Last month I attended the WBENC conference in Denver with 5000 business owners, corporate supplier diversity and inclusion people, and partner organizations. I always say that the WBENC conference kicks off conference season in my industry.  That’s why my clients take care in preparing for it. This conference sets the tone for the follow up for the rest of the year.

Before getting ahead of myself I should say that three weeks out from the conference I’ve done *most* but not *all* of my follow up. It’s a classic case of the cobbler’s kid having no shoes.  And while I’m not always great at taking my own advice right away, the follow up will slowly but surely get done.

Smiling professionals in front of the Diversity Professional Booth at the WBENC conference in Denver 2024

What did you get out of it?

What most people want to know when we catch up after the conference is “How did you think it was?” For me, I thought it was one of the best conferences I’ve been to.  At the first conference after COVID, I described how relieved everyone was to be back in person and that fostered a nice community.

This year, I feel like the threats to supplier diversity and inclusion pulled members of the community together. People were willing to have real conversations about issues I’m working on and that are important to me and the touchpoints with corporate members are really valuable in the long term strategy of 1) getting the corporate supplier diversity and inclusion representatives to know you and 2) helping them to remember you when there’s an opportunity.

For the most part, there were four things that made the conference stand out this year:

  1. ESG in Focus

As a B Corp, I was particularly excited to see a strong focus on Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) issues throughout the educational programming. This is a space I’m deeply passionate about, and the conference offered a lot of opportunities to learn how to integrate ESG principles into every aspect of business operations.

One thing I would have liked to have seen was more focus on the women’s business enterprises (WBEs)  that are offering help in this space.  Spaces like this offer a good opportunity for peer to peer learning, especially around a topic that can be as complex and daunting as ESG.

  Liz Whitehead and Monica Kang take a selfie at the WBENC conference in Denver 2024

2. Building Connections: The Heart of the Experience

The most impactful aspect of the conference, for me, was the chance to connect with other female entrepreneurs. The networking events were abuzz with conversation, and I met some truly inspiring women from across the country. There were seasoned veterans who shared their hard-won wisdom, and enthusiastic newcomers brimming with fresh ideas.

Sharing challenges and triumphs with those who understand the unique landscape of being a woman in business, was incredibly empowering. With that said, I also felt energized to be a resource for those companies in the moment.

It was a space of camaraderie and mutual support, a reminder that we’re not on this journey alone. These connections are the seeds of future collaborations, mentorship opportunities, and a powerful network that can amplify our voices and our impact.

   3. Partnerships Fueling Success

I always tell my clients that when you’re prepared for a conference, you can be more productive. When you’re more productive, you have more fun.

One way to propel yourself to productivity and fun is to partner up with a business so you don’t have to relentlessly pitch yourself. I do this for my clients but this year, I had an entourage of partner businesses that I approached new people with so we could work smarter and not harder.

The WBENC sign with Mary Fehlig and Liz Whitehead posing in front of it
  • The Stars Align with The Fehlig Group

Last year I was recognized as the WBENC WBE star and this year, it was my honor to pass the torch to Mary Fehlig of The Fehlig Group.   Mary’s company is making an impact by coaching large companies and small business owners on their sustainability journeys. Her team provide the subject matter experts for  the WBEC NY and DMV Sustainability Accelerators.

So with those stars in alignment, this year’s WBENC Conference in Denver was the perfect time to kick off our partnership. We are working together to make sure those business owners are telling their sustainability stories.

Women networking at the WBENC conference 2024. Liz smiles while talking to Lena Ryals and Bofta Yimam
  • Elevating Our Engagement Using Multimedia

I teamed up with Jared Kelly at the conference to create some candid pics and group shots of genuine networking in action and moments that are nearly impossible to catch naturally.

His firm CEI Media Group is a certified MBE that has worked with founders, executive leaders across the country to tell their stories visually and authentically.  Jared and I are designing unique and valuable tools that increase responsiveness as you use touchpoints with your clients and prospects.

Heather Cox, Certify My Company and WBEC West Exec Director Pamela Williamson celebrate Heather's WBENC Star win on stage at the WBENC Conference in Denver

  • Masterminding with Certify My Company

And I can’t forget the other half of my dynamic duo, my business partner Heather Cox who was also honored with a well-deserved and long-awaited (LOL) WBENC Star award.

Having not only a friend but a partner who is looking out for opportunities for your business together is a hack for every networking event. This is a role that I play for my clients – hyping them up and talking them up so they don’t have to sell themselves.  It feels easier and more authentic. And it doesn’t hurt that Heather knows everyone!


4. Beyond Networking: Deepening Connections

One organization I loved seeing at the conference was the Women Presidents Organization.  I serve as the Chapter Chair for three DC area groups, facilitating monthly meetings for multi-million dollar business owners.

Founded on the principle of collective strength, the WPO has become a powerful force in empowering female entrepreneurs to achieve remarkable success.

I got the chance to bring together a few of my members that were there for a group photo and the chance to talk to WPO President Camille Burns and Chief Innovation and Programming Officer, Kirsten Wynn.

Building Bridges, not Walls:

One of the most significant contributions of the WPO is its focus on fostering a strong network of accomplished women business leaders. Unlike traditional business organizations, the WPO prioritizes peer-to-peer learning. Through confidential chapter meetings, members gain invaluable insights by sharing experiences, challenges, and triumphs with like-minded women facing similar situations. This fosters a sense of camaraderie and belonging, replacing the isolation often felt by women navigating a historically male-dominated field.

Knowledge is Power

The WPO goes beyond simply connecting women. The organization provides access to a wealth of educational resources, workshops, and events designed to address the specific needs of women entrepreneurs. Whether it’s navigating complex financial matters, developing effective leadership strategies, or exploring global expansion opportunities, the WPO offers its members the tools and knowledge they need to propel their businesses forward.

I’ll be back in Colorado in May for their Entrepreneurial Excellence Forum and look forward to a whole conference full of my WPO sisters.

How do you know it’s worth it? A Renewed Sense of Purpose

This is the question I find a lot of my clients asking me after we’re back from the conference and follow up is underway. Walking away from the WBENC conference, I feel a renewed sense of purpose and excitement for my business. The conference provided knowledge, resources, and most importantly, a supportive community of women who are all on the same journey. I left feeling energized and equipped with the tools and connections I need to take my business to the next level, while making a positive impact on the world.

If you’re a  business owner, you know how critical it is to keep that excitement going for your business. Yes, I absolutely expect to see results from the conference that can be measured in cold, hard cash.  But that may take a while.

For right now, I made an investment in my business, in my partnerships, and in my clients and friends and I can’t help but feel that it already paid off.