Networking and Leadership Groups are Essential to Omaha Women
BY SARAH WENGERT
When it comes to Omaha’s networking and leadership groups, sisterhood is not only global, it is also very local. But such groups, which encourage women to share ideas and support each other’s endeavors, can be about friendship and camaraderie as well as business and career expansion.
“I know for me, that has been one of the best things about this group,” says Sara Hanlon, incoming president of the Omaha Network (ON). “I genuinely feel like I can call on anyone and have a real conversation, whether it’s for work advice or personal support. Juggling work and life is such a buzz topic right now and this group allows us to just be us and hear what it’s really like. Whether that’s work-related or life-related.”
Current ON President Pam Alfrey Hernandez says the friendships and connections she’s made through ON have enriched her life tremendously. “I am always energized after being with this group of women. The intelligence, experience, support and laughter in this group is definitely inspiring,” says Hernandez, who is executive vice president of operations for Woodmen of the World.
“On an individual basis, many of the members have mentored others in their careers. We’ve served as a sounding board for each other,” says Cella Quinn, one of ON’s early presidents.
“We have a couple of purposes,” Hernandez says. “One, we get together once a month for networking, sharing ideas and just having fun. We also have an interesting speaker or program that keeps members informed about what’s going on in Omaha, what are some of the issues, how we can help or get involved. There are many tremendously talented women in Omaha who need to be encouraged, mentored and listened to. Omaha Network provides a great platform for nurturing leaders.”
Kristen Patterson, field sales consultant at Mutual of Omaha and director of the Heartland Women’s Network (HWN) Board, says her group thrives on offering a quality experience to all women. Patterson was a member of the group that began HWN, which meets monthly for lunch.
“As we say, Heartland Women’s Network is ‘designed with you in mind.’ The group is comprised of women from all walks of life: business professionals, business owners, primary caregivers as well as college students. We are here to be a resource for all ages whether it is [in regard to] networking, helping support business or personal growth, or providing general support,” she says. “We have a great group of women who regularly attend the meetings. There have been some great personal relationships that have come from the group, as well as quite a few business relationships.”
Serving such a diverse crowd, HWN offers a variety of topics and resources. “We bring in quality speakers that can help promote women both personally and professionally. Whether it’s a life coach with a motivating message, a social media expert, or maybe even something as fun as where to take your next vacation,” Patterson says. “We bring content that relates well to our members and is entertaining.”
These types of networking groups can promote leadership by creating good examples and fostering a community that welcomes and encourages women to lead, as well as through more direct advocacy.
Glenisha Nelson, president of the Omaha Metropolitan Chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women (NCBW), says her organization is about its members as well as all women in the community.
“Our mission is to advocate on behalf of women of color through national and local actions and strategic alliances that promote the NCBW agenda on leadership development and gender equity,” she says. “Our programs are designed to increase economic growth, health and wellness, educational, political and social gains for women of color, with specific emphasis on enhancing the quality of life and lifestyles of all African-American women in the metropolitan Omaha community,” she says. Since 2003, NCBW’s programs have provided education, training and scholarship assistance to more than 4,000 women.
For example, the NCBW Scholars Program is designed to mentor female, non-traditional college juniors and seniors looking to pursue careers in the areas that align with NCBW focus areas. “These women were not only mentored, but also participated in community volunteerism that complemented their academic pursuits. Upon completion of the program each participant received a financial stipend,” Nelson says.
Last May, both NCBW 2012 Scholars graduated from college. “We are extremely proud of these young women and still remain in close contact with them,” Nelson says.
“Our networking opportunities, strategic alliances and programs provide our audiences with the valuable tools, resources and education needed to identify their roles in our community, and then take ownership of them.” On Tuesday, Oct. 29, NCBW will hold its 6th Annual Women of Color in Leadership Summit and Legacy Awards Luncheon at Creighton’s Harper Center.
Nelson says the program is “specifically designed for women who aspire to hold positions of leadership, whether in professional or volunteer capacities, but who have been unable to attain these positions for various reasons.” The secondary audience of the summit, she says, is corporate and nonprofit leaders who wish to attract and retain women of color for upper management.
“We will continue to develop significant, relatable and sustainable programs that will have an impact on the entire city,” she says.
A new local group starting up this fall aims to provide support for women business owners. Ladies Who Launch co-founders Leslie Fischer of TAGG Fundraising, Beka Doolittle of The Pink Store, and Rachelle McGuigan of Infinity Wellness, say they started the group to fill a gap in support for women starting their own businesses.
“It really was born out of my own journey,” Fischer says. “I was lucky, I had a business partner, but a lot of these women are starting something on their own, which would be completely terrifying to me.”
“Our intent is to be a group that provides support, opportunities to learn from leaders within our community, networking and friendships to foster each business,” Fischer says. “The three of us have really worked on this for only a couple months and we are like sisters; we have been honest about our businesses, and we have really been able to help each other.”
Fischer says the response has been overwhelming, and that’s good news because it shows how much LWL is needed.
“Omaha needs this because there is nothing really like it,” Fischer says. “There are some amazing women networking groups out there, but owning your own business is different. We want to be the place where women aspiring to own or who already own their own business can find resources, support and connections they need on their journey. You don’t have to want to be a big business, IPO or need investment. You may just want to start up a cool coffee shop, and that’s a great part of Omaha’s community.”
Susan Joslin, Ph.D., program director of master of science in organizational leadership at College of Saint Mary, says CSM’s Institute for Women in Leadership consists of academic programs and specifically targeted certificate experiences designed to help adult women achieve throughout their careers.
“The Institute for Women in Leadership seeks to effectively study that, which encourages leadership in women, with a special focus on leadership by women in business and society,” Joslin says.
One virtual offshoot of the Institute for Women in Leadership is the Omaha Women in Leadership Networking LinkedIn group, which began in 2008. The group had more than 1,700 members as of September 2013. Membership to the Omaha Women in Leadership Networking LinkedIn group is open to any woman “with a passion for her career and the desire to support other women through networking,” according to Joslin.
“College of Saint Mary seeks to identify leadership barriers for women and provide solutions for women looking to advance their careers,” she says. “Discussions and sharing of articles and leadership events are encouraged by all members and are facilitated by the CSM’s Institute for the Study of Women in Leadership.
“We also offer the Master of Science in Organizational Leadership. It is an accelerated program intended to foster student achievement related to the knowledge, abilities, complex critical thinking skills and the self-mastery needed to manage others and make valuable leadership contributions to their businesses and community interests.”
Joslin says the institute’s programs intersect in that they enable women at various places in their careers to advance. The overall commitment is to “assisting women in advancing in their careers and achieving the leadership goals they desire,” she says.
“At any time in your career, the social capital that comes with effective networking is valuable to women,” Joslin says. “It provides a broader community perspective and an opportunity to make a contribution in unexpected ways and to achieve organizational or community goals more effectively.”
“We hope to help make known the women leadership in Omaha,” says Fischer of LWL’s intent. “We would love to create a community where there are mentors, and women are helping other women, and there is more to us than just coming to a meeting. We not only want to inspire those who can and do own a business, but really start engaging our daughters and youth of this community that they can be whatever they want to be and do whatever they want to do.”
Speaking like a true leader, she adds, “There is no limit.”