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The Produce Marketing Association is developing a new plan to launch an educational conference that for the first time would be tailored to women, the next step in the group’s increasingly popular networking events for women professionals.

More than 300 women and men attended the women’s leadership breakfast at Fresh Summit Oct. 14, an event that has grown over the last few years, says Marguerite Prueitt, executive director of PMA Foundation for Industry Talent program.

The invitation-only event offers a mixture of motivational speakers and networking possibilities for women in the industry. It also serves as a fundraiser for FIT’s efforts to attract, develop and retain talent in the produce industry.

This year, attendees at the Atlanta meeting heard from Susan O’Malley, former owner of the Washington Wizards and one of the first females to run a sports franchise, who shared her seven rules she learned around the kitchen table that continue to help guide her through her career.

Former speakers at the Fresh Perspectives events have included former U.S. Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice, Olympic swimmer Dara Torres and mountain climber Alison Levine.

Along with PMA’s less-structured Fresh Perspective: Women’s Networking Event held July 30 in conjunction with PMA’s Foodservice Conference & Expo, the group is looking at ways to support women who are still underrepresented at the top management level, Ms. Prueitt says.

Why are there few women in top posts? The produce industry is one of many traditionally male-dominated fields perhaps because many of its leaders started out in farming, Ms. Prueitt said.

But research shows that companies with women in top levels of decision-making are more successful, she said, and this is one of the factors that is inspiring PMA to offer a multi-day, stand-alone educational program with multiple tracks for women.

“It will be the first women-only targeted educational event,” Ms. Prueitt boasts.

PMA is planning to partner with an educational institution and roll it out during the fourth quarter of 2012. Sponsors for the conference will also help “build it out,” she added.

“This is part of a three-legged stool: networking event at Foodservice Conference, networking and motivation at Fresh Summit, and educational component,” Ms. Prueitt said.