Kristy Williams | A Dream in Progress = Women in Business Conference

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Kristy Williams is a former Bain management consultant and corporate strategist who now focuses her days on motherhood and planning the conference described in this post. She grew up in small town Alberta, Canada, enjoyed urban living for many years, and now lives in suburban Houston.  She is adjusting to using a car to get everywhere.  Her hobbies including most anything done outdoors, reading The Economist, traveling and planning parties.

Eighteen months ago I was fresh out of big dreams, and ready to embark on a journey to change my situation. Inspired by a post Whitney wrote, as I considered what my dreams might be (click here), and worked through the possibilities (click here), a whole new vision came to mind. None of my original dream ideas actually translated to dreams I want to pursue right now. But the process put me on the path that led to my current dream, the pursuit of which has been a fascinating (and at times frustrating) experience.My dream is to plan and execute a Women in Business conference at BYU. Unlike some of the other dreams I considered, this concept met all of my “dream needs” (which, of course, I didn’t know I needed until I was working through the options). The conference filled a need in a community I care about – no other forum exists to connect LDS women in the business community (current professionals, students, and those on paid-work hiatus). Both the planning and the execution would connect me with interesting women (often a challenge for me as a SAHM). Most of the work in planning the event could be done from home, and during naptime (I decided at the outset that I did not want this dream to take away much from time with my children). Most importantly, pulling this off would require the use of many my talents and the development of some of my weaknesses.
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I have never planned a conference, I live in Houston, TX, far away from Provo, Utah, and I have no strong connections to people currently at BYU. None of those issues concerned me when I began. I was confident in my leadership and communication abilities (two of my talents) and was certain the administration at BYU would readily embrace my idea (one of my weaknesses: assuming everyone values what I do). In April 2010 I began sharing my idea with a few people, reached out to a friend who ran a conference the year before, and set up an initial timeline. March 2011 seemed like a reasonable date for the event – almost a year away. March has come and gone, and the conference just received full approval. In the 15 months since idea inception, I’ve learned some important lessons:
1. Sharing your dream can be scary. I am a confident woman. Yet when it came time to my dream with others (even my husband and dear friends), I was nervous. What if they thought my idea was dumb, or that I wasn’t up to this task? I was really surprised to feel this way (junior high was long ago!), and it kept me from moving forward for a short while.
2. An internet connection and no-fee long distance are all you need to coordinate a big event like this (well, and an on-site supporter).  When I began to plan the conference, I contacted several women whom I thought might be interested in helping. Many of them were not in a position to contribute time, but they introduced me to other women. Within a short time I was connected with a strong group of women who share similar values, concerns, and goals. The conference organizing committee – a group of women with whom I’ve worked closely for upwards of 10 months – contains one of my best friends (mother of 2, works part-time), 3 women I’ve never met in person (2 SAHMs with MBAs, one woman who works full-time in private equity), and one woman I interacted with briefly 7 years ago (2 kids, works part-time from home).
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We live all over the country, from San Francisco to New York City.  Thanks to email and google docs (and a few phone calls), we’ve shared ideas and revised (again and again) proposals and themes and missions statements. The input and help of these women has been crucial – they’ve expanded my view of what topics are important and how we can best meet the needs of our target audience. They have enabled me to pursue this dream without neglecting my family, connected me with other great people, and have filled holes in my skill set.
3. Underestimating the challenges you will face is a blessing and a curse, but mostly a blessing. I first shared my idea for the conference in April 2010 and final approval from the school did not come until May 2011. I was always certain a “yes!” was just around the corner, so I never gave up and rarely became discouraged. The conference was important and top of mind for me, and initially I assumed the same would hold for everyone else (that weakness again). In time I realized that employees and administrators at BYU have full time jobs – and getting everything in order to work on and approve the conference was just one more thing to add to their plate. Finally, in December 2010, I was connected with the person who had the authority, desire, and interest-level to push this forward. Nine months into planning and the pieces were actually coming together!
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4. Roadblocks can provide opportunities for fine-tuning. After finding the right champion, she still needed to receive support from her governing board. As always, I was certain they would love the idea and give the go-ahead. I was a bit disappointed when the group requested we put together a survey to gauge interest in the event. “Of course there is interest!” I thought! “Everyone I’ve talked to loves the idea!”  However, as I put the survey together, I realized that instead of a roadblock, this was actually a great way to publicize the event and ensure the topics I’d come up with were of interest to my intended demographic. And if no one wanted to come, it was best to learn this before detailed planning got underway. The survey results were wonderfully encouraging. Even the Marriott School dean was floored by the response. Over 700 people responded, and almost half said they were likely/very likely to attend.  The validation we needed came in droves.
Another roadblock came when more and more people requested to be involved in the approval process. Though this certainly pushed back my timeline, it also forced me to ensure I was clearly communicating the value of the event and the quality of the women who could potentially speak. Speaker approval is still underway (again, pushing back the timeline), but as I’ve prepared the speaker bios (and provided more and more information as requested) I’ve moved from a strong list of speakers to an amazing list of speakers. Now I just hope some of them will agree to participate.
This event will be a valuable tool for professional women (those currently in the workforce and those taking a hiatus)–providing an opportunity to expand networks, make interesting personal connections, and explore ways to live in faith while developing talents and maintaining skills. In addition, the conference will help students better understand the various paths available to them in management and identify role models and mentors who can help them as they make important career and life decisions.
In addition to several keynote speakers, we will have presentations and panels discussing topics such as How to Find and What to Look for in a Mentor, Femininity in a Rough-and-Tumble World, Making it Work: Creating a Workplace that Works for Families, Up & Running: Starting Your Own Business, Using Your Skills for Service: Serving in the Church and in the Community, Does Work/Life Balance Even Exist, and several others.
I don’t yet know how this will all turn out, but the journey thus far has been exhilarating. I’ve learned that I can pursue a big dream and still fulfill my role as a full-time mom and that big dreams take time and perseverance. Most importantly, I’ve developed a repeatable model for identifying dreams worthy of pursuing. One dream in the works, many more to come.

There is so much to learn from Kristy's process of pursuing her dream. 

What is do you find is applicable as you pursue your dreams?

P.S.  When the website is up for registration, I will post a link.  In the meantime, if you want to be on the mailing list for the conferene, you can e-mail Kristy at kristy dot rae dot williams at gmail dot com.

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