Building Our Girls’ Club

iStock_000014130901XSmallBy Danielle Sonnenberg (New York City)

Everyone knows that men get a lot of their business through the “boys’ club.” Now women are getting in on the action. Yes, women are forming their own version – a girls’ club.

Building Women’s Networks

The numbers show that women have a lot of catching up to do. Only 3% of all women-owned firms have revenues of $1 million or more compared with 6% of men-owned firms according to the Center for Women’s Business Research.

Organizations like the Women Presidents’ Organization and Women’s Leadership Exchange are giving women lots of opportunities to meet women in similar positions of power to share resources, connections and advice.

At the Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO), women attend monthly chapter meetings with about 20 other women in non-competing industries to discuss business alongside personal issues, such as how having children affects the growth of a company. There are 90 chapters around the world. In order to be a member, product based companies must earn at least $2 million in gross annual sales or a $1 million for service based businesses and women must either be an owner or a senior manager.

WPO focuses on helping women succeed in many ways, particularly through collaborative peer-learning groups. Women also gain contacts. Sixty-eight percent of the members do business with each other – and here are rules thought to ensure that it goes smoothly. For example, the organization insists that members who work together must have a written agreement.

The groups are small to establish trust. “Our chapters are maxed out at 20. When you get too big, that trust takes a longer time to establish,” explained Dr. Marsha Firestone, president of WPO.

Connecting Over Social Entrepreneurship

Women’s Leader Exchange (WLE) is social entrepreneurship organization for successful businesswomen founded by Andrea March and Leslie Grossman. It has over 60,000 members or subscribers. WLE holds workshop across the United States, and recently had its first virtual summit in May. Arianna Huffington was the keynote speaker.

The virtual conference had several parts including workshops, a network lounge with live chats, meet and exchange virtual business cards with other business owners and executives from all over the world, and an “exhibit hall” with virtual booths.

Susan Levin, president of Speaker Services maximized the networking opportunities at the virtual summit “I just jumped in, introduced myself; there were several ladies who said, ‘Oh my god, you have what I want, can we talk?’ I ended up having 10 appointments to talk on the phone.”

WLE also created LEXCI (Leadership Executive Circle) a new girls’ club reserved only for women executives with annual revenues of $1 million and up. The invite-only club has a high entry fee and meetings are held in secret locations throughout New York City. Members join for access to the plethora of contacts. Connections have increased members’ business exponentially. Members have had access to celebrities including Billy Jean King, Michelle Peluso (President and CEO, Travelocity); Carly Fiorina (Former CEO & Chairman of The Board, Hewlett Packard) and several others.

Nurturing Business Relationships

Women don’t form business relationships immediately. It takes time. Catharine Fennell, founder of videoBIO, compares doing business to dating. “I am not just going to jump into bed on the first date. It’s a longer term relationship,” says Fennell, an official sponsor of WLE.

Amy Langer, co-founder of Salo, has been a member of WPO for six years and appreciates the group because it gives her a set of women who understand her.

So what’s the real difference between how women and men network? “Men like to cut out the small talk and get straight to the point to find out what is in it for them. We like to talk, make connections, and create a common ground, which leads to building trust which is necessary in any relationship,” explained Jamie Entzminger, chief executive officer of Mach 1 Global Services who has been a member of WPO for two years.

Some women don’t think of these groups as a woman-only version of the boys’ club. “I believe we are more deeply connected than what I think of as a ‘boys’ club,’ We spend most of the time discussing sensitive business issues and problem solving by giving great respect in listening and contributing to these in-depth discussions, and little (but ample) time on the personal side. I believe women connect emotionally on a deeper level than men and maybe this is why I feel we will gain more from WPO than a man may gain from a ‘ boys’ club.’” said Nancy Nelsen-Flom, founder of Intersource and a member of WPO.

What is the goal in these groups? “My hope is that everyone will refer their sisters like the guys do. If we all learn to broaden our network of women, then many more women will start becoming successful,” said Andrea March, co-founder of WLE.