REDMOND, Wash. — Oct. 30, 2009 — More than 3,000 of Microsoft’s women employees turned out to network and listen to more than 30 educational and inspirational speakers at the Microsoft Women’s Leadership and Development Conference, held at the Microsoft Conference Center Oct. 26–28 in Redmond, Wash.
Conference attendees peruse a colorful, makeshift “classifieds section” of postings related to mentorships and other connections.
Speakers at the event included fitness guru Pamela Peeke, Paralympic athlete Bonnie St. John, McKinsey & Co. director Joanna Barsh, and journalist and blogger Mary Jo Foley. The conference concluded with a session hosted by Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, along with Lisa Brummel, senior vice president of Human Resources at Microsoft.
Although the event was geared toward women, all Microsoft employees were welcome to attend. The variety of speakers made the event valuable whether attendees were looking for concrete information to help develop their careers or simply wanted to build networks and mentorships.
“The goal of this conference is to provide education, enrichment, development and networking opportunities for women at Microsoft,” said Stacey Derk, director of marketing for Global Foundations Services at Microsoft, who served as the lead event organizer.
In addition to the speakers, the event offered both structured and informal networking opportunities for participants. A formal networking session took place on the opening night of the conference in the form of an executive roundtable, where 36 executives were matched with up to 10 attendees each to discuss issues.
Allowing so many employees to take several days out of work to attend the conference might strike some as a loss of productivity, but Microsoft sees it as an investment.
Networking was a major part of conference, both in structured sessions and in time provided to share experiences and contact information.
“The conference helps the company get a lot of employees more engaged,” Derk said. “People come here and they get tips about how to manage their career better, how to be more productive, and they get more excited about being at Microsoft.”
Attendees heard Stacey Tisdale, author of “The True Cost of Happiness,” offer advice on financial life planning. Other speakers included Julie Morgenstern, who talked about juggling tasks in an increasingly demanding work environment; best-selling author Jen Louden, who talked about loving life and dealing with change and uncertainty; and Dana Manciagli, a general manager in the OEM Division at Microsoft, who spoke about the value and challenges of networking within Microsoft.
Attendees learned that one value of networking is that it gives them more perspective about how their particular work may affect people in other departments or business groups. Building networks gives people a greater “net to cast” when trying to solve difficult problems for the company.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer speaks to Microsoft employees at the Microsoft Women’s Leadership and Development Conference.
Conferences like these are nothing new for corporations, but the Microsoft Women’s Leadership and Development Conference is likely the largest intra-company event of its kind.
“We have more interest than we can accommodate,” Derk said. “We’ve had to come up with creative ways over the years to include everyone who wants to attend. We use technology like Live Meeting, webcasting and video on demand, so people who can’t physically get here can also participate in the content either during the conference or after the conference.”
Groups in Microsoft Silicon Valley and Fargo, N.D., offices attended smaller conferences over the same days to meet demand and interest in those areas.
“It’s not every day that you get the opportunity to impact people across Microsoft, to build leadership skills, to make connections and to hear and meet amazing, interesting speakers,” Derk said. “It’s amazing that the company provides this type of event for its employees.”