Conference Celebrates Women Innovators

EDITORIAL The Virginian-Pilot

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) As a "Women in Innovation" conference gets underway in Virginia today, the social media storm continues over the fact that only ONE woman was included on Forbes' recent "most innovative leaders" list.

The Virginian-Pilot

FORBES MAGAZINE enjoys a reputation as a premier chronicle of the business world and is well known for its annual list of the world's richest people. But another assembly of names the periodical published recently may leave its luster a little tarnished.

Reporters and editors there compiled a list of the 100 most influential chief executive officers, calling them "the most creative and successful business minds of today." The group was long on leaders at tech companies and featured many names familiar to the general public.

That includes Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Elon Musk of Tesla, who tied for the top spot. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Tim Cook of Apple, Reid Hastings of Netflix and Satya Nadella of Microsoft earned places in the top 10.

But it was the inclusion of Barbara Rentler, the CEO of Ross Stores, at No. 75 that created a storm across social media platforms. She was the only woman Forbes included among its 100 most influential business leaders.

In a column posted Sunday, Forbes Editor Randall Lane took the blame for the stunning oversight, noting that women are severely underrepresented in boardrooms and in CEO offices and admitting that the effort should have gone to greater lengths to adjust for that inequity.

But it serves to highlight a corrosive problem in this nation, that even when women do reach the top rung of the ladder in business, recognition for that achievement is slow in coming. This, despite the fact that achievement is likely more difficult and fraught with peril for women in the workplace.

It also underscores the value of events such as the Women in Innovation conference taking place in Richmond today.

A product of the Virginia Information Technologies Agency Innovation Program, the first conference of its kind intends to put a spotlight on female entrepreneurship in the commonwealth and hold up women business leaders as examples to emulate.

"Trailblazing women have paved the way for progress throughout Virginia's history and continue to help define our commonwealth's innovative spirit," said Gov. Ralph Northam in a release last month announcing the first-annual conference.

"This event will bring together successful women leaders and entrepreneurs from across the public and private sectors to share their stories, learn from each other and continue to drive positive change in their communities and throughout Virginia."

Peruse the list of speakers at the all-day event and it's an impressive roster of women in business, government, academia, non-profits and other fields, all of whom have wisdom to share about how they blazed their trail to positions of influence.

The conference has directed its focus more narrowly on careers in science, technology, engineering and math. There so-called "STEM" fields represent areas of substantial growth in the workforce and where women -- indeed, all young people -- much excel in order to achieve in a competitive global marketplace.

According to Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Manufacturing and Design (STEM2D), an advocacy organization funded by Johnson & Johnson, there is a worrisome disparity in the workplace.

In 2015, women made up 57 percent of professional workers but only 47 percent of scientists, 25 percent of mathematicians, and 15 percent of engineers.

Emphasizing the value of a STEM education to girls and young women -- making those areas compelling and competitive -- is essential to improving those numbers and giving women a greater likelihood for professional success in those areas.

What's more, it's vital to Virginia's future that women have a seat in the board room, in CEO offices and, frankly, wherever else their talent takes them. The commonwealth is better when ideas for business innovation, public service leadership and academic research aren't myopic and invite many voices to contribute.

Today's conference may be the first of its kind in Virginia, but a determined focus on raising up women entrepreneurs -- and showing the next generation that there are no limits to their achievements -- is critical to the commonwealth's future. ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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