Maria Shriver to kick off Walnut Creek’s East Bay Women’s Conference
By Lou Fancher
Approaching a full two years of the COVID-19pandemic and its lockdowns in part due to the delta and omicron variants, resilience is an overused word.
Even so, the term absolutely applies to the small army of staff, committee members, presenters, sponsors and featured speakers behind this year’s 17th annual East Bay Women’s Conference. The hybrid event March 7 (sold out but with a waiting list) will be held for a limited number of in-person attendees at the San Ramon Marriott and general session attendance offered to an unlimited number of registered ticket holders online.
Hosted by the Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with John Muir Health and Stanford Children’s Health, sponsors of the event include Comerica Bank, Kaiser Permanente, Invera/Raymond James, Epic Care, Republic Services and others.
Adding special zing to the 2022 conference that, prepandemic, annually packed 500-plus people into the San Ramon Marriott’s ballroom is a special video welcome from Maria Shriver. The journalist, author, health advocate and former California first lady most actively involved currently with the Alzheimer’s Association will deliver an opening address. She will be followed by the event’s keynote speakers, award-winning journalist and Bay Area-based author Laura Ling; speaker, corporate trainer and business strategist Karissa Kouchis; and Julie Oommen, ASG’s vice president of finance. Bay Area native and KPIX 5 journalist Juliette Goodrich will serve as emcee.
Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bob Linscheid says that getting to a “yes” from Shriver was immediate and largely due to shared history. Linscheid and his wife, Pam Montana, had served with Shriver on the Governor’s Alzheimer’s Prevention & Preparedness Task Force and on the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement (WAM) Advisory Board, both of which were led by Shriver.
“Maria is a trailblazer for empowering women and uses her voice and her platforms to advance some of the nation’s most pressing issues affecting women and women’s health,” Linscheid says.
A matter affecting not just women’s, but everyone’s, health is continuing concern about coronavirus variants. For that reason, in-person attendance has been reduced by 38% with stringent adherence to pandemic safety precautions. A virtual option allows the immunocompromised or others reluctant to attend day-long indoor events to participate. Public safety measures were developed in consultation with the event’s sponsors with an eye to the latest guidelines issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control, the state of Calfornia and Contra Costa County.
“All of our primary sponsors returned this year,” said Shawn Filardi, the Walnut Creek Chamber’s programs and events director. “They’ve been very supportive of our cautious approach to limited in-person attendance because many of them are health care organizations. They care about their employees and are helping us to design the event so it’s safe.”
At registration, attendees are required to present proof of vaccination (usually two shots, depending on which vaccine). Attendees’ temperatures will be checked and KN95 masks provided. The Walnut Creek Chamber advises that anyone testing positive for COVID-19 within 10 days of the event or exhibiting COVID symptoms not attend in-person regardless of vaccination status.
“We’ve had our challenges for two years, and we weren’t expecting in 2022 we’d be limiting our tickets and putting into place safety protocols,” says Filardi. “But even so, we have a fantastic lineup from the intro with Shriver to the terrific keynotes to the wide range of breakout session leaders.”
Among the late-morning and afternoon breakout sessions will be Micheal Pope, the CEO and executive director of Alzheimer’s Services of the East Bay; best-selling author Gail Rudolph (“Power Up Power Down” and “How to Reclaim Control and Make Every Situation a Win/Win”); Eduardo Placer, the CEO and founder of Fearless Communicators; former UC Berkeley scholarship softball player Jill Osur, the CEO and founder of Teneral Cellars; and Linda Fodrini-Johnson, a 30-year consultant/counselor and former CEO of Eldercare Services.
Session topics include “Hacking the Fear of Public Speaking,” “Surviving the Caregiving Journey with Grace & Joy: Practical Tips & Emotional Support,” “Think Once, Feel Twice — Strengthen Your Leadership by Aligning Head, Heart & Gut,” “How to Negotiate to YES in Business and Life,” and more. The Walnut Creek Chamber’s Filardi said in-person tickets sold well but not as quickly as in past years, when the conference sold out within mere days of tickets becoming available.
“Because of the variants, people were stalling to see if things were going to get better. We’re currently sold out and have been for a few weeks. The virtual event is unlimited, so we can take reservations until the day before the conference.”
Walnut Creek Chamber chief Linscheid says that as Chamber CEO, his first year of involvement in the conference leaves him impressed with staff, the conference committee and the local women’s business community.
“Last year, the conference was delivered in multiple sessions, totally virtual. I’m hearing from women who have attended the conference in the past that they are excited to gather again and while we’re concerned about the continued impact of COVID, we’re making additional safety measures. I’m very proud of the committee and staff that have made a huge commitment to bring world renowned speakers together to the East Bay with the message of empowering our region’s women. We’ve (also) had meaningful conversations about how to engage with younger generations of women. We will explore that idea in 2023.”
Linscheid, Filardi, conference committee members and the women’s business community writ large feel that — by following standard, science-backed public health safety practices in the next 12 months — and with increased vaccine adherence and a bit of luck — they can find hope for a full return to in-person attendance next year.