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ESPNW Women + Sports Summit Photos, Recap, And 5 Questions With VP & Founder Laura Gentile

Athletes, Executives, and  Influencers Come Together To Brainstorm & Elevate The Women’s Sports Platform

ESPNW gathered 275 of women’s sports most influential executives and athletes to participate in its fourth annual Women + Sports Summit, held for the first time in Southern California, at Dana Point’s St. Regis Monarch Beach hotel and resort.

The three-day event played host to many elite women in mainstream athletics as well as action sports, including Donna Carpenter, co-founder and owner of Burton Snowboards, who sat on a panel addressing women’s buying power and how brands can connect with the active woman. Athletes such as Elena Hight, Jamie Anderson, Amy Purdy, and Lakey Peterson also took the stage to discuss issues ranging from women in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics to a look into the future of women’s sports.

“There are so many women at the summit who get on stage here and have such incredible stories,” says Laura Gentile, VP and founder of ESPNW and the Women + Sports Summit. “It’s just really connecting with these athletes and telling more about them besides their stat line for the night and how many MVPs they’ve won – you know, the top line facts. It’s telling who really is Kelly Clark, and how has she been able to continually excel. I think it’s spending a little more time digging up these stories because they are spectacular and typically we hear about them every four years during the Olympics, but those can be told year round. That’s what W is trying to do – that’s our mission.”

Read a full interview with Gentile on the next page. 

Here’s a look back on the last week at the ESPNW Women’s Sports Summit in Dana Point:

The general theme of this year’s conference was “Women Matter,” and the buying power panel spoke to the executives in the room who were looking to further drive that point home with their brands at retail.

“Women are deciding whether their families are going to Disney Land for vacation, or whether they are going to Vail or Stowe to go snowboarding,” says Carpenter. “You have to know who you are talking to and who that active woman is. I think she is very multi-dimensional; she is not all about one sport. Guys can compartmentalize; they have Car and Driver, they have Bike magazines, they have snowboard magazines. But women were never interested in being pigeonholed into that. We’ve got to reach her on a more broader basis in terms of her interests and lifestyle.”

The panel took a look at some of the main mistakes companies today are making when trying to speak to the active woman, including the classic “pinking and shrinking” tactic.

“I’ve really come to believe that who’s at the table making decisions around product, marketing, and sales really matters,” says Carpenter. “There’s a connection between having women internally help drive your business, be innovative, and give that perspective, and be the champion for it. We’ve got to have women within our organizations who are really going to champion it and really make the connection that way.”

Carpenter went on to point out that within the action sports industry, the participation rate, number of women executives, and sales numbers are all at 35%. Driving participation and overall women involvement is the key to moving the needle on these numbers, she says.  Giant Bicycle GM Elysa Walk weighed in that the biggest mistake she’s seen in reaching the female demographic, is  that many companies within the bike market aren’t thinking in terms of women buyers at all.

“It is a male dominated industry. Primarily they are a little more mature in age and they have always done things a certain way, and it’s worked for them,” says Walk. “They are continuing to do that, but are missing this huge opportunity of a new generation of women that are coming up. Women have a buying power like they never have before. Women are leading countries. Women are leading Fortune 500′s. There is something like 32 women billionaires in the world today. So women are coming of age just like a new generation is coming of age, and things are changing.”

One resounding message that came through from all three panelists was the need to create a community around women athletes, fans, and participants. Burton Girls, a women’s specific digital platform created by the brand three years ago, has been key in telling female athlete’s stories, and the Girls Learn To Ride program has also been instrumental in developing Burton as a trusted leader in the eyes of women customers, says Carpenter.

On the athlete side, professional snowboarders Elena Hight and Jamie Anderson took the stage with fellow professional skier Grete Eliassen, and WNBA paralympic women’s basketball player Alana Nichols, to discuss the road to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Some of the hot topics addressed were balancing personal life and a professional career, and how women athletes in the Olympics today can continue to inspire youth to get involved in sports at any level.

 Follow the jump to read ESPNW VP and Founder Laura Gentile’s thoughts on giving women athletes and executives an even bigger voice within their respective industries.

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