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Women executives follow a different path, author says

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Oct. 7--"Carly Fiorina was wrong: Being a woman executive is different," Robin Wolaner told the annual Women's Executive Leadership Summit in Madison on Thursday, disputing comments attributed to the ousted chief executive of Hewlett-Packard.

Then Wolaner went on to prove it. Appearing from California through videoconferencing, she told the gathering of nearly 150 women that she could not attend the summit in person because she had undergone a lumpectomy for breast cancer two weeks ago. It wasn't something that a male executive with prostate cancer would have shared with a roomful of strangers, she said.

"I think women know that our paths are different," said Wolaner.

One of the key speakers at the conference, Wolaner, author of the book, "Naked in the Boardroom," got her start in publishing as a copywriter at Penthouse magazine and later managed Mother Jones magazine, started Parenting magazine, and moved on to a leading position with CNET Networks.

Women tend to measure themselves "against impossible standards," Wolaner said, adding, "You have to think about what you bring to the job, not what you lack."

The two-day summit, at the Fluno Center on the UW-Madison campus, is aimed "at women who want to change the culture, not just get into the culture of corporate America," said Pat Alea, moderator and co-manager of the program.

"It's about tapping into personal power," Alea said, "and how to put that power to work."

Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton said she hopes to put some of that power to work through followup from the two-year Wisconsin Women Equals Prosperity project. Now a nonprofit organization with efforts under way in 12 regions around the state, Lawton said the group will hold a "Raise the Grade" tour next year, meeting with economic development experts, community leaders and employers.

But she said more needs to be done to encourage girls to go into the fields of math, science and computer science, and to stop women graduates from leaving the state.

"That brain drain is, in its majority, women; so many are leaving, in fact, that it has had an impact on our birthrate in Wisconsin," Lawton told the conference.

Economic progress for women is "glacial," she said, and it will be up to women to lead the way toward change.

"Unless women in leadership positions flex their muscles and broaden their vision ... we will not live long enough to see the kind of changes we know are essential for our country to be competitive in a global economy," Lawton said.


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