Women's Entrepreneurship Day
by Shana Black
Women’s Entrepreneurship Day is coming up but we celebrated it in Cleveland last week. Officially proclaimed on November 19th, the mission is to empower, celebrate and support women in business to alleviate poverty.
Last week I attended the Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Conference. For weeks I had seen postings about it on social media and my interest was immediately piqued.
The event took place at the Alumni Center on the campus of Case Western Reserve University. In the registration email, we were given parking info and we were asked to leave our laptops at home so that we could be present and connect with other women. I only mention this because I ALWAYS have my laptop during the work week so to leave it a home was a big ask.
What is my problem?
The day of the event came and I’ll admit I was feeling grumpy. Maybe because it was a Monday but I complained the whole way there. I complained about how early it was, I complained about the walk from the parking garage, which wasn’t far. I complained about my prediction of accessibility and diversity, I complained about leaving my laptop, I complained and complained and complained until I got to the check-in.
Although I was in some strange funk, which I now feel so bad about, I made it a point to be present, open minded and remembered that I had been looking forward to this events for weeks.
Once inside we had a beautiful spread from Phoenix Coffee and Philomena Bakery and were seated at circular banquet tables with beautiful linens, centerpieces and a table topic.
The morning started with an opening welcome from Lorraine Schchart, the founder and CEO of Prosper for Purpose, the organization putting on the event and Paul Suchy, the City Host of Cleveland’s Global Entrepreneurship Week which was occurring during the conference. After the opening the remarks we had a mindfulness, mediation break before beginning our day. Which I totally needed to release my negative, grumpy thoughts.
The morning portion of our day was structured to be a World Cafe. The World Cafe format is when people gather at a table in discussion groups around a specific table. Each table has a table leader to start and keep the conversation going. After a designated amount of time, in this case 20 minutes, we switch tables and topics.
In the morning, I sat in on the Mentorship, Support Network and the Role of Men talks. The table groups were small about 5-6 people per table and the discussions were super interesting and helpful.
The women shared, laughed, offered suggestions and exchanged cards and info. By the time we were ready to leave our first table groups, my mood had changed and I was happy to be there meeting so many cool people.
During lunch we had a speaker talk to us about Blockchain. While I didn’t have a full understanding of it I knew that it was a major inciXXXX in Cleveland.
The afternoon was for taking a “deeper dive” into the topics from the morning session. During lunch the table leaders had gotten together to identify the overlapping and significant ideas and statements from the world cafe groups so we could choose the most important and come up with strategies for next steps to implement after the conference.
After the afternoon breakout sessions, we returned to the banquet hall for tea and cookies from Storehouse Teas and Annie’s Signature Sweets and to report out. The event ended with an invite to continue the conversation next door for a happy hour and a presentation of this year’s Pioneer winners.
The Elephant in the Room
After my first table break, a Black woman came over introduced herself and asked me why I was attending. She explained that she was from Erie County and was looking to connect more and had decided that she was going to try to meet the few black women in attendance. I had thought to do the same thing. The event organizers told me that there are over 120 women in registered but there were less than 10 of us. That made me sad. I wondered why... Are there no other Black entrepreneurial women, was it the event’s marketing, family commitments, was it the ticket price? I wondered…
Please know that I am not saying that there was any ill will or do any intention to exclude Black women. I felt welcomed and valued at the event. I even presented at the end of the event. But this is Black Girl in the CLE so I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the diversity in the room.
Was it worth it? Yes
By the end of the day, I was mentally tired, which for me is a good thing. I connected, I thought, I created and identified the kind of support I need as an entrepreneur and well as so takeaways to engage and support more entrepreneurial females. I enjoyed being able to take a break away from working in my businesses to work on professional growth. I am already looking forward to seeing this event come back next year.