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Personal, Career Issues : Parley for Women Is Not All Business

April 17, 1986|LYNN SMITH | Times Staff Writer

It's not easy when you decide to go for it. Especially when 5,000 other women are going for it at the same time. And don't know the way.

"It's a challenge just finding a parking space, getting in here and making sense of it all," said Jan Ballback, a career management specialist and one of the 150 speakers at the giant Conference on Women, the motivational, networking grab-bag that drew more than 10,000 women Monday and Tuesday to the Anaheim Hilton Hotel.

Some believe the fourth annual conference, sponsored by state Sen. William Campbell (R-Hacienda Heights) along with Chrysler Corp. and the U.S. Small Business Administration, is the nation's most popular "comprehensive" women's conference, mixing political, business and personal interests. Picketed three years ago by feminists angry over what they see as Campbell's ambivalent voting record on women's issues and inclusion in the agenda of topics such as cosmetic surgery, the conference nonetheless has doubled its draw every year and is still turning away hundreds of interested women.

Waited for an Hour

Monday morning, some women waited for an hour in two-block traffic jams just to get in. When it was over, some left with sore feet from speed walking several laps around four floors of the hotel searching for 200 seminars, 125 exhibits or speeches by U.S. Transportation Secretary Elizabeth H Dole, Olympic star Wilma Rudolph and talk-show psychologist Irene Kassorla.

Some left with heads full of ideas for how to right troubled personal relationships or budget advertising for a small business. They streamed out with handbags full of business cards and briefcases full of handouts on everything from real estate careers to religious ministries, infertility problems, car leasing and cosmetic surgery for tummy tucks, breast enlargement and "facial aging." Some left with new hairdos, designer lingerie and jewelry purchased at booths.

Some left with big blue buttons reading "Senator Bill Campbell for Controller."

Sharon Esterly, a Democrat and financial director for Judge David O. Carter's campaign for Congress, said she had asked Campbell aide Karen Smith if Carter could also have a booth to distribute literature at the conference but was told that would be "inappropriate."

Like many, Esterly regards the phenomenal popularity of Campbell's annual women's conferences as something of a mystery. "I was skeptical," she said. "A conservative Republican senator putting on a conference for women seemed iffy. I was totally astonished at the response."

To Campbell, a jolly 10-year veteran of the Senate who likes to call women "ladies," the reason is clear: "It's because we do it right."

He said he and aide Smith have become experts in giving conferences from organizing the annual statewide Business Development Conference he started eight years ago. When a seminar--on small businesses--from that conference drew an unusually large number of women, Smith suggested that they hold a separate conference for women, said Campbell, who is chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Business Development.

While other conferences might be narrowly focused, he said that "we offer a good range." With how-to seminar topics from physical fitness to political appointments, "there's something for everybody," Campbell said. "There are a lot of motivational topics, but they (participants) enjoy themselves while they learn."

At the first conference, Campbell said, "we thought 500 (participants) would be a terrific success. We ended up with 1,300." The second year drew 2,500 women and 700 were turned away. Last year, 5,500 women came and 3,000 were turned away, he said. This year, the conference was expanded to two days.

'Force of Numbers'

Those who were attending their second or third conference said they liked the mix of professional and personal topics, the low cost ($30 a day) and the excitement of mingling with so many other successful women. "When you get together, you feel the force of numbers. We (women) are real dissipated out there," said Jane Ballback, partner with her sister, Jan, in an Orange County career management firm.

One speaker complained that the conference is too amorphous to provide much education and serves best to give the women exposure to one another's businesses or services. She asked not to be identified since criticism might hinder her chances of being invited back and she did not want to jeopardize that exposure for her own business.

"It's remarkable," said Pat Acree, 44, a sales representative from Whittier. "It gives me an awareness of what's out there in life and the marketplace. It's not happening anywhere else. I wish men were as excited about self-awareness."

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