If you go

What: Women in Business conference

When: Friday, March 1, 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

Where: Omar Shrine Auditorium, 176 Patriots Point Road, Mount Pleasant

Why: To pick up tips and inspiration to grow your business through speakers' presentations and networking

Cost: $95 for members of the Center for Women or the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce; $125 for others.

Featured speaker: Carla Harris, managing director and senior client adviser at Morgan Stanley. She also is the author of “Expect to Win.”

Online: c4women.org/business_conference.html

Nancy Mace knows as well as anyone how tough it can be for women to navigate a world run mostly by men: She was the first woman to graduate from The Citadel in 1999, more than 150 years after South Carolina's military college was founded.

Mace endured hostility from men as a cadet and in the decade since, as she worked as a consultant around the Southeast before returning to Charleston with her family last year.

But the subject of her presentation at this week's Women in Business conference in Mount Pleasant isn't about contending with male detractors.

Instead, Mace will address the “Mean Women Phenomenon,” the tendency for women to engage in bitter competition with each other instead of cooperating.

“Goodness knows I have a lot of experience with that,” she said last week.

Mace remembers being tough on the female cadets who came behind her because she didn't want them to have it any easier than she did. Her father, Brig. Gen. Emory Mace, was not only a Citadel graduate but served as commandant during her time on campus.

Then, during her post-college stint at Accenture, she found herself on the receiving end of such treatment when a female boss was harder on her and her female colleagues than she was on male subordinates.

Mace has come to realize that doesn't help the cause.

“I learned in my experiences in college not to do that,” she said.

Now her own boss at The Mace Group, a public relations and political consultancy, Mace plans to share some of her lessons learned with local businesswoman peers Friday. She said she'll recount some of the story she told in her 2001 memoir, “In the Company of Men: A Woman at The Citadel,” interspersed with whatever else seems appropriate for the occasion.

“Usually I walk in and I step up to the mic and I just talk,” she joked.

Making connections

At its core, that's what the eighth annual conference is all about: women helping women toward their professional goals, with a bit of “just talk” sprinkled in.

They'll discuss persistent problems such as the dearth of women in leadership roles and pay disparities. According to the National Women's Law Center, in 2010, the typical full-time woman worker in South Carolina was paid only 76 cents for every dollar her male peer was paid. The wage gap was even wider for minority women.

They'll also share stories and offer each other advice.

“The whole purpose of this event is to bring women together and promote an opportunity for discussion and networking,” said Jennet Robinson Alterman, executive director of Charleston's Center for Women, a co-sponsor of the event.

The idea is to “really motivate women in this community to go to that next level.”

Pennie Bingham, senior vice president of business advancement at the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, the other co-sponsor, echoed that sentiment.

“What we hear from women is they enjoy, on occasion, getting together with a like-minded group of people,” she said. “It's to increase professional development among women and get the opportunity to connect with one another.”

Lineup

The organizers said about 200 women have signed up, although if past years are any indication, close to double that will show up on Friday.

The keynote speaker is Carla Harris, double-Harvard graduate, a managing director at Morgan Stanley and motivational speaker, among other roles.

Alterman said she heard Harris speak at an event a couple of years ago, and “she just knocked my socks off.”

Leadership trainer Margaret Seidler will discuss an ambitious effort afoot to achieve gender equality by the end of this decade.

As one of South Carolina's two delegates to Vision 2020, Seidler said her talk will focus on her chosen empowerment goals over her 10-year term in the Drexel University-sponsored program: getting more women voting and established in leadership positions, such as at the local chamber of commerce.

Seidler said she hopes to build on the progress made over the course of the history of the conference, which started to cater to a boom in women-owned businesses.

“I wanted to make sure that they were mainstreamed into the chamber of commerce,” Seidler said, “which they have been.”

Other speakers or panelists include state Rep. Jenny Horne, a real estate agent and a few marketers.

Then there's the built-in down time.

“What we have learned over time is that one of the most valuable components is networking,” said Bingham, “so we started out with one networking session and now we offer more than one throughout the day.”

Seidler said she's looking forward to interacting with both her fellow speakers and conference attendees.

“It's a lot of estrogen, and it's a lot of fun,” she said.

Contact Brendan Kearney at 937-5906