Business & Economy

2019 Women in Leadership Conference empowers women and others in sold-out crowd

Hundreds of students, young professionals and executives packed the University of West Florida Conference Center and Auditorium on Friday, March 1, to hear and learn from prominent female leaders at the 2019 Women in Leadership Conference.

The annual event, hosted by the College of Business Executive Mentor Program, got its start in 2014 and this year’s conference sold out in record time. Held this year during Women’s History Month, it is designed to empower women and encourage collaboration and networking.

“Thank you to the more than 430 attendees who joined us at the conference to enhance their leadership journey,” said Dr. Sherry Hartnett, director of the Executive Mentor Program and clinical professor of business. “Given the vast number of people who were interested in our event, this year we also live-streamed the conference so others could join us remotely. We hope everyone felt personally inspired by the remarkable women presenting and now feel empowered to succeed and thrive in their careers and lives.”

With a theme of “Designing Your Future,” presentations at the conference focused on designing and driving a career through thought-provoking presentations and panel discussions from recognized,  experienced leaders. The conference is aimed at helping women understand some of the issues they may face in various career paths, especially those where women are underrepresented or have difficulty obtaining leadership positions.

UWF alumna Emily Ley, founder and CEO of Simplified® by Emily Ley, returned to campus as one of the keynote speakers for the event.

“Women today are in such a unique position that we have more opportunity than ever before,” Ley said. “I see so many women who are brave, putting themselves out there and unapologetically being who they were made to be, putting their gifts and talents to use in incredible ways.”

Julie Kratz, author, speaker, trainer, and founder and CEO of Pivot Point, was also a keynote speaker at the conference.

“When you find work that truly aligns with your purpose, where your energy is and what you’re strong at doing, that’s when we can really build a career that works for us,” Kratz said.

Jane Birdwell, founder and CEO of Tablevogue and the Birdwell Agency, directed a panel of entrepreneurs discussing the “Permission to Lead, Follow and Thrive.” Panelists included:

  • Katie Garrett, owner of Old Hickory Whiskey Bar and The Kennedy
  • Shannon Pallin, owner of Fiore of Pensacola
  • Dr. Grace Torres-Hodges, owner and physician at Torres Hodges Podiatry
  • Debbie Williams, Director of Digital Marketing at the Gorilla Group

Becca Boles, Communications Director for Gulf Power, moderated the second panel, comprised of leaders from some of the largest companies in Pensacola, entitled “How to Chart a Course for Success in the Corporate World.” Panelists included:

  • Stacy Keller Williams, CCO and Vice President of Member Experience and Training at Navy Federal Credit Union
  • Kristin Longley, Director of Public Affairs at Cox
  • Meri Asmar, Director of Human Resources at The Lewis Bear Company
  • Adetoun Sanders, Vice President of Marketing and Business Development at Members First Credit Union of Florida

Each year at the conference, attendees gain valuable insights on personal development, career challenges and advancing beyond obstacles in the workforce, while expanding their professional networks.

For more information about the Women in Leadership Conference, visit

To view the livestream of the Women in Leadership Conference, visit