2013 Women at Baird event: Be Intentional – Write Your Own Story.

2013 Women at Baird event: Be Intentional – Write Your Own Story.

Last week I had the pleasure of being a featured speaker at the 2013 Women at Baird event. Baird is an employee-owned wealth management, capital markets, asset management and private equity firm. This fantastic day-and-a-half long event is organized by a committee from their Women’s Associate Resource Group (WARG), and invites the members of that group (both men and women) to attend this event to aid in their self-development and career progression. There were some wonderful takeaways from this event that I want to share with all of you.

1. Leadership needs to lead by example, and an interactive component with leadership is a must have.

Initiatives to move women forward and upward have greatest success when led from the top. When people see the leaders in an organization taking this topic seriously, getting involved to make a difference, and holding themselves accountable for getting results, others follow suit. Their current and future CEO and other key leaders were visibly active in the event. They hosted an hour-long roundtable discussion and question and answer session. They spoke about the unique contributions that women bring to the business strategy and how women make a difference in the realization of the business strategy. The attendees heard from current and future leadership about what matters to them, how they define leadership, and what characteristics lead to success at Baird. Paul Purcell, the Chairman, President and CEO, spoke about the importance of integrity, curiosity and working hard. Leslie Dixon, Chief Human Capital Officer, spoke about not being afraid, being authentic and positive, and identifying your strengths and leveraging them. Steve Booth, COO and Director of Investment Banking and their future CEO, spoke about his priorities of building connections, broadening scope and driving results. I found it remarkable and inspiring that leadership is being so transparent and inclusive as the organization goes through its own transition in leadership over the next two years, and that here was this unique opportunity to dedicate time and attention to this conversation as part of this women’s event.

Paul Purcell (Chairman), Leslie Dixon (Chief Human Capital Officer), Steve Booth (COO and Director of Investment Banking)
Paul Purcell (Chairman), Leslie Dixon (Chief Human Capital Officer), Steve Booth (COO and Director of Investment Banking)

2. For women to continue to move forward and upward, men need to be part of the action.

Over 400 women registered for the event, but in addition there was a decent amount of attendance by men from the company, and throughout the day and a half I encountered many individuals from significant leadership positions in the organization. That impressed me. When the efforts to be inclusive and expand diversity in an organization include everyone, we are all better off. Men and women need to be able to hear each other’s perspectives, dialog openly around them, and tackle roadblocks and barriers together.

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3. If you are spending the money on an event like this, make it a ‘can’t miss event’.

Too often I hear of organizations spending their budgeted funds for women’s or other diversity initiatives on trivial events that lack depth and substance, which invariably result in lower attendance levels and lack of contribution to meaningful change in the organization. I was so impressed to see the exact opposite of this at the Baird event. Every aspect of the event was thoroughly thought through and tied back to their core theme. The speaker presentations and breakouts were all on highly relevant substantive topics. The event moved along at a great pace. The value of this event was reflected in the fact that their attendance increased from 300 last year to over 400 this year, and they had a waiting list for people who wanted to get in after it filled to capacity. That’s a ‘can’t miss event’!

4. Have the people that are going to directly benefit from the event, own the event.

The planning was led by Kimberly Thekan (Talent Acquisition & Integration), Stephanie Warren (Manager of FICM Operations) and Kristin Wrobbel (Event Planner). To support them they had a committee of people from different parts of the organization that volunteered to be involved. This meant that the people that have the best understanding and personal experience with the challenges and issues of moving forward and upward in their organization, had the ability to define and craft an agenda of content and speakers that would be the most helpful in tackling the challenges and issues. At the end of the event, they took the time to announce the three women that will be leading the planning for their next Women at Baird event in 2015, so that people that want to be on the support committee can immediately know who to approach so they can get involved. What a great way to keep momentum and excitement flowing from event to event.

