Symposium benefits Costa Mesa nonprofit

IRVINE — A lineup of businesswomen, including industry leaders from South Coast Plaza and Fashion Island, on Friday led the Comerica Bank Women's Business Symposium to benefit Girls Inc.

The fifth-annual event, "Power!: Learn, Connect, Grow," attracted about 300 attendees to the Hyatt Regency hotel and focused on teaching women how to succeed in business though communication and attitude adjustments, personal branding, networking and other skills.

Best-selling author of women's business and self-help books Lois Frankel set the stage for the "Learn, Connect, Grow" seminars and the discussion on how to become a "winning woman."

Although everyone understands the word power, women and men interpret it differently, due to lessons learned from childhood, Frankel said.

"Men define power as power over someone while women define power as having power over their lives," she said.

She encouraged attendees to write down their goals, apply action consistent with those goals, step out of their comfort zone and incorporate others into achieving those goals.

In many fields, women have more flexibility in the workplace when it comes to attire compared with men and do not utilize it, said Ariela Shani, vice president and general manager of Neiman Marcus at Fashion Island.

"We, as women, have a real advantage over men when it comes to branding ourselves with our image," Shani said.

She encouraged attendees to incorporate bold colors and details to create personal style, even when wearing formal workplace attire, such as a suit.

A common mistake many businesswomen make is associating fashionable clothes with being taken less seriously, said Debra Gunn Downing, executive director of marketing for South Coast Plaza.

"What is frivolous about putting on an amazing head-to-toe outfit and feeling like you can go out and conquer the world?" Downing said. "That's empowerment."

The panelists encouraged attendees to wear attire that made them feel "strong, smart and bold" — the tagline of Girls Inc.

The Costa Mesa-based nonprofit was awarded $40,000 at the conclusion of the event. The amount marks $150,000 in total donations since the event's first year.

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