During World War II, Rosie the Riveter rolled up her blue shirtsleeves and flexed her biceps to encourage women to work. Over the years women succeeded in entering the work force, but not without encountering sexism, private clubs barring women and the "old boy" network.
According to The Economist magazine, in the coming months women will make up more than 50 percent of the American work force, well over the 27 percent during Rosie's era. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Labor reported 39 percent of employed women held managerial or professional positions, including nursing and teaching. More women were secretaries or administrative assistants. The result? In 2010, Rosie the Riveter might sport a navy business suit, but she also could wear the red vest of a big box store.
Weaving their own webs
Historically excluded or left on the fringes of civic groups in a male-dominated culture, women took charge by creating their own organizations. While today clubs and civic groups accept women, in part response to federal legislation, many seek empowerment through women's networking groups. These differ from social groups, book and garden clubs because they focus on building the potential and the earning power of their membership. Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter may dominate the wireless world but women's groups put a face on building local business, woman to woman.
Who's in and what for?
Who joins women's networking groups and why?
• Business startups and entrepreneurs: to access resources to develop their business.
• Government and nonprofit employees: to make connections with the business community
• Job hunters, female veterans, those new to the area: to become familiar with the community or investigate career options.
• Women regardless of age: to improve business skills, learn trends and issues.
• Mentors: to become a resource to help other women.
• Women's advocates: to work for equity in the workplace.
Which are for you?
When considering what organizations to join, women should diversify their networking groups and determine what they can afford to invest in time and money, says Diane Jamai, 57, a manager of Enterprise Change Management division for the city of Tampa. She suggests if a businesswoman had $50 to invest in networking each month, she might consider one organization to keep motivated, one for professional enrichment and one for new business development.
Jamai — who is active with local not-for-profit organizations and is a member of eWomen Network and Business and Professional Women Westshore — advises women to visit several groups before joining. "Look around and try them out. Know your goals and find ones that match those goals."
And once joining, she urges women to participate with reciprocity in mind. "First you help someone else and, in return, you benefit and grow."
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The owner of Office A La Carte, Liza Lucadano, 42, of Trinity, prefers to participate in women's networking groups more than other types of business or civic organizations. Her company provides office management and insurance services.
"I feel more comfortable to talk about issues with the same gender," said Lucadano. She was not attracted to join a chamber of commerce. Cost is one factor in her decision about which groups to join. "I look for organizations that help other women and believe it will come back," she said.
Lucadano believes in building trusting relationships over time rather than expecting to produce new business right away. She is on the board of two nonprofit organizations and is a member of Women in Networking, Business Ladies Advancing Business, the BPW Calusa, and Women Helping Women.
Karen Krymski, executive managing director of eWomen Network, says her Tampa Bay chapter has grown 2.5 percent since 2006 in spite of this economy. She describes eWomen Network as a business development group, based on giving first. "Women who join are all about helping others. By building relationships, they know business will come in spades, instead of a dollar at a time." Her organization offers guest speakers at monthly meetings, opportunities to share needs, occasional business fairs and access to a national network.