When Kristel Smith and her team began planning for the Women Leading Kentucky conference at Eastern Kentucky University, they expected no more than 60 people to show up.
“I said, ‘No, let’s shoot for 100,’” Smith said Thursday as the conference culminated.
Looking around at the Perkins Building banquet room packed with successful and up-and-coming women, Smith smiled and said, “And we sold out over a week ago, exactly 160!”
Although the conference travels annually to different locations and has been to EKU in the past, it was last in Richmond more than 10 years ago, Smith said.
“There are a lot of women leaders in southeastern Kentucky, and we wanted to be the place to unite them,” she added.
The conference provided a sheet for the women who attended to list their employment and other information to help fuel networking.
To further encourage opportunities, during a roundtable luncheon all women who were looking for a job were asked to stand and present themselves to the group. In turn, all who were looking to hire someone could explain the positions they were hoping to fill.
Keynote speaker, former Governor Martha Layne Collins, known for negotiating Toyota’s placement of its first North American manufacturing facility in Kentucky and being the state’s only woman governor, told the luncheon that women still have gains to make in the work force. Working together, forming strong groups and partnerships will be the key to achieving that success, she said.
When Women Leading Kentucky last came to Richmond, “We didn’t have a crowd like this, and it was because the partnership hadn’t been formed,” Collins said. The group was a dream of founder Janet Halloway, the former governor said.
“Now that the partnership has been formed, we aren’t only going to do more for Women Leading Kentucky. This is a win, win, win, win, win situation for everybody else too,” she said, nodding to the audience.
Approximately 20 EKU students were accompanied by women in attendance who had sponsored them. Creating partnerships during the conference could help the students with networking, fellowship and eventually employment, Smith said.
The conference also included a panel of four who discussed entrepreneurship and leadership, informational and promotional booths and a welcome from EKU President Michael Benson.