories and accomplishments, nervous of being vulnerable or seeming arrogant.

“There’s this thing called positioning. What position you have in someone’s mind determines how they listen to you,” says Jacobs. “Give yourself credibility, authentic (humanity), and acknowledge (them) at the same time. What are the freaking awesome things about yourself that you’re not talking about?”

“Am I a business owner or am I a good-looking volunteer?” adds Allyson Byrd, founder of The Purpose Within, where she is a life coach. According to Byrd, the hardest part for women entrepreneurs is daring to put their voices out and make sure they are receiving financial return.

by: COLLEEN CAHILL STUDIOS - Keri Murphy, left, leads the community panel of Michelle Robson, Jensine Larson, Kelly Bean, Dafna Michaelson and Gail Watson.The U.S. government’s goal is to award 5 percent of federal contracts to women-owned businesses — a low bar, considering women-owned businesses account for 30 percent of American businesses. However, the U.S. government has not once reached that 5 percent mandate, which would give women-owned businesses access to marketplace opportunities totalling $4 billion a year, according to the Majority Report of the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

Only 3.4 percent of federal contract dollars are claimed by women, totalling about $11.6 billion, according to the SBA. Despite glass-ceiling circumstances, women-owned businesses are steadily progressing.

Today, women are launching businesses at twice the rate of men. Women-owned companies have increased 59 percent since 1997, one-third of which are founded by women of color. Women-owned businesses are the fastest-growing segment of businesses, according to the Majority Report of the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship released July 23.

“Why not dominate?” asks Byrd. “Say ‘I’m necessary, I’m an unrepeatable miracle.’ Don’t just put on your big girl panties, say, ‘listen girl, you put yours on, too!’”

Through supporting each other, listening, sharing ideas and advice, women in Oregon are lifting each other up through networking, nationally and globally.

“What magic can happen when women come together,” says Patterson.