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Event encourages professional women to take risks

Women in business and leadership cannot shy away from risk if they hope to make a lasting impact on their community, Dow Chemical Co. executive Teresa Keating told members of the Charleston Area Alliance's Elevations Professional Women's Network Wednesday.

Keating, the Business Manufacturing Technology Director at Dow, was the keynote speaker at the 4th annual Elevations Academy professional development event at the Embassy Suites in Charleston.

The annual events are designed to provide female entrepreneurs and business professionals an opportunity to come together, network and inspire each other with practical ideas on how they can improve their business and community.

"We have to be the best we can be," said JoEllen Zacks, senior vice president at the Charleston Area Alliance. "We can't look at anyone else. It's up to us to create our future and we want to get people in on the ground level."

Keating, an area native who started at Dow as an engineer in 1997 and worked her way up to the executive level, said it was essential for women to break out of their comfort zones if they want to affect change.

"As a leader, you've got to break new ground and break paradigms," she said.

That could be difficult she said, because women tend to be more risk averse than men.

She said risk could come in three different forms: people, systems and things. She said she has had to take big risks to inspire change in all three of those categories during her career.

She quoted Eleanor Roosevelt in saying women should do one thing each day that scares them. That, she said, would help them gain the courage to step out and take bigger risks.

"You have to ask yourself, 'Am I a trail blazer or am I just sitting around enjoying the trail mix?'<!p><#148> she said. "Are you getting out of your comfort zone enough?"

Keating said the key to making a lasting change is to make sure you are not just accomplishing one-time goals, but inspiring those around you to continue developing and changing things in the future.

She said for Charleston and other communities to attract and keep companies like Dow, leaders should make a concerted effort toward developing talent and creating opportunities for people to grow.

"Never stop learning," Keating said. "Not only does it keep our saws sharp, but knowledge is power. The more knowledge you have, the more you can accomplish."

Keating's talk kicked off an afternoon of presentations and panel discussions designed to teach women about past leaders who changed history and offer ideas for how the current generation can step up and make a difference.

"Women have equal rights now," said Tara Martinez, executive director of the West Virginia Women's Commission. "No longer fighting for it, we now need to take advantage of it."

Zacks said female entrepreneurship has been one of the bright spots in West Virginia's economy in recent years.

"There's been a large increase in women-owned businesses," she said. "People are understanding you can't wait for someone else to make the future for you, you have to do it yourself."

She said woman-owned businesses in Charleston like Taylor Books, Charleston Brewing Co., Ellen's Ice Cream and Mission Savvy have improved the downtown business climate and hopefully will inspire others to do the same.

"They're really adding a lot to the community and they're really great role models for other women that we hope will take destiny in their hands and start their own business," she said.

Contact writer Jared Hunt at or 304-348-4836.


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