A unique event within the promotional products industry, PPAI Women’s Leadership Conference (WLC) was one of the most missed traditions over the last two years, as the pandemic forced the event to be cancelled in 2020 and moved online in 2021. On June 26-28, Charlotte, North Carolina, played host to the event’s return, described by the roughly 120 leading industry women in attendance as a much-needed triumph.

After an evening celebration and dinner in recognition of PPAI Woman of Achievement Award recipient—Kim Bakalyar, CAS, the chief compliance officer at Los Angeles-based distributor PromoShop—keynotes, presentations and panels kicked off the following morning under the theme of transformational leadership.
WLC Workgroup chair Roni Wright, MAS, of The Book Company, says she envisioned the overall concept behind the event’s programming as a nod to the promotional products industry emerging from the pandemic and into a changed world.

“Now, leadership is different. The world is different,” Wright says. “As leaders, we need to step back, learn about ourselves, and then learn about the people on our team or our customers.”

A people-centered approach was built into WLC 2022. Opportunities to meet and mix with peers were engineered throughout the event, not only in free range networking breaks, but also in arranged seating designed to introduce attendees to new people, roundtable discussions that ease the way for introverts, and a dine-around experience meant to forge new relationships.

The networking and community of WLC is always hailed as a singular part of the experience, but the professional development content is equally vital. Keynotes by renowned speakers from outside the industry tackled subjects such as innovation, overcoming imposter syndrome and career strategy, while several promo pros took the stage to bring these ideas and more home with their own perspectives and experiences.

“It was better than I could have ever imagined this year. I needed it so much,” says nine-time attendee Jenny Straub, CAS. The director of strategic partnerships at supplier Outdoor Cap, Straub had been on the road for shows for four weeks, with WLC representing the finish line. “The minute I got here, all of the camaraderie, it just put me in the best space. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

During her session at WLC, Jill Yavorsky, PhD, assistant professor of sociology and organizational science at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and an expert on gender equality, explained to attendees how old biases continue to affect working women. Speaking anecdotally, Yavorsky said that women who manage to overcome these challenges often have built a strong network of other female colleagues.

In a first for PPAI, the event was carbon neutral thanks to a sponsorship from alphabroder, also a gold sponsor. Bronze sponsors included Liqui-Mark Corporation, Botanical PaperWorks and Halls & Company.