Kara Karstedt (left) and Kimberley Fuller (right) at the Women in the Workforce Conference in Bentonville, AR.

On Thursday March 1, Kara Karstedt, Operations Officer for the Department of Biomedical Engineering, and Kimberley Fuller, Research Assistant for the Department, attended the Women in the Workforce Conference in Bentonville, AR.  Below, they discuss their experiences as attendees and what they each learned from the conference:

Sponsored by the University of Arkansas Global Campus, the Women in the Workforce Conference focused on the importance of diversity, innovation and creativity in our work lives. The one-day event included discussions on topics such as how to be creative and innovative when under stress, how to empower and embrace your own creativity, and the importance of diversity and inclusion in problem solving and corporate growth.

The conference reminded us that everyone has creativity within us, and that we all need to consciously tap into our creative potential to maximize problem solving. Whereas invention, we learned, is the creation of a brand-new product or service (something created for the first time), innovation is putting something that already exists in a new context. Innovation is where most entrepreneurial endeavors focus, and personal passion and creativity is often a key driver of both invention and innovation. In these regards, Biomedical Engineering offers amazing opportunities for both invention and innovation. When creating something new or improving a process, the conference encouraged that we ask ourselves, “Am I thinking big enough? Bold enough? How much improvement is really possible? Is my thinking in any way limiting the possibilities?”

In addition to emphasizing creativity and innovation, the conference encouraged attendees to make sure that diversity and inclusion are thoughtfully built into their workforce. Whereas diversity is an understanding that we all have differences and similarities, both seen and unseen, inclusion means creating an open-minded and respectful environment in which an individual’s demographics or characteristics are met without judgment, and everyone is made to feel wholly included and viewed as a valuable contributor. When an organization makes an effort to incorporate diversity into its hiring practice and endeavors to create a truly inclusive culture, powerful problem solving and self-fulfilling work becomes a reality.

Observed Kimberley, “While the conference targeted women in the workforce, the lessons learned throughout the day are applicable to all working professionals and students, regardless of gender. Attending this conference helped me to further appreciate the diversity and inclusiveness that already exists with the Biomedical Engineering department at the U of A.”

In addition to speakers from VML, Reckitt Benckiser, and Walmart, the audience was invited to attend three breakout sessions: How to Infuse the Workplace with Creativity and Innovation (hosted by the Scott Family Amazeum), Wonder Women in Construction: How to Make Inclusion Part of our Day-to-Day Reality (hosted by Hilti), and Global Trends Through the Eyes of a Retailer (hosted by Walmart).

The conference also focused on cultivating behaviors of innovation, such as enjoying the chance to face new challenges. Attendees were encouraged to recognize the need to step back in the face of a problem, and consider the fact that there might be a different method needed to solve it. Attendees were also encouraged to consider the myth that to innovate you must be inventive. In reality, we learned, you can be innovative at work by fixing existing processes. Observed Kara, “You can be innovative in the work environment by simply asking yourself each day what you can do to make a difference.”

– Kara Karstedt and Kimberley Fuller