The vision for the Bakersfield Women’s Business Conference originated during the International Year Of The Woman. Phyllis Hullett, then Director of Student Services at Bakersfield College, gathered a group of community-minded women from industry, government, education and service-oriented areas on March 28, 1989. The goal was to discuss the feasibility of producing a business conference geared toward the needs of women. Out of this meeting, twelve women and one lone man, Pat Shaffer, Dean of Development at Bakersfield College, agreed to serve on the executive board. Options Unlimited, The Bakersfield Women’s Business Conference was born.
Phyllis Hullett and Cynthia Icardo, then President of Junior League of Bakersfield, jointly chaired the first event. The initial conference was scheduled April 18, 1990, at the Red Lion Inn, and featured Georgette Mosbacher, owner and CEO of La Prairie Cosmetics, as the first keynote speaker. There were twenty-one breakout seminars geared toward re-entry to the workplace, small business, career advancement and general interest. The committee hoped for five hundred guests and was overwhelmed with 729 attendees the first year. In 1991, the conference site was moved to the Bakersfield Convention Center to handle the average gathering of 1,400 attendees.
The goals of the Bakersfield Women’s Business Conference remain the same today as when the conference began 29 years ago: to provide information, skills development , and encouragement for women at a crossroads; seeking higher education; first time employment; making a career change or looking to advance their careers. Over the years, however, the conference has evolved according to attendees’ needs.
In 1993, the conference added a Career Development Center to give women the opportunity to receive personal job skills assessment and resumes critique. In 1994, Dr. Bobbie George created the idea of the R.O.S.E. Mentoring Program. R.O.S.E. is an acronym for Realizing Options for Student Excellence. Approximately 75 high school students now have the opportunity to shadow an adult mentor beyond the conference. After years of supporting the R.O.S.E program financially and with volunteers, State Farm Insurance assumed the primary advisory role in from 2002 to 2015. In 2001, Options joined with the California Elected Women’s Association for Education and Research (CEWAER) and created the First Women of Kern Project to identify and recognize female firsts in Kern County’s history. Keynote speakers over the years have included: 1991, former First Lady Betty Ford; 1992, Elizabeth Dole; 1993, Muriel Siebert who was the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange; 1994, Sheri Poe, founder of Ryka Athletic Footwear; 1995, Olympic Gold Medalist, Jackie Joyner-Kersee: 1996, Former Texas Governor Ann Richards; 1997, soprano and community activist Beverly Sills; 1998, Linda Ellerbee, Journalist; 1999, Deborah Norville, host of the TV program Inside Edition; 2000, Gail Sheehy, author of “Passages”: 2001, Linda Carter, actress from the hit television series “Wonder Woman”; 2002, Debbi Fields, founder Mrs. Fields Cookies; 2003, Dr. Cheryl Shavers, former Undersecretary of Commerce; 2004, Olympic gold medalist, Mary Lou Retton; 2005, Kathy Ireland, model and entrepreneur; 2006, Jayne Seymour, actress and author; 2006, Jane Seymour, actress and author; 2007, Nancy Brinker, Founder of the Susan G. Komen Center For The Cure; 2008, Soledad O ‘ Brien News Broadcaster; 2009, comedian Vickie Lawrence; 2010, Joan Lunden, broadcaster; 2011, Gloria Allred, attorney; 2012, Tyra Banks, super-model and entrepreneur; 2013, Giuliana Rancic, broadcaster and reality TV star; 2014, Randi Zuckerberg, Facebook marketer, author and business owner; 2015 Dara Torres, Olympic Gold medalist and author, 2016, Naomi Judd, country music singer, songwriter, actress, and activist.