Women in Leadership not leading the way in participation

Janette Neuwahl

Organizers for Saturday’s Women in Leadership Conference decided to extend the registration deadline after a lack of participants nearly forced them to cancel the event.

Melinda Foran, co-chairwoman of the Women in Leadership committee, said only 30 people had signed up by Friday – half the amount organizers had expected. But after committee members discussed canceling the conference Thursday, registration numbers climbed steadily. By Monday night, 62 people had signed up at the Norris University Center Box Office. The committee is extending the deadline to today, although anyone may still register on Saturday.

“Within the Campus Activities Office it would be fiscally irresponsible for us to put on a conference for that number of people (less than 60),” said Foran, a McCormick senior. “The university would be losing a lot of money since the conference is not financed by student funds, like through (the Associated Student Government).”

Foran attributed the low participant numbers to competing events such as a scheduled Billy Blanks workshop on Saturday. In the past, organizers have never had to extend the registration deadline.

“We’ve had sufficient numbers in the past, so there was no cause for concern,” Foran said. “Last year we had 205 at the conference and the year before that there were 198 people that actually came to the conference.”

In its 11th year at Northwestern, the seven-hour Women in Leadership Conference will include workshops on topics such as self-defense, sexual harassment, family life, careers and women in business.

In addition to the committee of 20 staff and students, Women’s Coalition and the Asian-American Women’s Organization helped plan the conference. Women’s Coalition is sponsoring keynote speaker Helen Zia, an Asian-American journalist and editor of Ms. Magazine.

“Helen Zia is a great writer who is very eloquent and was perfect because we wanted to bring a non-white speaker to campus,” said Laura Millendorf, director of Women’s Coalition.

Millendorf is the liaison between Women’s Co and the Women in Leadership Committee. This year Women’s Co received $8,000 from ASG for the conference’s keynote speaker.

“The relationship between Women’s Coalition and Women in Leadership is unique because, though the new Asian-American women’s group is excited about Zia,there are different levels of involvement because we’re paying for Zia and are responsible for her contract,” she said. “If the conference was going to be canceled we would be very disappointed, but we would try to find another way to get (Zia) here.”

Campus Activities made the final decision on whether the conference could proceed with a low number of participants because NU funds the event. Foran said committee members hope the extended registration deadline will bring more people to the event.

“We’re definitely a little disappointed about the number of people that signed up,” Foran said. “There are 80 different women leaders on this campus out of 94 recognized student groups and we want to give them an opportunity to register, so that’s why we are keeping registration open (Tuesday).”