Barbara Royal remembers high school classmates whose parents would not send them to college because they were girls or, if they agreed to college, insisted that their daughters major in education or another traditional female career area.
Today, more than half of bachelor’s and master’s degrees are earned by women, and women are present in every career field. Yet few women climb the career ladder into the upper ranks or sit on corporate boards.
Royal says research shows a majority of women do want to reach higher levels in their careers, but they need mentoring and inspiration to make it to the top. That’s why she is so committed to MOMENTUM, a nonprofit organization that focuses on helping women develop leadership skills, and its upcoming conference “Building Women Leaders in Alabama: Accelerating the Speed of Change” scheduled for Feb. 26 and 27 at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.
While great strides have been made since the days when most working women had “pink jobs,” Royal believes the future will require more women leaders. “We have leveled off,” she says. “It’s about the capacity to have a great leadership pool. With the baby boomers…[retiring] there is going to be a great need for new leaders.”
Royal has a long history of working with nonprofits and corporations in the Birmingham area. She was executive director of Discovery Place and Discovery 2000 and was instrumental in the development of the McWane Science Center. She later worked at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and served on the board at the YWCA.
A group of women at the YWCA wanted to do something to help women in Birmingham, including those who worked. Royal researched issues facing working women and wrote a curriculum that she then sold to business leaders who ended up becoming sponsors of MOMENTUM.
MOMENTUM began offering a training program 11 years ago that exposes participants to the skills they need to advance in their careers. They learn to think critically from diverse and enlightened perspectives, communicate effectively both in writing and in person, and create change. The curriculum also includes financial statement analysis, conflict resolution, negotiation skills, coalition building, how to overcome barriers and failures and other skills.
More than 250 women have benefited from the program, and the 11th class is in progress. MOMENTUM is taking applications for the 12th class, which will be selected by June.
Royal says the MOMENTUM program gives women a chance to build networks. MOMENTUM also offers mentoring to women who are seeking to advance in their careers, as well as young girls who need help getting started. About 400 people have been involved in the mentoring program so far.
“We are trying to bridge those mentoring gaps,” Royal says. “The idea is we’ve got these gaps. If we can help women…get around the gaps, ultimately, our society will be better.”
She adds that climbing the career ladder is not automatic for anyone. It requires of everyone – women and men alike – hard work to advance. MOMENTUM is trying to “facilitate it in a way that leads to better outcomes and leadership development.”
MOMENTUM held its first biennial conference in 2012. “Our first conference was an opportunity to motivate and inspire women throughout the state to reach higher to meet the many challenges facing Alabama’s businesses, government agencies and nonprofits. Our evaluation feedback shows that’s just what it did,” Royal says. “Conference 2014 is loaded with top-level speakers and deeply experienced panelists. The topics are relevant to business today: communication, technology, ethics, community service and leadership best practices. Attendees will learn about ways to work smarter and strategies that can accelerate positive change for themselves and for women throughout the state.”
The conference will include an awards presentation the evening of Feb. 26. The full-day conference Feb. 27 will feature Academy Award winning actress Geena Davis, who is being recognized for her tireless advocacy for women and girls, and Anne-Marie Slaughter, former director of Policy Planning for the U. S. Department of State and author of the iconic Atlantic Monthly article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.”
Afternoon breakout sessions will focus on topics such as diversity in the workplace, redefining success, broadening your professional network, the changing face of media, accelerating change through risk-taking, using creativity to define success, and the imperative of ethical conduct in high-pressure environments. Both substantive and informative, these breakout sessions also will present best practices for leadership development, skills-building, and management training. Career counseling opportunities, such as speed resume reviews, will be available to attendees.
The cost for both the awards ceremony and conference is $190, with the conference itself costing $160. Women who are younger than 30 may attend the morning or afternoon conference session for $25. Group rates also are available.