“Start Something” was the theme throughout the NAWBO Women’s Business Conference, and it was clear during the “Start Furthering Women Entrepreneurs” panel that recognition in this area has already begun. Organizations including PNC Bank, Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club and the Tory Burch Foundation are moving ahead on internal and external initiatives.

“Companies are realizing that engaging women makes good business sense,” said moderator Susan Davis, who is chairwoman of Susan Davis International strategic communications firm and Vital Voices, a nongovernmental organization that identifies and trains female leaders around the world.

Here are three lessons from the session’s panelists, each of whom occupies a specific position focused on engaging and empowering women.

  1. Build a business case. Beth Marcello, director of women’s business development at PNC, spoke about how PNC created her role because it made good business sense. “The bank began to see that the work women business owners were doing was work that they needed to support.” PNC was visionary in this respect: It recognized a growing trend that needed support and resources, and took action. Rarer is for an organization to originate with the idea of building outreach to women as part of your business. Terri McCullough at Tory Burch Foundation described how, based on her experience starting a business as a working mother, Tory Burch knew she wanted to start a foundation in conjunction with starting her business.
  2. Pay it forward. Davis said that women have “a driving sense of mission, community, as well as bold ideas and bold action. And they all pay it forward.” Paying it forward can mean different things to different organizations. McCullough spoke about Tory Burch Foundation’s partnership with Axiom to create microfinance and mentoring opportunities. Wal-Mart’s Beth Harrison, who is director of global women’s economic empowerment, discussed Wal-Mart’s partnerships as it strives for three goals in women’s empowerment: sourcing products, training women and engaging its supplier base worldwide.
  3. Walk the walk. External efforts to empower women are important, however, oftentimes organizations can make strides by looking inward. Marcello and Harrison noted their organization’s internal initiatives as well. PNC has a voluntary program where bankers can become a PNC Certified Women’s Business Advocate — there are 850 to date. And Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club has the Women 360 initiative, which is completely internal.

Each of the organizations above recognizes engaging women as key to growth — is yours doing the same? What types of initiatives do you think would strengthen your business?

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