A virtual conference format turns out to be an advantage as many women in the workforce face ongoing logistical and workplace obstacles.
The upcoming Virtual National Women’s Business Conference, hosted by the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), is more than an annual event: It is a lifeline for women entrepreneurs, especially now as they contend with more challenges personally and professionally than ever before.
The pandemic has had a marked effect on women. According to a National Women’s Law Center analysis published in February, more than 2.3 million women had left the workforce since the beginning of the pandemic. That leaves the female workforce participation rate at 57 percent, the lowest it has been since 1988.
“The words I’m hearing from women are: I’m exhausted,” said Tanya R. Hill, a NAWBO national board member and entrepreneur.
The event was supposed to have both in-person and virtual components and take place in New Orleans, but with the uptick in COVID-19 cases the organizers switched it to an all-virtual format. NAWBO staff was pleasantly surprised last year when the virtual event garnered more than 1,000 attendees.
“It was so successful,” Hill said. “In the future we will have a virtual component because it taps into a need and opportunity we didn’t see before.”
Women entrepreneurs are often juggling a full plate, trying to keep up with homeschooling their children, taking care of families, and keeping their businesses running. NAWBO’s virtual conference has allowed many members to participate while managing those other demands.
“I’m loving the opportunity this challenge has given us as an organization because of the virtual platform,” Hill said. “It gives us a much broader reach to women.”
Health and wellness will be a key topic of the conference, with sessions on how attendees can take care of their own health while also managing a multitude of other responsibilities. There will also be sessions on managing the employee work environment during the pandemic, as well as panels and speakers on diversity, equity, and inclusion. “I am a woman of color,” Hill said. “We want to make sure we are providing something that all of our women business owners can benefit from.”
Hill hopes attendees at the conference this year, which will take place October 17-19, will leave inspired.
“The biggest thing is hearing other women’s stories,” she said. “We’re looking for any inspiration we can get right now.” Having a place where women can go and connect with each other—even, or perhaps especially, a virtual place—is essential.
“When you’re in trouble, that’s when you need people,” Hill said. “That’s when you need support.”