Women in Haywood County looking to improve their business savvy can find support and inspiration from the Greater Haywood Chamber of Commerce’s Women in Business seminar series, designed to educate local women and connect them to one another.
The program, which was kick-started in March 2009, will host its seventh luncheon on Oct. 28, a look into the possibility of a double-dip recession with Appalachian State University banking professor Dr. Harry Davis.
The series got its start in 2009 when several active chamber members and Executive Director CeCe Hipps noticed a niche that wasn’t being filled — there was no forum for women in leadership and business to connect with one another.
“One of the things that we noticed is that more and more women are serving in leadership positions in business,” said Laura Leatherwood, Executive Director of Continuing and Adult Education at Haywood Community College and a member of the program’s founding committee. “We needed to start bringing some women together and figuring out what they need.”
So that’s just what they did. A small founding committee was formed that began looking to other cities and counties around the country who were already running programs for businesswomen, trying to find the model that would be right for Haywood County.
The group finally settled on a format pioneered in Manhattan Beach, Calif., and began putting together an inaugural seminar, hoping to drum up at least a little interest within the community. But when their first speaker, Amy Forte, Snior Vice President of Morgan Stanley, gave her address, Hipps and her committee were astounded by the response.
“We exceeded our turnout on the first one,” she said, and they’ve steadily drawn 70 to 80 attendees at every event, both men and women.
Mark Clasby is one of those men. As executive director of the Haywood County Economic Development Center, he’s attended several luncheons and said he was very impressed with the program.
“I think they’re great,” said Clasby. “They have tremendous attendance, and I think they’re well-received by women in the business community. I enjoyed them tremendously.”
And that is part of the goal, according to Hipps and Leatherwood — to engage and educate both women and men in the business community who don’t often have the chance to attend chamber functions or meet fellow business leaders otherwise.
“Most of the things that we do here at the chamber are targeted at the main person or the main contact at the business,” said Hipps. “There’s very little for people at the management level.”
In addition to Forte, they’ve hosted a career fashion show, a panel discussion with prominent female leaders in the local area, and a marketing seminar with consultant and now-resident Nyda Bittman-Neville, among others. Hipps says they try to stick to a strict 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. schedule to allow women to come on their lunch break without being rushed.
She hopes that the forums will provide the opportunity for women across all areas of business to get together, get to know one another and hopefully help them make connections that will grow their businesses or further their careers, no matter what level they’re at currently.
“It’s a way to get to a specific group of our members who are women and provide them with some resources and information that they need to be successful or continue to be successful in their careers,” said Hipps.
Hipps and her committee, she said, are constantly looking for needs in the female business community that they can meet, conducting surveys at events and quizzing local women about what would interest and benefit them most.
“We came to the table and said, ‘well what are women struggling with now? What are businesses struggling with? What are leaders struggling with?’” said Leatherwood of the planning process. Those questions build the foundation for where the program will go next.
Both Hipps and Leatherwood said they’d like to see the program expand into the younger generation in the future, reaching out to young women just starting or thinking about their future careers.
“If you think about the younger generation, the younger people that are taking over, either family businesses or they aspire to start their own business, I think that’s probably really a target population for us,” said Leatherwood, “and they’re our future leaders of tomorrow.”
Hipps echoed that sentiment, saying that she’d love to see the program expand into mentoring and connecting younger women to older, more experienced women in their field and others. She is wary, however, of expanding too fast and not being able to offer the quality of service that the program has now.
“Sometimes when you expand too quickly, you can’t do what you set out to do,” and since the Women in Business program is completely self-funded — it’s run by volunteers and paid for by the luncheon fee — Hipps wants to be careful that they don’t overstretch their budget trying to dip too many toes into the water.
But wherever the program goes in the future, both Hipps and Leatherwood hope to continue seeing the business community gain knowledge and networking that will benefit both individuals and the county as a whole.
“We hope to build on it,” said Leatherwood. “We’d like to draw more people from the Jackson County and Swain County area, but I think more than anything I hope we can sustain it and continue to offer topics that are useful to women.”
Want to attend?
Who: Dr. Harry Davis,
ASU professor of banking
What: “Will We Have a Double - Dip?”
When: Thursday, Oct. 28, 11:30 a.m.
Where: The Gateway Club
How much: $20 chamber members,
$25 for non-members
Registration: 828.456.3021 or visit