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Women’s Summit Focuses on Empowering Female Business Leaders

March 20, 2020

“Find something you care about and get actively involved in it. Then you just kind of grow.”

That was the message keynote speaker Dee Haslam, CEO of Haslam Sports Group, delivered during her lunchtime comments at the fifth annual Women in Business, Entrepreneurship and Leadership Summit on Friday, March 6. Designed to empower female students, faculty and staff, the event aimed to provide a platform for meaningful dialogue around the issues women face in today’s business world. 

Approximately 120 attendees, speakers and volunteers participated in this year’s summit, which focused on interactive learning and professional development. The half-day conference featured panels and presentations by female business leaders from the Knoxville area and beyond.

The event began with a welcome from Tyvi Small, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s vice chancellor for diversity and engagement. Jenny Banner, executive director of the UT Forum for Emerging Enterprises and Private Business, made the opening address. 

In her remarks, Banner emphasized the importance for the business world of focusing on all types of diversity, including gender, race, age and geographical origin.

“I’ve never been more optimistic from a diversity standpoint than I am right now,” Banner said.

Banner’s address was followed by a plenary panel called “Stepping Out, Taking Risks and Daring Greatly!” with Banner, Susan Edwards (senior vice president and chief administrative officer of Knoxville Utilities Board) and Gwendolyn McKenzie (executive advisor of client operations at Aetna for CVS Health, and 6th District city councilwoman and vice mayor of Knoxville). Encouraging the attendees to overcome obstacles and become authentic leaders, the panelists spoke about workplace issues ranging from mentorship to self-confidence to salary negotiations.

Following afternoon breakout sessions, the summit concluded with a catered lunch and the keynote from Haslam, who used her time for a question-and-answer session rather than a traditional address. Haslam, who serves on several philanthropic boards in Knoxville, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio, urged attendees to make volunteerism a priority.

“It’s really important, whatever business you’re in, to be part of the community and give back in whatever way you can,” she said. “That means not just dollars, but time.”