By Michelle Segrest
When working in a man’s world, it’s not always easy for women to be heard. But arm them with a tool belt, the proper skillset, a powerful mindset, a cocktail dress, an intentional purpose, and a sisterhood of empowered women—and anything is possible.
As Yolanda Kokayi of Mueller Water Products said from the Empowering Women 2022 conference stage in New Orleans on Oct. 13, “When you fear less, you become fearless.”
Empowering Women Founder and CEO Charli K. Matthews says the inspiring messages could be heard, seen, and felt throughout the conference room of nearly 200 women in industry.
“You could feel it from the timid engineer who transformed herself walking the fashion show to the woman who would sit in the back and just listen four years ago, but this year took the stage and made a presentation,” Matthews says. “It wasn’t just about getting all dressed up and having a cocktail party and a fun evening, but to see these women actually grow and become inspired right before our eyes—that’s what I absolutely love.”
And while being fearless was just one of many empowering messages that impacted the attendees at the fourth annual Empowering Women event, the overall theme was to “Be Intentional.”
What does it mean to be intentional? For Matthews, it’s all about action.
“When you want to do something, you can think about it, you can make lists, and you can ponder it,” she explains. “But it’s the actual action that makes the difference. Being intentional, to me, means moving forward with action.”
For Bekah Mechtensimer, being intentional also means paying it forward. “For me, it’s all about personal awareness and growth and how you utilize that for the better—whether for yourself or for others,” the Chief of Staff for Empowering Brands and one of the event’s organizers says. “I try to be intentional with how I present myself and how I make others feel.”
That intentionality can produce a positive ripple effect.
DeIla Ray is a welding instructor at the Davis H. Hart Career Center and is also the Co-Founder/Co-Owner and Operator at Alpha Duo LLC. An attendee at the Empowering Women Conference three years ago, for this event she served on the steering committee and presents ideas and inspiration for helping the sisterhood of empowered women grow even more. At this year’s conference, she won the prestigious award for Industry Advocacy.“
DeIla is working on sharing her own voice,” Matthews says. “She is a tradeswoman who now instructs other welding students. These programs have given her purpose. She sees that it brings together other tradeswomen and gives them a voice, as well. This fuels her. In her acceptance speech, her voice was strong and true. She has really transformed. She was always badass and awesome, but she just continues to grow more and more every year.”
No longer just a bystander in the back of the room, Ray now works with the intention to empower other women.
“I am very thankful for being a part of the steering committee and learning new leadership roles,” Ray says. “I know the Empowering Women's mission statement is to connect, educate, and empower the next generation of leaders and to provide a community for those who are currently leading. Your mission statement is actionable and successful. I have found so much growth and confidence because of you and your organization. You've passed the flame to me, and I intend to keep it not only lit but also to spread to same light to others.”
No stranger to the spotlight, Matthews also is gracious in sharing it. The event featured four emcees and 18 inspiring speakers with presentations like “Living Life with Intention,” “Courage to Be Uniquely You,” “Grit and Gratitude: Unleashing Life Satisfaction and Your Super Power,” and a powerhouse presentation by ABB student intern Nadia Facio on “The Next Generation of Women in Industry.”
“Nadia not only inspired my daughter, who is younger than her, but she also inspired the older women who are already successful in industry,” Matthews says. “She reminds us why we are all doing this. And we have to give ABB props for doing it right. They are hiring women and putting them in important roles. This was just one highlight. All of our speakers had important messages to share. It takes courage to walk onto that stage—either as a speaker or during the fashion show. Once you do that, you become next level. We all shared the spotlight, but more importantly, we got to share the impact of doing something significant. We want everyone in the room to do actions that make them stronger.”
Matthews presented a keynote speech, “Dare to Lead.”
“Our main emcee, Nicole Calhoun, pushed back on me to also make a presentation,” Matthews says. “Presenting and being part of that action was different for me. Nicole pushed on me to be intentional about my message to the group.”
Matthews’ message posed three questions:
1. What kind of leader do you want to be?
2. What kind of leader do people need you to be?
3. What type of impact do you want to make in your community?
“I asked these things of myself as well as asking all the people in the room,” she says. “The women really showed up. I could see the impact of the messaging because we could see the energy in all the pictures with everyone doing the “Charli pose” and repeating all the strong messaging with their social media posts.”
The event featured photography stations, networking, and open exhibits by sponsors like Xylem, who had an interactive, hands-on activity to assemble a water filter. The company works hard to provide clean water to some of the 750 million people who do not have access to it.
“I loved that display,” Matthews says. “That marketer was intentional with her thinking and gave us something impactful to remember about what we can do to help the world’s water crisis.”
The evening event featured dinner and the annual PPE Fashion Show. After all the models showcased the newest PPE made just for women, the audience was encouraged to jump onto the stage and walk the runway, giving all attendees an opportunity to be seen, encouraged, and empowered.
The Gala featured the presentation of Awards, hosted by Shannon Bumgarner of the Empowering Women Podcast and then a dance party with DJ Ralph Anthony to cap off the evening.
Why It’s Important to Empower Women
It’s important to empower women because it’s still needed, says Mechtensimer. “Everyone needs support, but especially in industries that are male-dominated. There is something very powerful about sisterhood and having other women in your corner. Years ago, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought, but the older I get, the more I realize how instrumental it is to have strong, powerful, successful women around you. It adds to your overall happiness and your growth in general.”
For Matthews, empowering women comes with a responsibility.
“When I use the word ‘empowering’ I’m giving people the power and authority to do something,” she explains. “I have the power and the authority to create the stage and create a community that brings people together. It’s important because I know how hard it is to be heard in these male-populated industries. A lot of the times we turn it inward. We tell ourselves we don’t belong here, or this isn’t the right place for me. So, we need that representation of other women who can show us, YES, we belong here and, YES, we are doing the job. To put up that mirror for other women is really important.”
The Empowering Women in Industry organization has proven that the showcasing of women and their accomplishments helps them to move up within their organizations. It showcases their skills, it shows their growth, and it shows that they belong in the C-suite, if that is their goal. “
Empowering women shows all organizations that diversity matters,” Matthews adds. “If we skill up our women and give them the right tools, they can be successful for their companies. I like to show that on a stage.”
For Angel Wileman, manager of Thermofluids at SWRI, the impact of the conference is palpable.
“The Empowering Women in Industry Conference has been a game changer for me,” Wileman says.“Attendance at the conference in 2019 lit a fire inside me that has not gone out, and subsequent conferences have only stoked the flames. If you’re looking for an event where you are surrounded by powerful women who convince you that ‘Yes, you CAN accomplish your goals!' then this conference is the one for you. I’ve spent the last few years bringing as many people with me as I can. Charli and the Empowering ladies are amazing!”
Mechtensimer says it’s heartwarming to see and feel the impact of the conference. “Last year’s event was the first year that I could see growth from some of these women, and it was even more evident this year,” she says. “It’s really awesome to witness and to help impact these women and their journeys moving forward.”For Matthews, empowering women continues to be her passion.
“We’ve always said that the more you put in, the more you get out. And it’s so true,” she says. “The women who jump in and say, ‘YES!’ to doing more and being more involved are feeling the most impact. We all step into a room full of people who believe in industry and believe that women can be successful in industry. It just feels so good. I know that I found my people. When all the energy of the tradeswomen and engineers and students and marketers and operators come together, it just inspires everyone!”
You can re-watch all the conference sessions on the Whova App. The next Empowering Women in Industry Conference is scheduled for Oct. 5, 2023, in Chicago. What are some topics that you feel are important to women in industry?