ST. GEORGE — As opening night of the first “Ignite Your Influence” women’s conference came to a close Thursday, women and men in a sold-out room at the Courtyard Marriott stood to take the “Champion’s Pledge” — a promise to support the mission of the new Women’s Influence Center: “Every woman will be heard, elevated and succeed.”
It was an emotional moment for founders and board members of the Women’s Influence Center who have put their time, energy and passion into creating a place to connect women to the resources they need in whatever stage of life they are.
The woman in transition
Founded in cooperation with the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce and backed by strong community partners and resources, the new center is a nonprofit organization that has a stated goal to help every woman “transition from where she is now to where she aspires to be.”
The center is dedicated to working collaboratively with local and state organizations to complement current efforts to elevate the status of women and to identify and fill gaps where needed.
Women’s Influence Center co-founder, and president and CEO of the St. George Area Chamber Pam Palermo said:
Women are always in transition, I don’t care if you are transitioning from Purgatory (Correctional Facility), from poverty; I don’t care if you’re transitioning from college into the business world, transitioning into leadership and you need certification or if you want to go out on your own and start your own business and become an entrepreneur. We have (resources for) that at the center.
Transition, transition, transition. Any woman going through transition — and we go through it on a daily basis sometimes — this center is there to help them through it.
Palermo shared the powerful story of her own transition from a childhood filled with poverty and abuse and of barely graduating high school to joining the Air Force, starting a family and graduating college with a 4.0 grade point average.
One of the focuses of the center and one of the main reasons Palermo wanted the chamber to be involved, she said, is to help elevate the role of women in business.
“My why,” Palermo said, “is workforce and economic impact.”
Palermo said that there is a real need in our community to attract a well-educated workforce, adding that the community is filled with brilliant women, many who lack the confidence or know-how to move forward.
“This center will make great strides possible,” Palermo said.
In national news media the state of Utah has often been portrayed in an ugly light insofar as women’s equality, especially in the work place, is concerned.
The evening’s featured speaker, Pat Jones, CEO of the Women’s Leadership Institute in Salt Lake City, cited several articles that pointed to this issue including a 2014 New York Post article entitled “5 places women shouldn’t spend their travel dollars.”
The article lists five destinations where inequality and sexism are considerably higher than other world destinations. Included in the list were Turkey, Indonesia, El Salvador, Saudi Arabia and Utah.
Reasons for Utah’s inclusion on the list were a large gender pay-gap, a low percentage of women in management positions and a large underrepresentation of women in political positions.
“It was eye-opening to see our home state in the national media in an adverse position like that,” Washington County Commissioner Dean Cox said. “We need to do all that we can to recognize the contribution of women.”
Cox said it is important for everyone to be informed and be active in promoting the leadership role of women in the state.
The Women’s Leadership Institute is itself very young — the Institute was founded in 2015 — but already it is having a huge impact on elevating women in business and political arenas.
The group has instituted the “ElevateHER Challenge” which challenges organizations to pledge to help elevate the stature of women in business and political leadership. In their almost three years as an organization over 100,000 people have taken the pledge, Jones said in her address.
Similarly to the ElevateHER Challenge, the Women’s Influence Center’s Champion’s Pledge invites individuals and organizations to serve as champions for the new women’s center and to be advocates of its continued growth and success.
Several businesses, organizations and community leaders were recognized at Thursday’s event for having taken the ElevateHER Challenge or the Champion’s Pledge or both. Among them were the city of St. George, Dixie State University, Southern Utah University, Dixie Applied Technology College, the Washington County School District, members of the Washington County Commission, SkyWest Airlines, board members of the new St. George Academy, Intermountain Healthcare leaders, the Travel Connection, the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce and many more.
But one of the biggest emotional moments of the night came when guests in attendance rose to take the Champion’s Pledge. It was a powerful moment that was full of energy and brilliance, said Shirlayne Quayle, co-founder of the Women’s Influence Center.
The future of the Women’s Influence Center
Quayle said she sees a big opportunity for the center to make an impact on the lives of women in the community which will in turn impact families, the state and even the world.
“I don’t even know if we can anticipate what it might look like if we put the power of every one of ourselves into being ourselves and also lifting the women around us,” Quayle said.
Elevating women around the world has become a life mission for Quayle, she said, and it will continue to be a focus of hers and the center’s until it is no longer necessary.
“I would love to see, in 10 years when my daughter’s in college, that she doesn’t have to have these conversations, that they’re not part of her world,” Quayle said, “and then I’ll know that we have done a good job working with our women and our men to change the way that we work and engage and the way we think about women in our community.”
The Women’s Influence Center is located in the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce offices at 136 N. 100 East. The center will be offering monthly educational and networking events including a training held April 8 called “Real Women Run.” The training is geared toward igniting a desire in women to run for political office or to be involved in civic leadership.
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