Furman University Women’s Leadership Institute is kicking off its inaugural conference on Jan. 13 with Aphrodite Konduros, judge of the S.C. Court of Appeals, as the headliner.
Konduros, a member of the South Carolina and Greenville Bar and a member of the Chief Justice’s Commission on the Profession and the S.C. Senate Judiciary Sentencing Reform Commission, is a natural for the conference, said Victoria Kirby, director of Furman’s Center for Corporate and Professional Development and the Women’s Leadership Institute.
“She believes in what we’re doing, in women’s issues, in promoting and celebrating women,” Kirby said.
The conference, sponsored by the Center for Corporate and Professional Development, gives women in the top rank of leadership at their corporations or organizations a chance to meet others in the same position. Up to 40 senior women leaders from South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina are expected to attend, and the conference is open nationwide.
“I’ve been in corporate America for a long time,” said Kirby, a 2003 Furman alumna who helped build a communications company. “It can be very lonely at the top. The glass ceiling does exist. There aren’t as many top female leaders” as male leaders. The conference will “bring successful, strong women together and provide connections outside their companies.”
“They want to be with each other, encourage each other, network with each other,” she said.
The women attending “have risen to the senior level. We try to give them an environment so they can mentor others” and groom new leaders, she said.
Women can be nominated to attend the conference or can self-nominate. Well over 100 nominations were received for the 2015 conference, she said.
When calling for nominations, Kirby said, “We live in an increasingly global society and are faced with economic, political, and cultural challenges. Now, more than ever, we need inspired leaders—women who can be transformative in business, politics, and communities. The Institute is looking for women who have demonstrated successful leadership, community involvement, and have a desire to help others.”
Once nominated, prospective attendees fill out an application and send in their resume.
“It’s a very competitive process,” Kirby said. She and the Institute’s board of directors then evaluate the applications. Criteria include being a senior leader in their organization, demonstrating leadership, being active in community service, and being willing to assist other women.
“It’s very important to be well-rounded,” she said, and all aspects of an applicant are considered.
The January 13 conference begins with an evening orientation and kickoff that includes a cocktail reception and a dinner. In addition to the speaker, the women will participate in team-building exercises at the Younts Center on Furman’s campus. The remaining sessions will be lunch meetings on Feb. 10, March 3, March 17, and April 7. Graduation will be an evening session on April 28 with Dr. Elizabeth Davis, Furman’s President, as the keynote speaker.
The sessions will each include a speaker for about an hour followed by a corporate education forum that will bring in Furman faculty and other experts from throughout the country, Kirby said. Each forum will focus on a specific topic, which the participants have expressed interest. All will be geared toward leadership and all will be interactive.
“Since we’re an academic institution, this is truly professional development” and the participants will earn continuing education credits.
“It takes a lot of time to leave your job and attend a conference,” she said. The continuing education credits are a concrete result of that commitment.
Planning for the 2016 conference will begin immediately after the January kickoff of the 2015 conference, Kirby said. “We will be doing this a year at a time” and change could occur in the way the conference is set up. Anyone interested in attending the 2016 conference can apply online, email Kirby at email@example.com or call the office at 864-294-2154.
Furman became interested in a conference for senior women leaders because “there are so few of these conferences in this area. Other universities have leadership conferences. We wanted to be different” and decided to focus on women.
Although students are not currently part of the program, Kirby said, “I would like for students to aspire to be these women.” She would like female students, especially seniors and graduate students, to become aware of the Women’s Leadership Institute and perhaps find mentors from among the participants.
Kirby, who facilitated last year’s Connections program, has worked with Furman since 2006 and was named director of the Center for Corporate and Professional Development in May 2014. She has plans for the Center to grow.
“If you don’t have a vision as a leader, the organization perishes,” she said. “We’re corporate educators. We have resources like our faculty” that many corporate trainers can’t access.
The Center’s goal is to help corporations and organizations develop their teams by assessing the business and creating strategic development opportunities.
“It’s a new adventure every day,” she said.