Accelerating women’s success as entrepreneurs and leaders
Sometimes there’s nothing more helpful than the undivided attention and thoughtful recommendations of a roomful of professional women considering your most pressing business-related concern. Sound like a big ask? Not for the members of Women Standing Together (WST), a Portland-based community that comes together to accelerate women’s success as entrepreneurs and leaders.
“I go to other networking events, but sometimes I’d rather put a stick in my eye,” admits life coach Marsha Greenberg, a founding member from when WST broke off from the Maine Women’s Fund nearly a decade ago. “This is down to business. We’re there to focus on the woman who is presenting.”
The core of WST’s programming is the quarterly Roundtable Luncheon at The Cumberland Club. At each luncheon, one presenter—usually a member and often an entrepreneur—talks about her organization’s challenges and poses a question that, if she had the answer, would dramatically change her business. Each table then has 20 minutes to discuss suggestions before the group as a whole—typically about 35 women—comes back with feedback, ideas and resources for the presenter, which she receives orally and in writing.
Pamela Laskey, owner of Maine Foodie Tours, was invited to present a few years ago and appreciated the feedback so much that she joined immediately.
“I had already expanded my business from Portland to Kennebunk and Bar Harbor and was considering the Midcoast,” Laskey says. “Most challenges with entrepreneurs fall into the general category of ‘there’s so much to do and not enough time to do it all.’ I was trying to grow and be in several places at once. A lot of the advice was really good common sense, but I walked away feeling like I had a network of women who I could call upon. It makes you feel connected. Everybody brings a specialty, credibility and experience to the table. There are no slackers.”
The presenter benefits from working with two mentors before and after the luncheon—first to laser-focus her presentation and question and then to apply some of the recommendations.
The month following each quarterly luncheon, the same presenter opens a Leadership Coffee Chat at Pierce Atwood, giving an update on her business and posing a more introspective topic for the group—for example, how to negotiate your worth, how to get out of your comfort zone or how to brand your business. These are times of candid conversation, moving stories and provocative thinking.
WST also has a couple of mixers each year, sometimes with a speaker, and occasional mini roundtables that are helpful when a member needs feedback on a business question faster than the luncheon schedule may accommodate. In February, WST had its first speed coaching event with 10 entrepreneurs pitching their question to multiple small groups.
“Women know how to form relationships and make things happen together,” says founding member Barbara Babkirk, founder of Heart At Work Associates, a career counseling and placement firm. “It’s a gift we have, and Women Standing Together taps into that. Every meeting I go to is full. Everyone who attends is a busy woman, but the format allows us to get a lot done in a short amount of time. It’s a winning combination for me to be able to get out, contribute something and get back to work.”
Babkirk recently presented her business challenges as she implements a new initiative called The Boomer Institute (theboomerinstitute.com), a website and program that matches experienced Baby Boomers with Maine employers who need to fill a gap with talented people who can hit the ground running.
“People had great ideas, a couple of which I’ve already implemented,” she says. “The process is quick and effective.”
WST members include not only entrepreneurs and business owners but lawyers, business and personal coaches, marketing and development specialists, nonprofit executives, real estate brokers and bankers. An individual membership is $250 a year and includes all WST events.
“It’s a very nice mix of women,” says WST Chair Mandy Schumaker, owner of coaching firm Higher Performing People. Under her leadership, membership has expanded to 54 women—a list that reads like a who’s who in Southern Maine business.
“I’m never disappointed when I sit at the table and have a conversation with these ladies,” Laskey says. “And, when you’re an entrepreneur, it can get lonely. There’s so much to do that you never stop thinking about it. And it’s our instinct to be supportive. A lot of the women really enjoy helping each other succeed. While it may be women to women, it seems like business leader to business leader.”
One of the things Greenberg appreciates about WST is that there’s age diversity—younger women, middle-aged women and older women. “This organization allows me to be who I am,” Greenberg says. “The fact that I’m 68 and starting a new business doesn’t faze anyone.”
On the other hand, Greenberg says that women of color and immigrants are currently underrepresented, something that WST would like to see change.
“Given what’s going on right now in our country,” Greenberg says, “we need to be coming together and believing in each other.”
Women Standing Together
For more information on the organization and how you can get involved, go to womenstandingtogether.org
Leadership Coffee Chat
April 25, 7:30–9 p.m., at Pierce Atwood ($10 for non-members)
May 16, noon, Cumberland Club ($35 for non-members)
Amy Paradysz, a freelance writer and editor from Scarborough, writes about women’s opportunities for mixing and mingling.