Bakersfield Women’s Business Conference prioritizes economic equity and mentorship

December 16, 2022 /

The Bakersfield Women’s conference is focused on equity and sisterhood as they prepare for their 2023 conference. This year’s theme is “Bringing Business Back” and their keynote speaker is Daymond John from shark tank. The conference will be on April 27 at the Mechanics Bank Arena 

To the theme, Na’Tesha Johnson, chair of the Women’s Business Conference, said she wants to let businesses know that the community is still there and still supporting them after the pandemic. 

“A lot of the businesses closed, especially businesses in communities of color,” said Johnson. “So, we need to bring those businesses back because they are our economic mobility, they are our economic security. If we don’t have them we won’t be able to survive. So, we need to make sure they have those tools and resources.”

During the conference, she is hoping that women are able to connect with each other and learn more about the resources available to them. She explained that spaces like the Women’s Business Conference are important because oftentimes women are let out of these conversations.

“When we look at economic development in Kern County or any place, it’s always top led by males,” said Johnson. “Typically, women are secondary in all cases. So, it’s important that we continue this tradition of 34 years to make sure that we are top tier, we are a top priority. To make sure that decision-makers in our community are coming from women.”

Johnson stated it is important to be intentional about the way they move towards building economic equity. She said in order to build toward economic equity that along with their being spaces for women there needs to also be diverse representation among those in the space. 

She believes representation is important because “if you don’t see it, you can’t achieve it’. One way the conference does this is with the board. Johnson stated that the board is filled with women from every community so everyone can see someone who represents them. 

With the resources in the conference, they make sure they are able to reach everyone no matter the level they are on business-wise. 

“We make sure we are meeting every woman at every level. Not every woman is going to come in as a CEO, they’re not going to all come in as a c-sweet, we’re gonna all come in at different levels,” said Johnson. So we make sure that the resources we’re offering can hit everyone.” 

While the conference may only be once a year, the work to get women involved is a year-round process. Through the Realizing Options for Student Excellence (R.O.S.E) program, Two girls are picked from each high school in their junior year to be paired with a mentor and keep the mentor through their senior year. Along with a mentor the program offers different educational workshops. Some of the workshops include etiquette, cooking, and financial literacy. 

Susan Spears manages the program and believes it is very important for young girls to be able to have a mentor. Spears explained that the mentors help with guiding the girls in meetings and encouraging them to speak up for themselves. The mentors are also a listening ear and additional support for girls who may not have a mother or a close relationship with their mothers. 

“Just giving them an opportunity to talk and listen. Many times these girls, they’re pretty amazing, just some of the things they’ve gone through,” said Spears. “They’re still resilient enough to get through their life issues and go forward. So, having a mentor is so important because a lot of the time they don’t speak with their mother or whoever their guardian is. Sometimes there’s not as close of a relationship and that’s another reason why we have this program.”

The R.O.S.E program is not only beneficial to the mentees but also for the mentors. Colleen Bauer is a keynote chair for the conference and had been a mentor in the program three times. Bauer explained that she still stays in touch with her mentee years later and has enjoyed seeing her grow. Bauer said that one thing she hopes everyone does after having a mentor is turn around and mentor someone else. 

“It’s just great to have people in your life. I feel like it takes a village for everybody and I believe that mentorships are really really important,” said Bauer. 

The girls who are a part of the R.O.S.E program are also sponsored to be able to attend the conference this year. To help the students excel beyond the program they also offer scholarships for the girls in their senior year after they get accepted into a college. 

“It’s important to have youth representation because they are our future,” said Johnson. “That’s what we lead on as Bakersfield Women’s Conference is that. In the R.O.S.E program, they don’t necessarily have to go into business but we want them to go into something.”

During December the conference tickets are sold for $89 before going up to the full price of $115 in January. Tickets are available on their website. 

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