Kristin Wrobbel (Event Planner), Stephanie Warren (Manager of FICM Operations), Kimberly Thekan (Talent Acquisition & Integration)
Kristin Wrobbel (Event Planner), Stephanie Warren (Manager of FICM Operations), Kimberly Thekan (Talent Acquisition & Integration)

5. Like any good story, make sure the theme and plot line for your event stays connected.

I was delighted to present the opening address, a breakout session, and the closing address at the event. In order to ensure that the theme of ‘Be Intentional – Write Your Own Story’ carried strong and true throughout the event, in one of our early planning discussions I suggested an approach and storyline for the opening address and closing address that would bring the group full circle, that would let the participants leave the event feeling connected to where they had started, but inspired and motivated to move forward with their next chapters. In a half day event it isn’t typically necessary to do that, but in a longer event it’s easy for the participants to get lost in the myriad of information and educational sessions offered to them, and sometimes to lose sight of the big picture key takeaways you want them to carry with them as they leave. The strategy of having an opening and closing that were tightly linked worked very well and is something I would highly recommend again in similar situations.

I want to commend Baird for making these elements part of their overall strategy. This is clearly an organization that is highly committed to their women moving forward and upward. They continue to invest in leadership development and training for their women. They believe strongly in advocating for their women and they understand that seeing more women achieve great success in their organization is good for the women, good for the organization, good for the clients…overall just a great business strategy. They continue to see results. Here are just some of the wonderful stories of how women at Baird have succeeded on both the professional and personal front.

They are champions

  • Nikki Mitchell finished 12th in her division of Ironman Texas
  • Jean Kreiser rode 80 miles across Wisconsin and Indiana and raised $3,000 as part of the JDRF Ride to Cure Diabetes

They are volunteers

  • Lisa Voison and Johanna Perrini started a Milwaukee Chapter of My Team Triumph
  • Meg Yost and her daughter Jessica found the 15:30 project to assist orphan children with AIDS in South Africa after multiple visits to the Open Arms Home for Children
  • Kelly Sneed and Donna Kleczka facilitated a workshop for the Summer Institute Program to encourage financial literacy amongst Milwaukee teens

They serve

  • 90+ Baird women serve on corporate or non-profit Boards nation-wide
  • Audrey Warner on the Board of ABCD (After Breast Cancer Diagnosis) took the organization from locally based to national this year
  • Rosa Ebling – a member of the Women’s Board of the Chicago Zoological Society will chair their annual gala this year

They are moms

  • Over 40 Baird women became new moms this year

They excel in their industry

  • Angela Pittman Taylor received the Black Excellence Award in the Corporate Trailblazer Category from the Milwaukee Times Newspaper
  • 31 Associates qualified (they achieved greater than $525,000 in production), and 24 attended the Barron’s Top Women Advisor Summit in December 2012
  • Laura Thurow was featured in the October issue of ‘On Wall Street’, discussing her career path and role at Baird as part of their ‘Life Stories’
  • Rachel Eubanks concluded her term as President – Michigan Women in Finance

They excel at Baird

  • New Managing Directors at the firm are Dawn Peterson (Director of Tax), and Laura Thurow (Director of Private Wealth Management Research)
  • Other newly announced female officers include: 6 Directors, 6 Senior Vice-Presidents, 9 First Vice-Presidents, 24 Vice-Presidents and 28 Associate Vice-Presidents
  • The percentages of overall female Financial Associates that qualified for their highest levels of production recognition: 29% for the Executive Council level, 12% for the Presidents Club level, and 4% for the highest level of all – the Chairmans Club.
  • They had 201 new female shareholders this past year

They stand together

  • Their Baird women’s soccer team has 30 players
  • Their Women’s Associate Resource Group expanded from 10 groups to 17 in the past year, and over 187 associates are involved

I am honored and proud to have been a featured speaker at this event and to have my name associated with the Baird brand. To all the wonderful women at Baird, here’s a toast to you and your continued successes as you move forward and upward.

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