Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Starting a Women in Business Group

One of the panels I attended at the Women in Business Conference was "Building Women's Networking Groups". As a panel organizer, this particular panel was my idea after reading this article in the Marriott School alumni magazine called "Women's Groups Growing for Management Society" (scroll to bottom of page). I have the task of starting the women's group for my local BYU Management Society chapter, so I was really interested to hear how the women on the panel suggested I get started.

The panelists were Jennifer Armitstead, head (and founder) of the Salt Lake Women's Group, Maria Pribyl, President of the Silicon Valley Women and President-Elect of the Silicon Valley chapter of the BYU Management Society, and Pat Bluth, who organized a women's group within a corporation she worked at. The panel was moderated by Rixa Oman, Executive Director of the BYU Management Society.

You can listen to a recording of the entire panel here on the Women in Business Conference website. The purpose of this blog post is to share some of my notes from the panel and how I have put them into action in starting my local group.

I summarized my notes into this action plan:

1. Just do it. If you decide you want a women's group, start it!

2. Send out a survey to women you think might be interested (you could start with all the women in your local chapter of the BYU Management Society). Ask them what they want from a networking group. What are their needs? When is most convenient for them to meet? Would they be interested in serving on the board?

3. Establish a purpose - Why are you going to get together? You could develop a motto or mission for the group. (Silicon Valley Women has one: Silicon Valley Women provides opportunities for all women to develop LEADERSHIP capabilities by...fostering mentoring relationships, creating educational experiences, and increasing networking skills and contacts.)

4. Set up a board (so you don't have to do everything!)

5. Don't reinvent the wheel. Piggyback on the BYU Management Society as much as possible.

6. Create a social media network so relationships can be developed online. The panelists suggested Linked-In.

7. Write a regular column in your local BYU Management Society's newsletter about the group.

8. Reach out to women one-on-one. But don't limit membership to women! Include men who care about women's issues.

9. Be okay with simple. It is easy to make it too complicated. One group had everyone bring soup and talk.

10. Make sure it is very professional. Some people think women's groups are an extension of Relief Society, so keep it professional.

11. Keep it inexpensive.

I took these notes (and help from Jennifer and Maria, who graciously offered their mentorship in getting me started) and went to work. I first approached the President-elect of my local chapter and suggested we start a women's group. She said, "Great" and put me on the Executive Committee of the chapter with the task of starting the group. Step 1 accomplished!

I then sent out a survey to all the women in the chapter and other women I know personally to ask for their feedback. The survey was very helpful. I was picturing meetings over lunch, but the feedback I received was that the women prefer to meet in the evenings at an event with little or no cost, so I adjusted the plan.

We are naming our group after the precedent established by the Silicon Valley and Salt Lake groups. Our name is the Dallas - Fort Worth Women of the BYU Management Society. Our focus will be on networking and discussing professional skills topics unique to women.

Our first event will be on Tuesday, January 31 at 7 p.m. Jennifer Armitstead (also a career coach!) will speak to us about networking and then lead us in a speed networking activity.

We have three more events planned throughout the year and plan to stay connected via our Linked-In group.

I hope this group will be a strength to women in any life stage who are interested in "ethical and moral leadership" in the DFW area. And I hope that any of you who are reading this and thinking, "Hmmm. I'd like to be a part of a women in business group in my area" will take the initiative and start with step 1 - just do it!

(If you would like help or assistance in starting your own women's group, please leave a comment. We'll get you in contact with people who can help!)