I was privileged recently to be a guest at the breakfast meeting of a venerable local women’s business group. While photo above is not that group (although it might have been a few years ago), it represents the spirit and energy I encountered when I was with them.
This organization was founded 36 years ago by some courageous, upwardly mobile women executives who were climbing the corporate ladder without a net.
When this group was formed, women in the ranks of upper management were few and far between. Those who did make it were often buffeted by the wind of the doors to the good old boys clubs shutting in their faces. The savvy ones soon discovered they were much better served banding together than battling on solo, in competition with each other, in boardrooms full of suits.
This is a lesson still hard learned by many ambitious women, even now. During my own 30 plus years in business, 20 of that in corporate America, I’ve observed first hand a well entrenched, every-man-for-himself attitude (and I use that expression very deliberately) that continues to leave high heel marks on the backs of legions talented woman. I sincerely believe that this behavior has led to a poverty of spirit in the work world that has diminished us all.
The once conventional wisdom of the “You’ve come a long way, baby,” era succeeded in pitting women against each other, particularly in business. You had to act like a man in order to compete in a man’s world. This has proven to be a badly misguided notion for women, and it has not served us well.
In short, business is tough. Life is tough. Women need each other. We all need (dare I say it?) kindness, mentoring, a safety net. We are much stronger in congress than we are alone. And when we make it our business to lend a hand to others along the way, we “raise the boats” (a favorite piece of corporate jargon) for us all. And I mean everybody.
Back to the breakfast.
Being a woman of a certain age with long tenure in the corporate world, I assumed I knew what to expect at this breakfast meeting: a great, but short, networking opportunity followed by an informative talk on investing or the mysteries of social media, then a quick exchange of business cards and a hasty retreat to get to our waiting jobs. That’s not what I got.
What greeted me was a smallish group of women of diverse ages, sipping coffee, laughing loudly and calling out to each other across the room. It was clear these were old friends, glad of each other’s company. For this guest breakfast they dispensed with the usual speaker in favor of a program that illuminated the work of the club by shining a light on its members.
They are, not surprisingly, all remarkably accomplished. But beyond that, there was something different going on here.
One by one, each woman stood, introduced herself and gave us a speed dating picture of her life, professional and personal, and her involvement with the group. This group includes current and former business owners, corporate executives and business consultants in a wide variety of arenas, as well as representatives of non-profits, a minister, writers and artists. It was quickly clear that the work of this organization has gone way past the singular focus on business success that I had expected
Some of the women were between jobs. One was striking out on a new and challenging path. Others had met the downside of the double-edged sword of professional success that emerges when you hit fifty. Some were retired and still going strong in their communities, some were going through difficult personal challenges. They were all waiting to hear if the baby of an absent member had arrived.
The introductions also gave glimpses into the rich avocational lives of these women, who serve their families and communities in a thousand different ways, lead spiritual lives, do marathon bike rides, create art, write books and fly airplanes. We are (and always were) so much more than our jobs.
As I listened, it became clear that this organization has continually transformed itself to meet the needs of its members as women’s lives have become more complex and multifaceted.
These women have certainly benefited greatly from the expertise, camaraderie and emotional support they provide to each other, and so, by extension, have their workplaces, communities and families. The early lessons learned about coming together to make it in a man’s world have evolved into the knowledge that the energies and capabilities of women brought together in support are formidable indeed.
This is one group of remarkable women. But let me be clear here. I hold them up not to single them out as special, but to present them as an extraordinary example of what any group of women can do when they come together with a purpose and a dedication to support one another.
Every woman I know is remarkable in some way. Most women grow in confidence and capability when they know they have a strong support system behind them. Sometimes families or friends, or even their workplace can do that, but often they cannot.
When we weave our safety nets together, it’s a lot easier to prevent free falls.
Public domain photo.