Highlighting Shared Experiences and Best Practices
By: Maureen Stiles
The energy in the room at the 6th Annual Leading for IMPACT – Women in Leadership Conference and Awards was tangible. The standing room only event brought together luminaries from across the Federal technology and consulting communities to not only highlight achievements but also focus on the shared experiences of women leaders.
Held November 7th at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, the event offered interviews, panels, and a keynote speech from women serving as entrepreneurs, visionaries, and mentors. Jennifer Hanks, CEO of MMC Consulting, ably served as emcee, with opening remarks and introductions throughout the day. Jennifer shared her story of embarking on both motherhood and a new business simultaneously. As she spoke, the nods around the room proved this balancing act is a familiar one. Jordan held the audience captive as she detailed taking the path less traveled, “empowering the possible” and the roller coaster that is entrepreneurship.
Keynote speaker, Mia Jordan of Salesforce, began her remarks from the back of the auditorium, and related to the audience that “the best leaders actually lead from the back.” She then went on to describe how great leaders come from ordinary places, and look just like the women in the audience. She also shared some sobering statistics about women in tech, and that many digital transformation projects languish before they are finished. But Mia also countered that by using “courageous leadership”—showing courage, being authentically oneself, and not making excuses—women can and will make a measurable difference in their careers and make a strong impact on their teams.
After Jordan’s remarks, Hanks introduced the first panel, Women of Small Business: Navigating a Vibrant and Changing Landscape.”
This panel was moderated by small business champion, Michelle Gardner-Ince, Founder of ABOVE (All About the Business of Veteran Entrepreneurs). She was joined by Lonye Ford of Arlo Consultants; Alisa Sheard of the US Small Business Administration; and Dawn Halfaker, founder of The Continuing to Serve Foundation. Gardner-Ince led the discussion and wove in staggering statistics regarding the hardships for women in business, thus reinforcing the impressive accomplishments of every woman in the room. Topics ranged from the role relationships play in building business as well as each panelist’s journey to success.
Success was a matter of defying the odds for interviewee Helen Xing with Amazon Web Services. Through an intimate interview with Gardner-Ince, Xing chronicled her family’s oppression and the frustration of constantly hearing what she “could not do.” Her advice to the group was, “Find your superpower and do more of it.”
Speaking of superpowers, the last panel, Women and AI: Managing New Technology, Evolving Mandates, and Key Leadership Decisions focused on the growing power of AI. Moderator, Alexis Bonnell with the Air Force Research Laboratory led a discussion with Jade Baranski, Co-Founder of Mobilize and Traci Walker of Digital Services Coalition. The panel noted that technology is not stopping. As such, staying curious and open to adapting will maximize the potential of AI and other burgeoning technologies. Both guests have waded into the AI pool in their everyday roles, with Walker calling upon AI to create her photo for the program and Baranski tapping AI to assist with RFPs.
The final panel was followed by closing remarks and the Leading for IMPACT awards ceremony where all winners (nominated by their peers for leadership and innovation excellence) were recognized with a special trophy, and during which each awardee shared a favorite quote. The day closed with a networking happy hour allowing winners to toast one another and catch up with friends from government and industry.
The quote of the session came from Lonye Ford remarking to her panel, “We didn’t even know what underdogs we were.” Throughout this year’s IMPACT event, it was clear that these underdogs had triumphed, and the Federal technology and contractor communities are all the better for it.