Women’s Initiative goal: Make women successful

By Jim Kendall

This column originally appeared in the June 29, 2015 Daily Herald

                The banking and small business worlds are big places, but within those spheres the Women’s Initiative sponsored by Itasca (IL) Bank & Trust Co. and managed by Diane Middlebrooks comes reasonably close to unique status – at least in the suburbs.

Now celebrating its 15th anniversary, the Women’s Initiative is worth attention – especially on the small business side. Although the WI has two member categories that can and do overlap, there’s one principle: “We want women to be successful,” says Middlebrooks, Women’s Initiative coordinator.

Arming women with the information they need to create success even trumps bank accounts. While new accounts from WI members are nice, it is not necessary to be an Itasca Bank & Trust customer to join the organization.

The WI has two basic membership groups:

* All types of women. Employed, retired, single, unemployed, married, stay-at-home Moms and whatever categories I’ve inadvertently missed. The Women’s Initiative originally offered programs on financial information. More recently, however, program topics have expanded to include subjects such as stress management, the art of Georgia O’Keeffe, and health and wellness.

* Small business owners, who have two business-centric ways to participate: Seminars on business management issues, which most any businesswoman can attend, and roundtable discussions.

Roundtable members must commit to a monthly meeting schedule; morning meetings begin at 8:30 and run about three hours.

Women’s Initiative seminars have no such attendance requirement; if the topic interests you, register and show up. The handful of meetings I have attended – men occasionally are allowed, with prior permission – typically run most of a morning, and the presentations typically are interesting and helpful. Social media, growth positioning and time management are topic examples.

“Sometimes it’s easier to say what we’re not,” Middlebrooks responds to a question. “We’re not a leads group.” Instead, she says, the WI is a “safe haven” for women business owners.

“We focus on helping women grow their businesses,” Middlebrooks explains. “We all know the gender differences – whether it’s that women have faced different challenges, been forced into different roles by society, the way they have been raised and a resulting lack of confidence – (but) women-owned businesses don’t achieve growth” the way male-owned businesses do.

“It’s a different dynamic. Women will ask for help from other women,” Middlebrooks says, but they’re less likely to seek assistance from men.

One option: The two Women’s Initiative roundtable discussion groups.

“At the start of each meeting, we ask, ‘What issues are challenging you?’” Middlebrooks says. “Someone always puts a topic on the table.”

That’s when often lively discussion begins. One recent issue concerned follow-up calls. Middlebrooks says the business owner felt she was stalking prospects by calling them back. The consensus from other roundtable members, however, was “Put that thought out of your mind,” Middlebrooks says. “This is not about being liked. You must be persistent. You’re contacting them about a solution they need.”


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