CEOs in Stilettos

FestiGals returns for its fifth year of women’s empowerment, professional development and cocktails.

Balancing it all, leaning in, and laughing while they do it, the attendees of FestiGals will spend June 11 – 14 participating in professional development seminars, networking events and the signature “Stiletto Stroll” second-line parade down Canal Street.

Celebrating its fifth year, this year’s conference features the theme “Ordinary Women, Extraordinary Journeys.”

Native New Orleanian Diane Lyons created FestiGals with diversity in mind. “We work to get different levels of speakers with different perspectives to inspire, motivate and educate,” she says. “Life’s too serious: The speakers need to make you laugh.”

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FestiGals endeavors to offer something for everyone, from CEOs to soccer moms to retirees, by broadening the focus of the conference to include seminars and events addressing multiple aspects of life — from juggling family and work commitments, to struggling to make time for fitness and fun. The goal is to cover diverse interests and priorities. VIP tickets are available to the entire conference, as well as tickets for just a single event.

Local women and tourists have responded to this dynamic event, and its growth has been tremendous. “We started in 2011 with about 100 people,” Lyons says. “Last year we had about 1,200 who bought tickets to different events.” She says she anticipates even larger numbers this year, which is why FestiGals chose to relocate to a larger space at the JW Marriott New Orleans.

While each component of FestiGals has been thoughtfully planned to guarantee a good return on investment, Lyons says Friday is a can’t-miss day.

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“If women are looking for networking and professional development, Friday is the day,” she says. “We are different because we are not a membership organization, so there is a great diversity of professions, backgrounds and ethnicities. We are cross-generational. People walk away inspired, motivated, and thinking ‘Wow, that could be me. I could do this.’”

Lyons says the feminine entrepreneurial spirit in New Orleans is alive and well. “Twenty years ago it was very hard, and I felt alone as a woman in business,” she says. “But today the world is our oyster.”

FestiGals aims to empower and celebrate the unique role women play in the post-Katrina landscape. “I sat on my doorstep with 5 feet of water and said to everyone, ‘We’re coming back,’” she recalls. “We are the strength in professional relationships. We are the glue that makes life happen.”

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FestiGals At A Glance

Thursday, June 11: “Ultimate Package” participants attend a private penthouse cocktail reception.

Friday, June 12: The breakfast event features local female civic leaders who fought to bring back the city after Hurricane Katrina. Seminar topics include workplace journeys, avoiding self-sabotage and financial planning. The evening’s highlight is the “Sip & Shop.”

Saturday, June 13: The morning begins with a breakfast focused on breast health, followed by the “Bloody Mary Mixer” networking event. The festival’s signature philanthropic luncheon and auction, “Bras For a Cause,” is followed that afternoon by the “Stiletto Stroll” second line and evening “After-Glow Party.”

Sunday, June 14: The weekend wraps up with the “Saints & Sinners Brunch.”

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Jennifer Gibson Schecter was once a tourist in New Orleans herself and is now proud to call NOLA home. Prior to New Orleans, she wrote for publications in the Midwest and New York City. She advises travelers to ask their cab/pedicab/gondola driver for their favorite restaurant and taking a chance.

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